‘There is nothing so stable as change‘. Bob Dylan
Transition and Change
Are you working on your New Year’s resolutions, transitioning from old habits to new and making changes in your personal or professional life?
Change is defined as something that takes place quickly and is a shift in the externals of a situation, for example, a new leader is appointed within an organisation. Transition, by contrast, is the internal, emotional and psychological process that a person undergoes when they relinquish the old arrangement and embrace new situations. Change is made up of events whereas transition is an ongoing process. The Transition Model is the work of the late William Bridges, and is valuable for those experiencing change because it focuses on transition rather than change. This transition model is predominantly used for organisational change but the three stages can just as easily be applied to personal change.
Three stages of transition
The Transition Model highlights three stages of transition that individuals experience during the change process:
Ending, Losing and Letting Go.
The Neutral Zone.
The New Beginning.
Stage 1: Ending, Losing and Letting Go
This is the initial stage that occurs when people are confronted by change and is typified by resistance and difficult emotions when people are confronted with letting go of what is familiar and comfortable to them. In stage one people focus on the past, on what feels certain and safe. William Bridges cautions that many change projects fail because organisations and individuals try to proceed too quickly to the third stage (the new beginning) and don’t spend enough time at this initial letting go stage. Typical emotions at this stage are:
A sense of loss
Support in Stage One
It’s crucial to acknowledge emotions during stage one, doing so is part of the process that enables people to accept the ending and begin to progress to accepting the new situation. Open communication and listening is key at this stage, people will have lots of anxieties and questions about the change taking place and what it means for them. The more people are encouraged to envision the positive role they will have in the future, when the change has occurred, the more likely they are to progress to the next stage.
Stage 2: The Neutral Zone
The second stage is characterized by uncertainty and can be disorienting. New ways of doing things may create increased pressure as people develop new habits or ways of working. Typical emotions at this stage are:
Low productivity and low morale
Anxiety regarding their place in the future
Doubtful about the effectiveness of the change process
Resentment regarding the change
Support in Stage Two
Ensuring a strong sense of direction and purpose at this stage is essential and avoids feelings of being adrift and rudderless. In the neutral zone it’s important to envision success and be able to see the positive effects of the change. Setting and achieving easy win goals is crucial at this stage, such goals help us to see that efforts have been successful. Celebrating effort and achievement is also an important element of highlighting success.
Stage 3: The New Beginning
The final stage is characterized by an acknowledgement of progress and embracing of the change. At this stage people are more accepting of the change and their transition includes developing their skills to meet new demands. Typical transition experiences now include:
Increased energy for their role
Commitment to the organisation (or individual change)
Enthusiasm to learn new skills
Support in Stage Three
Sustaining enthusiasm, positive attitudes and positive relationships is key during the final stage of transition. Not everyone will reach this stage at the same time, so maintaining the momentum is crucial, if momentum starts to flag, it’s possible to slip back to earlier stages when advantages and positive effects of the change are not felt. Some people will not move through the stages at all. Continuing to highlight success stories and celebrate individual, team or organisational wins embeds the change.
Want to follow up with more tips on change? See Dan Heath on change: