William Bridges

Navigating the transitions of change

William Bridges focuses on transitions and the psychological changes that lie behind behind significant organisational change.

He maintains that the situational changes are not as difficult for companies to make as the psychological transitions of the people impacted by the change.

william bridges,change management,change managers,change management trainingWilliam Bridges' theory involves a three-phase process of:

(1) Ending, Losing, Letting Go - helping people deal with their tangible and intangible losses and mentally prepare to move on

(2) The Neutral Zone - critical psychological realignments and repatterning takes place. This is all about helping get people through it, and capitalising on all the confusion by encouraging them to be innovators

(3) The New Beginning - helping people develop the new identity, experience the new energy, and discover the new sense of purpose that make the change begin to work.

Bridges Transition Model

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Unlike earlier models such as Lewins, which speak of institutionalising or "freezing" behaviors, Bridges' attention is focused on helping people discover, accept, and embrace their new identities in the new situation.

He theorises how these life stages can become a constant cycle of organisational renewal via the creation of a culture that embraces and nurtures change as a way of life.

Managing transitions

As with the Beckhard change equation, this is another example of a change model that recognises the basic psychology of change at the personal level, and that is people centred.

In the best-selling "Managing Transitions" William Bridges provides a clear understanding of what change does to employees and what employees in transition can do to an organisation.

He addresses the fact that it is people who have to carry out the change.

When the book was originally published a decade ago, William Bridges was the first to provide any real sense of the emotional impact of change and what can be done to keep it from disrupting the entire organization.

Bridges - Managing Transitions

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William Bridges - Lost in Transition

One of the main points that William Bridges makes in his book "The Way of Transition " is that transition is not the same as change. Change is what happens to you. Transition is what you experience. And transition involves loss and letting go - typically of old familiar routines and ways of doing things, social identity, role identity, status, money and relationships.

william bridges,change management,change managers,change management training "To cross over the line into the transition, you need to ask yourself what inner relinquishments you'll need to make because of the change. What needs will you have to find other ways to get met? Because of your change, what parts of yourself are now out of date?"

Personally I take the view that at root, change management is about process and people. But even process is just about people doing stuff... so ultimately it's all about people - and processes that work for people.

Any organisational initiative that creates change - or has a significant change element to it - has a 70% chance of not achieving what was originally envisaged. In my experience, of the 3 main reasons for failure, the underlying cause is nearly always to do with senior management's failure to take full account of the impact of the changes on those people who are most affected by them i.e. the absence of good strategies for managing change.

Learn how to apply Bridges' transition model in practise

Huddle Collaboration

The importance of the emotional dimension

Many thought leaders in the world of change management and change leadership are now speaking vociferously about the importance of the emotional dimension of leadership and the need to address the human dimension of change. For example:

The Kubler Ross grief-cycle otherwise known as the "change roller coaster" which maps the emotional stages that people pass through in their transition through change.

- Daniel Goleman and others have stressed the importance of the leader's ability to articulate a message that resonates with their followers' emotional reality and their sense of purpose, and thus motivate them to move in a specific direction.

Huddle Collaboration - John Kotter says that the single biggest challenge facing leadership in a change process is just getting people to change their behaviour - and that happens... "When they are motivated to do so, and that happens when you speak to their feelings."

- Jon Katzenbach highlights the value of personalising the workplace and making and demonstrating a personal commitment by getting involved and truly understanding what your staff is doing on a daily basis.

- Andy Pearson

emphasises how people will respond to their leaders efforts to connect with their emotional side: "Great leaders find a balance between getting results and how they get them."

So to summarise, in William Bridges' own words:

"A change can work only if the people affected by it can get through the transition it causes successfully."

In my view, and at a practical level, of all the methodologies of how to manage change and how to address the accompanying transition, the programme management based approach is most likely to ensure that you avoid the 70% failure rate, and this is because:

(1) It is holistic and takes a wider perspective.
(2) It focuses you on addressing issues and aspects that otherwise get overlooked.
(3) It addresses the people impacts and issues arising as a direct and indirect result of your change initiative.

William Bridges - 3 Simple Questions to Lead People Through Change Transition

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William Bridges focuses on the transitions and the psychological changes that lie behind significant organisational change. Bridges draws the important and frequently overlooked distinction between change and transition.

Bridges sees change as situational and transition as psychological.

In my experience and in my view - it is the people related issues that lie behind the staggering and consistent 70% failure rate of all significant organisational change initiatives.

"A change can work only if the people affected by it can get through the transition it causes successfully."

So many times I have asked the question of directors considering some form of change initiative: "Why are you doing it and how will it benefit you and how will you know it's benefited you?" - and got a vague or general answer along the lines of "we'll be... bigger... better... closer to our customers... reduce our costs... etc"

In a recent article, William Bridges said; "It still surprises me how often organizations undertake changes that no one can describe very clearly." He poses these 3 simple questions:

(1) What is changing?

So often senior executive convey a very unclear picture of the change and describe it in terms of generalities. Bridges believes that change leaders need to able to express the change in a clear simple statement that can be expressed in under one minute. This way people will obtain a core understanding of what is changing.

