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Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change

by William Bridges

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889823,675 (3.75)None
Directed at managers and employees in today's corporations, where change is necessary to revitalize and improve corporate performance, this guide addresses the fact that it is people that have to carry out the change.
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(Note: I have the same review on the 3rd edition of this book. I read the 3rd edition and deeply skimmed the 4th edition. It is fundamentally the same. A few more examples. A few paragraphs removed or restructured.)

(Note: this model is applicable in any group undergoing transition, not just business organizations.)

This book presents a model of transitions for times of change. It is short and practical, containing many ideas that can be directly applied in organizations or groups undergoing transition. (Note: The central metaphor is Moses leading the Israelites to the Promised land, so read the Wikipedia summary if you're not familiar.)

The central idea is that change creates transition. They are not the same. Change is the event itself. Transition is a psychological process that people go through as they internalize change. Transition starts with an end, goes through the neutral zone, and finishes with a new beginning. Organizations and individuals go through these stages in this order; none can be skipped. (However, an organization may have different groups or individuals in all three phases at once.)

The end is when people let go of what came before. Changes should be executed quickly, not dragged out. But do give people the time and space they need to heal and recover from loses. These loses may be concrete (e.g., a title or a team) or they may be psychological (a loss of status or relationships). Leaders need to identify who is losing what, both directly and indirectly. They must accept that these loses are real and important, even if a loss seems trivial on the surface. Often when people seem to overreact, it's because the loss connects to something deeper. This is real grief, with all of the attendant psychological processes.

To help people get through loss, leaders need to acknowledge loses openly and sympathetically; trying to hide or minimize losses will backfire. They should compensate for losses as much as possible, including the subjective losses such as feelings of control. Leaders should share information about the change over and over again, and they should clearly detail what is changing and what isn't. Leaders need to respect the past. Yes, the past generated the need for change, but it is also what set up the good things that the organization wants to preserve.

The neutral zone is the least obviously necessary of the three phases, but it is real. This is the time when the old ways no longer work and the new ways are not working yet. People feel immobilized. They've lost their sense of identity. Negative emotions are swirling around. But the neutral zone is also a time when old assumptions and constraints can be questioned. It's a time of creativity as the organization and those within it find new identities.

Leaders cannot force an end to the neutral zone. What they can do is prepare an environment that helps people move through it most effectively. Leaders should normalize the neutral zone and let people know that it's ok not to be completely sure about the new thing yet. Choosing the right metaphors can help people transition -- e.g., preferring the metaphor of "the last voyage" instead of "a sinking ship" for a division that was being ramped down. The organization can create systems such as updated policies and short range goals that help people know what to do and expect during the transition; this can seem like wasted work because people the transition will end, but they are worth it because they help it end more quickly. Transition monitoring teams are groups that collect feedback, pass it on to leadership, and communicate back to those who provided the feedback. Finally, leaders can proactively encourage people to use the neutral zone as a time for experimentation and creativity.

The beginning is a time of new identity and new energy. People are willing to make a new commitment, but they haven't fully done so. To help people move from the neutral zone to the new beginning, the leader should explain the purpose behind the outcome (sell the problem, not the solution), paint a picture of the new state, lay out a step-by-step plan for how individuals can get there, and give each person a part to play both in the new beginning and during the transition itself. It's worth noting that the plan is not the organizational change plan. Rather, this is helping individuals see what they need: what information do they need? What training? How can they give feedback? Etc.

After covering the core model, the book covers one model of organizational life cycle. The connection to transition is that moving between phases in an organization's life cycle causes major transitions that are usually themselves made up of multiple transitions. Without going into the details of the model, it is worth noting the basic cycle that the model is built off of. As organizations realize success at one stage, they become more complex in ways that force them to evolve. Eventually, that evolution can start to stagnate and an organization can start becoming an inward looking institution that eventually closes in on itself. Alternately, an organization can try to avoid that fate by finding ways to revitalize themselves and start the cycle over again (although in a different way than before).

Having covered all of that, the book makes things a little more complicated. In this idealized model, we are dealing with one transition at a time (even if the phases of that transition can overlap for different people). However, in reality most of us are dealing with constant change. We're in the midst of many transitions. One thing organizations can do to try to lessen the impact of these transitions it to find overarching patterns that integrate the disparate changes. They can also increase the organization's resilience to change by accepting change as the norm. This requires having a deep connection to their underlying purpose, the thing that doesn't change even as everything around changes. Increasing resilience requires (re)building trust and healing old wounds. Another way is to see the problems that generate the need through change through the "challenge and response" model. This model says that challenges are the primary factors that lead to innovation and evolution. It is also a way to balance autonomy and direction: leadership defines the challenges (direction) but leaves the response of finding solutions to those problems up to those closer to the problem (autonomy). This is another reason why it's so important to sell the problem even more than the solution: a unclear problem will not help unify direction.

The appendices are mostly expansions upon parts of the book or summaries (one through a checklist lens, one through a lens of actions leaders should take). I suspect they'll be more useful when referencing the book since they were mostly redundant right after finishing the book. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
(Note: this model is applicable in any group undergoing transition, not just business organizations.)

This book presents a model of transitions for times of change. It is short and practical, containing many ideas that can be directly applied in organizations or groups undergoing transition. (Note: The central metaphor is Moses leading the Israelites to the Promised land, so read the Wikipedia summary if you're not familiar.)

The central idea is that change creates transition. They are not the same. Change is the event itself. Transition is a psychological process that people go through as they internalize change. Transition starts with an end, goes through the neutral zone, and finishes with a new beginning. Organizations and individuals go through these stages in this order; none can be skipped. (However, an organization may have different groups or individuals in all three phases at once.)

The end is when people let go of what came before. Changes should be executed quickly, not dragged out. But do give people the time and space they need to heal and recover from loses. These loses may be concrete (e.g., a title or a team) or they may be psychological (a loss of status or relationships). Leaders need to identify who is losing what, both directly and indirectly. They must accept that these loses are real and important, even if a loss seems trivial on the surface. Often when people seem to overreact, it's because the loss connects to something deeper. This is real grief, with all of the attendant psychological processes.

To help people get through loss, leaders need to acknowledge loses openly and sympathetically; trying to hide or minimize losses will backfire. They should compensate for losses as much as possible, including the subjective losses such as feelings of control. Leaders should share information about the change over and over again, and they should clearly detail what is changing and what isn't. Leaders need to respect the past. Yes, the past generated the need for change, but it is also what set up the good things that the organization wants to preserve.

The neutral zone is the least obviously necessary of the three phases, but it is real. This is the time when the old ways no longer work and the new ways are not working yet. People feel immobilized. They've lost their sense of identity. Negative emotions are swirling around. But the neutral zone is also a time when old assumptions and constraints can be questioned. It's a time of creativity as the organization and those within it find new identities.

Leaders cannot force an end to the neutral zone. What they can do is prepare an environment that helps people move through it most effectively. Leaders should normalize the neutral zone and let people know that it's ok not to be completely sure about the new thing yet. Choosing the right metaphors can help people transition -- e.g., preferring the metaphor of "the last voyage" instead of "a sinking ship" for a division that was being ramped down. The organization can create systems such as updated policies and short range goals that help people know what to do and expect during the transition; this can seem like wasted work because people the transition will end, but they are worth it because they help it end more quickly. Transition monitoring teams are groups that collect feedback, pass it on to leadership, and communicate back to those who provided the feedback. Finally, leaders can proactively encourage people to use the neutral zone as a time for experimentation and creativity.

The beginning is a time of new identity and new energy. People are willing to make a new commitment, but they haven't fully done so. To help people move from the neutral zone to the new beginning, the leader should explain the purpose behind the outcome (sell the problem, not the solution), paint a picture of the new state, lay out a step-by-step plan for how individuals can get there, and give each person a part to play both in the new beginning and during the transition itself. It's worth noting that the plan is not the organizational change plan. Rather, this is helping individuals see what they need: what information do they need? What training? How can they give feedback? Etc.

