How to Use Bridges’ Transition Model to Facilitate Change

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Change: it’s meant to be positive. Your intention is to make things better, easier, and to fast-track the route to success. Why, then, do you encounter so much resistance to change? Sometimes, your hard-working employees end up being the #1 obstacle to the entire initiative. Bridges’ transition model helps with the people-aspect of change management: turning them from obstacles to supporters.

As an organizational consultant, William Bridges found that guiding people through transition was the key to successful change. He identified three stages of transition and his model strives to help business leaders to understand the feelings people experience as you guide them through a change process.

As the employees affected by change move from one transition stage to the next, business leaders must change their approach to people management in an empathic progression. Let’s take a look at the theory and how you can put Bridges’ Transition Model into practice to ease your employees through change.

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3 Stages of Bridges’ Transition Model

Bridges highlight the difference between transition and change. Change happens fast, and people often have no say in the matter. But transition is a slower process that happens internally. Transition is what goes on inside people’s minds as they go through a change process. The three stages of transition that Bridges identified are:

  • Ending, losing, and letting go
  • The neutral zone
  • The new beginning

It’s important to remember that everyone goes through this process at their own speed. Some people will be receptive to change and will go through all three stages very quickly. Others will be more set in their ways – getting through the first two stages will take them a great deal longer.

Stage 1: Ending, Losing, and Letting Go

When people first learn that a situation they understood and were comfortable with is about to be replaced with something new, they experience an emotional reaction. If we fail to understand and acknowledge that, they may well resist change all the way through a change initiative.

When people realize that change is on the way, they may:

  • Feel afraid
  • Enter denial
  • Become angry
  • Feel sad
  • Feel disorientated
  • Feel frustrated
  • Experience uncertainty
  • Undergo a sense of loss

Dealing with these feelings takes patience. Encourage people to be open about their emotional reaction to change and be understanding about the way they feel. Talk them through the change that is going to happen and be open about why you are initiating a change process.

Tell your employees about their future roles and show them how you will help them to adapt to new ways. Bridges believed that the emotional reaction to change is largely a response to being confronted with the unknown or that which people fail to understand.

By reassuring them that their skills will remain important to your organization and by showing the positive results your change process will bring about, you can help them to “let go” and be ready to move to the next phase of transition.

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Anyway ... we'll continue from where we left off above.

Stage 2: The Neutral Zone

When people enter the neutral zone, they are not yet entirely comfortable with change and will still need a lot of encouragement. By now, change is inevitable. It is taking place and people are getting used to new ways of doing things. The learning curve is a stressful one, and they are not yet at home with the new way of working.

They look back at the way things used to be and may secretly or openly feel that it was pleasanter or better. At the same time, they are in the process of adapting to the change you are implementing.

You are likely to notice the following reactions:

  • Employees or individuals show that they resent the change.
  • Morale is low, and productivity suffers.
  • They feel anxious and unsure about their new role and their identity within the organization.
  • They are skeptical about the change initiative.

As a change leader, you are likely to become somewhat frustrated too. People are struggling to implement change despite all your careful planning and strategizing. You have implemented change, and you are not getting the results you wanted.

However, persistence pays off. Keep your change vision firmly in mind and give people who are feeling lost a sense of direction.

This is a time when you need to provide lots of encouragement, remind people of the positive results that will accrue, recognize success, and help people through areas where they are getting bogged down. Encourage open communication and give people the support they need to move ahead and succeed.

Be sure to celebrate progress with your team. They need to feel that something positive is happening, and it’s up to you to look for ways to show them that change is beginning to bring about the desired results. Positive reinforcement helps you to entrench new habits.

Watch out for practical aspects of the change that are causing morale to flag. Are there bottlenecks in which certain staff members are now experiencing unmanageable workloads? Are you expecting too much too soon?

Stage 3: The New Beginning

Have you ever been through trying times only to find that after a while, things seem to start falling into place perfectly? That’s what happens Stage 3 of Bridges’ Transitional Model.

People are beginning to see the real results of the change process they embarked on with you.  They see why the new way of working is better, and they can see how their efforts are starting to pay off. Suddenly, it all makes sense to them.

Now, the emotions people experience become far more positive:

  • They feel energized
  • They want to learn more
  • They feel committed to their role

Naturally, this is a state of affairs that you, as a manager, would like to sustain. And with the right approach, you can keep the atmosphere upbeat and positive.

Set objectives for your staff and show them how attaining them will contribute to the overall objectives of your organization. Tell them about the positive results of change and give them success stories.

This is a time for celebration and rewards – but remember that some people can still slip back into stage 2 – or may not yet have left it. It’s still necessary to be vigilant and you may still find that your staff needs a helping hand from management.

Change Management Beyond Bridges’ Transition Model

Bridges’ Transition Model isn’t a change management model as such – it’s only one part of it. There’s a lot more to change management than getting the buy-in from your employee.

You need to know how to make lasting changes to your processes, for example, or how to make sure that the changes you make are positive. To learn more about other aspects of change management, you can read up on Kotter’s 8-Step Model or Lewin’s Change Management Model.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking for something more comprehensive, head over to our comprehensive guide to different change management models.

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