Not so fast says William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, who contends the single biggest reason why changes fail is that no one thought about endings or how to manage their impact on people.
Bridges distinguishes a change, which is situational (e.g. new boss, new role) and external, from transitions which are the internal psychological processes people go through to come to terms with a new situation. Most people resist and struggle with the transition not necessarily the change itself. A transition is made up of three overlapping phases. An Ending which is about letting go of the past, the Neutral Zone which is the place of confusion where the old way is gone but the new way is not yet comfortable, and finally the making of the new Beginning completes the change.
If you have ever moved to a new home consider where the struggles came from. Was it the new house which caused the most discomfort or the temporary transitions associated with it such as finding the closest gas station and grocery store , or what the fastest route during rush hour was or losing touch with your old neighbours and familiar shop keepers who knew you before you re-established these lost relationships with new ones in your new neighbourhood.
Many leaders live in the future. Their mind is on the next quarterly results, the new strategy, new product introductions, the move, the new building, new team or organizational structure. They are natural planners, implementers, movers and shakers and forget that people have to let go of the present first. Before you can sell me on our new, shiny, and attractive destination you have to first convinced me to leave home. Use this check list to see if you are considering endings before you expect your staff to start packing and moving into their “new home”.
Check list for Managing Endings:
- Have I studied the change carefully and identified who is likely to lose what – including what I myself am likely to lose?
- Do I understand the subjective realities of these losses (without argument or justification) to the people who experience them, even when they seem like overreactions to me?
- Have I acknowledged these losses with sympathy?
- Have I permitted people to grieve, say goodbye, and publicly expressed my own sense of loss? (See step 1)
- Have I found ways to compensate people for their losses?
- Find a way to balance what’s been taken away (see step 1) such as status, turf, team membership, recognition or control over their future?
- Am I giving people accurate information and doing it again and again?
- For every week of upset that you avoid by hiding the truth, you gain a month of bitterness and mistrust
- Have I clearly defined what is over and what isn’t?
- General statements like “from now on we’re lean and mean” may leave staff wondering if they now order 30% fewer supplies, or they shouldn’t sweat the small stuff any more, or that 40 hour work weeks are a thing of the past
- Have I found ways to mark the endings?
- One leader swept the stacks of procedure manuals and rule books off the boardroom table to indicate the end of micro managing and a move to principles based decision making
- Am I being careful not to denigrate the past but, when possible, to find ways to honour it?
- credit the past people with bringing the organization to the point where it now stands…on the brink of an important development
- talk about the new challenges that call for new responses
- honour the past for what it has accomplished – chronicle this in newsletters, photographs, time charts, story telling.
- Have I made it clear how the ending we are making is necessary to protect the continuity of the organization or conditions on which the organization depends?
- Is the ending we are making big enough to get the job done in one step?
- Don’t drag it out
- Plan it carefully and once it is done, let there be time for healing
Your action is to take one change you are involved in and list the actions you can take to help people deal more successfully with the endings that are associated with it.
Thank you for this thoughtful reflection on transitions. Your particular summary of William Bridges work is enlightening , relevant nad useful.Claire
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