After covering the core model, the book covers one model of organizational life cycle. The connection to transition is that moving between phases in an organization's life cycle causes major transitions that are usually themselves made up of multiple transitions. Without going into the details of the model, it is worth noting the basic cycle that the model is built off of. As organizations realize success at one stage, they become more complex in ways that force them to evolve. Eventually, that evolution can start to stagnate and an organization can start becoming an inward looking institution that eventually closes in on itself. Alternately, an organization can try to avoid that fate by finding ways to revitalize themselves and start the cycle over again (although in a different way than before).

Having covered all of that, the book makes things a little more complicated. In this idealized model, we are dealing with one transition at a time (even if the phases of that transition can overlap for different people). However, in reality most of us are dealing with constant change. We're in the midst of many transitions. One thing organizations can do to try to lessen the impact of these transitions it to find overarching patterns that integrate the disparate changes. They can also increase the organization's resilience to change by accepting change as the norm. This requires having a deep connection to their underlying purpose, the thing that doesn't change even as everything around changes. Increasing resilience requires (re)building trust and healing old wounds. Another way is to see the problems that generate the need through change through the "challenge and response" model. This model says that challenges are the primary factors that lead to innovation and evolution. It is also a way to balance autonomy and direction: leadership defines the challenges (direction) but leaves the response of finding solutions to those problems up to those closer to the problem (autonomy). This is another reason why it's so important to sell the problem even more than the solution: a unclear problem will not help unify direction.

The appendices are mostly expansions upon parts of the book or summaries (one through a checklist lens, one through a lens of actions leaders should take). I suspect they'll be more useful when referencing the book since they were mostly redundant right after finishing the book. ( )
  eri_kars | Jul 10, 2022 |
I received a copy of this book from my workplace because we are getting bought out by another company. I attended a Working Through Transition class and all of the attendees received a copy of this book.

This book is actually a guide for management to lead their employees through a successful transition. There is an ending, a neutral zone, and a new beginning.

This book is not exactly geared for an employee finding out they are getting laid off.

I will say it appears my company is doing a good job of managing this transition, at least as far as the suggestions and guidelines of this book. I found it interesting about the life cycle of organizations. It was also interesting to see what you should and should not do during a transition time. I think this book could be a valuable tool for managers. It wasn't, however, terribly meaningful to me in my particular situation.

This isn't a book about how to cope with the upcoming stress of job loss that is looming on the horizon. I've been there, I've done that. It isn't pretty. (At least this time, I don't think it will be worse.) It's fine to talk about not being able to let go of something good, trying to find a place in a confusing neutral zone, and embracing something new, but my mortgage is going to need paid. My work place might have done better by handing out copies of managing stress related to a job loss, including financial stress. This is not the fault of this book, however. (I tried to get something meaningful out of it since I had to read it, but unfortunately a sense of cynicism caused me to make sarcastic comments in the margins.)

There are several typos in this book in the form of missing words which was rather irritating. One Latin quote did not make sense to me because of the lack of the "being verb". I don't speak Latin, but something seemed off. "Omnia uno tempore agenda" looked like it would be translated "Everything one time done". The quote is actually "Omnia uno tempore erant agenda" - "Everything had to be done at once". Better proofreading would have helped.
( )
  Chica3000 | Dec 11, 2020 |
I am retired. It's time to remove business books from my "to-read" shelf because I am no longer interested in them. ( )
  bread2u | Jul 1, 2020 |
Audiobook version.

A very useful book for managing change in general. There are numerous questionnaires, which would be useful in a workshop scenario but not really enjoyable when listening.

I really like the concept that the transition period is really the most critical part of change management. This is where many changes in an organization can fail or lose momentum. I also appreciated the compassionate viewpoint towards the effect of change on affected employees.

This book was certainly useful, I would certainly attempt to put many of these concepts to work on any change that I was responsible for in the workplace. ( )
  Tod_Christianson | May 5, 2008 |
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Directed at managers and employees in today's corporations, where change is necessary to revitalize and improve corporate performance, this guide addresses the fact that it is people that have to carry out the change.

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