William Bridges offers the following guidance - the statement must:

- Clearly express the change leader's understanding and intention
- Link the change to the drivers that make it necessary
- "Sell the problem before you try to sell the solution."
- Not use jargon
- Be under 60 seconds in duration

(2) What will actually be different because of the change?

William Bridges says: "I go into organizations where a change initiative is well underway, and I ask what will be different when the change is done-and no one can answer the question."

He believes that in many cases, change initiatives are conceived at such a high level in the management structure that the planners are unaware and out of touch with the impacts the change will have - on departments, jobs and individuals: "A change may seem very important and very real to the leader, but to the people who have to make it work it seems quite abstract and vague until actual differences that it will make begin to become clear... the drive to get those differences clear should be an important priority on the planners' list of things to do."

In my view this is all about clear communication and good expectation management. This is what a programme based approach to change management addresses directly.

(3) Who's going to lose what?

William Bridges maintains that the situational changes are not as difficult for companies to make as the psychological transitions of the people impacted by the change.

He suggests that the transition starts with a loss - a letting go of the old ways of how things were before the change: "...we often say... that you don't cross the line separating change management from transition management until you have asked 'Who will lose [or has lost] what?'"

Transition management is all about seeing the situation through the eyes of the other guy. It is a perspective based on empathy. It is management and communication process that recognises and affirms people's realities and works with them to bring them through the transition. Failure to do this, on the part of change leaders, and a denial of the losses and "lettings go" that people are faced with, sows the seeds of mistrust.

In my view, William Bridges' 3 simple questions are an excellent starting place for addressing the foundational causes of the catastrophic 70% failure rate in change management, and it resonates with and is totally consistent with the holistic and wide view perspective of a programme based approach to change management.

William Bridges - 3 Guidelines to Successful Change Management

Change is an emotional business. The failure to address the human impacts of change is at the root of most failed change initiatives. It is not enough just to "manage" change; people need to be led through change.

One of the major change leadership priorities is recognising and addressing the inner psychological and emotional adjustments that people move through in response to external organisational change events.

William Bridges draws the important distinction between organisational change and what he calls the "transition" that people need to move through in order to successfully adapt to the new circumstances arising from that change.

Here are 3 important guidelines that Bridges' highlights:

(1) "Transition readiness" is best indicated by an organisations legacy of change initiatives

Whenever Bridges' team undertake an assignment one of their first assessments is of what he calls "transition readiness". This is important he says as it "provides an important early indicator of what lies ahead, and one of the things we inquire into is the organisation's history of changes, both those that worked and those that didn't."

A deeper dimension to this enquiry into the change initiative legacy is to look at the scars left by successful as well as unsuccessful initiatives.

From a change leadership perspective, it is crucial to understand and address the scar tissue left by previous initiatives. The most effective way of doing this is by actions - by demonstrating that you as change leader do understand and care, and that you are taking steps to mitigate the pain.

(2) Executive detachment from everyday work impedes transition

So often it is just assumed by senior management that people can and will accept an organisational change.

But, the failure to recognise and attempt to address this dimension is a significant cause of organisational change failure. The larger the human impact of the organisational change the greater the need for some form of "transitional support".

Many directors and senior managers have the emotional detachment and objectivity to make clear, sound strategic decisions yet seem to lack the "counter-balancing" self-awareness and emotional intelligence to realise the impact of their decisions.

This omission frequently [and unnecessarily] delays or jeopardises the implementation of their strategic vision and the realisation of the organisational benefits.

Bridges: "These executives' detachment from the everyday work-work, which is so often defended as necessary to be 'strategic,' keeps these people from understanding what has to happen for changes to work as planned."

The higher you are in your organisation - the more quickly you are likely to move through your own personal transition. You know the intended destination, and have probably known for some while. Most of your people however, will not have this head start.

Your people won't "just get it"; they will take at least as long as you did to transition and quite probably a lot longer.

As a change leader, it is important to understand why your people will not necessarily embrace change.

In my view, the reality is that most organisational leaders come from technical, operational or financial backgrounds and, to put it bluntly, do not have the necessary people skills or experience to lead their people through a transition.

Bridges makes the point that it is significant that: "the great leaders, from Moses and Caesar to Lincoln and Lee, were people who deeply understood the people they were leading."

(3) Debrief thoroughly after each change initiative - find out what worked and what didn't

Bridges says that senior executives are usually in such a hurry to move on to the next change that they fail to learn from each concluding change initiative. He says that executives need to undertake a careful debrief to identify key lessons learnt.

He shares this anecdote: "I first realized that after helping a 50,000-person technology company close a fabricating plant. It went very well--they actually doubled productivity per person during the closedown process! But when they called to ask for help in shutting another facility, I discovered that they had 'forgotten' what they had done with the previous shutdown."

In Bridges' view, senior executives need to regard every change initiative as a thorough learning experience, to ascertain what worked and didn't and why. Learn how to apply Bridges' transition model in practise

Bridges Change Readiness - Assessment Tool

Books by William Bridges

All books by Bridges

Key factors to address BEFORE embarking on a change intiative

Change Management Risk Assessment

Change Management Implementation

Change Equation - INPACT Assessment

Leadership Qualities - Creating a Change Culture

Managing Personal Change

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