In an earlier blog on transition, I wrote about resilience. Resilience offers a way of dealing with continuous change. Or with transition, as I like to call it. I believe in the power of resilience. I have experienced it can make a real difference. There isn’t a framework offering a real “grip” on continuous transition. If models do not offer support, guidance or, grip, we’re delivered to ourselves and to our resilience. Then transition becomes much more something to “live with” than to “manage”.
But there’s an interesting exception: the 3 zones of transition, by William Bridges,. It’s a framework about transition, not change. By writing about resilience I realized that this model acknowledges that
- transition is permanently ongoing
- transition happens almost „organically“
Many other models desperately try to manage, carry out and „close“ change as if it were the sum of ongoing projects. This model does not try to manage anything. It tries to understand transition.
3 Zones or phases
Bridges explains transition by 3 zones or phases:
- The zone of ending, losing, letting go.
- The neutral zone.
- The zone of the new beginning.
The border lines between the zones are not calculated “milestones”. They are “lines”. Nothing more. They could be at any other place in this graphic. Where they are is not important. It is very important that they’re there. They underline more the ongoing and organic character of transition, than any traditional model on change (management) ever would or could.
What are these zones standing for ?
1. Ending, losing, letting go
Changes includes losses. These losses can be about: (1) comfort and security, (2) familiar people and environment, (3) networks and resources, (4) expected outcomes, (5) power, influence and territory and (6) expertise.
How do you deal with losses ?
- Don‘t be surprised when there’s overreaction.
- Acknowledge the losses openly.
- Define what is over and what is not.
- Treat the past with respect.
- Let people take a piece of the old way with them.
- Accept the reality and importance of subjective losses
- Listen with empathy.
2. The neutral zone
The neutral zone is a time when all old certainties break down and everything is in flux. Things are up in the air. Nothing is a given anymore. Anything could happen. No one knows the answers: one person says one thing and someone else says something completely different. The „old“ is gone and the „new“ is not here yet.
There are some dangers in this neutral zone:
- People‘s anxiety rises and their motivation falls.
- People miss more work than at other times.
- Old weaknesses, previously patched over, rise again.
- People are overloaded. They get mixed signals.
- Systems are in flux. Priorities get confused. Information is badly communicated. Important tasks are not done.
- People might become polarized. Some want to rush forward and others want to go backward.
How to manage the neutral zone ?
Normalize the neutral zone. Create temporary systems for the neutral zone. Strengthen intra-group connections. „We are all in this boat together.“ You can install a monitoring team to offer a point of access to the organization‘s grapevine. This team can also correct misinformation and counter rumours. It should enable bottom-up communication and show the organization wants to know how things are going for people. Finally, the team needs to check plans or communications before their announcement.
You should use the neutral zone as creatively as possible.
3. The new beginning
A new beginning will take place only after people are ready to make the emotional commitment to do things the new way. People want beginnings but fear them at the same time. You cannot force new beginnings according to your personal wishes. You can only encourage, support and reinforce them.
People need 4 P‘s to make a new beginning:
- Part to play