We are subject to reading and hearing many famous quotes in regard to change management: “The only constant is change” (Heraclitus) or “Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future” (John F. Kennedy) and there are many more quotes which would be worth mentioning. Of course, with all our discussions about the inevitability of change management, we may create the perfect illusion that change can be faultlessly managed by checklists.
It is a truism that the challenge is not the change or event itself, but, from my personal point of view, this truism is the basis for all further considerations and deliberations. It is common understanding that a significant amount of organisational changes fail because the organisational attention is focused solely on the external event. According to William Bridges, an American author and organisational consultant (Managing Transitions), every change, whether it’s initiated by ourselves or thrust upon us, pushes individuals through three phases of transition.
William Bridges highlights three stages of transition that people experience when they are confronted with change as follows:
- Ending, losing, and letting go
- The Neutral Zone
- The New Beginning
According to Bridges’, individuals will go through each stage at their own pace. Those who are comfortable with the change will likely move ahead to stage three quickly, while others will linger at stage one.A short description may help us not only to clearly understand the model and what direction we are heading, but will also provide us a better comprehension of the challenges that lay ahead.
Stage 1: Ending, Losing, and Letting Go
Individuals enter this initial stage when they are confronted with the change for the first time. They may react with fear, frustration anger, denial, etc. However, it is of utmost importance that the individuals accept that something is coming to an end. Without acceptance of the new idea, change cannot happen.
Stage 2: The Neutral Zone
This stage is characterised by confusion, uncertainty and very often by a higher workload as affected staff are getting used to new systems and new ways of working. In this phase individuals might experience anxiety about their role, status or identity; scepticism about the change initiative and resentment towards the change initiative.
Stage 3: The New Beginning
According to Bridges, this is a phase of acceptance and energy. Individuals have begun to embrace the change initiative and building the skills they need to work successfully in the new environment.
To sum it up: change happens to individuals and transition is internal. It happens inside individuals minds when they are confronted with change. The described stages of transition help to better understand the human side of change. The fear of the unknown is part of human nature and therefore not to be condemned. However, it is my considered view that it is up to us to overcome this fear through communication for the sake of progress.