You can t get to where you re going until you leave where you ve been.

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You can’t get to where you’re going until you leave where you’ve been.

The great thing in this world is not so much where we are,

but in what direction we are moving.



The Three Phases of Transition

Transition is an internal, three-phase, psychological reorientation people go through in coming to terms with a change. It starts with an ending, goes through a neutral zone, and finishes with a new beginning.

Endings – people let go of the old ways of doing things and who they were in the old


o Denial or disbelief that things will really change o Frustration, fear and anxiety about what’s coming

o People experience endings differently and have various ways of ‘letting go’

 How are endings playing a part in the change you are experiencing?

 What are you losing? What are your colleagues losing?

 What can you do to manage the endings for yourself and others?

Neutral zone – people find themselves in a confusing, in-between state. They are no longer who they were and doing what they did in the past, and have not yet integrated a new identity.


3 o Anxiety rises; motivation falls

o Doubt and confusion about what’s being created o Opportunity for creativity is high

 What can you do to help yourself and others through the neutral zone?

 What are ways to strengthen your team during this time of uncertainty?

 How can you capitalize on the opportunity for creativity and new ideas?

New beginning – people start to take hold and grow familiar with the new reality and can begin to identify with the situation again.

o There is more excitement than doubt

o Actual changes and impacts are seen and felt

o New understandings, attitudes and identities are prevalent

o Individuals and groups feel connected and responsible for accomplishments

Where do you think you are right now in your own adjustment to the organizational changes you face?



Leading Through Endings: A Checklist

YES _____


_____ Have I identified who is likely to lose what – including myself?

_____ _____

Am I understanding and empathetic to the subjective realities of losses to the people who experience them, even when I think these people are overreacting?

_____ _____ Have I permitted people to grieve?

_____ _____

Have I appropriately responded to people’s emotions while not letting the work suffer?

_____ _____ Have I publicly expressed my own sense of loss, if I feel any? _____ _____ Am I giving people accurate information over and over again?

_____ _____

Have I defined clearly what is over and what is not over, or at least attempted to keep a running list of questions about this?

_____ _____ Have I found ways to “mark the ending”? _____ _____ Am I being careful not to denigrate the past?

_____ _____

Have I made a plan for giving people a piece of the past to take with them?



Losses That are Often Experienced During Organizational Transitions

Types of Loss Symptoms Alleviators Example ATTACHMENT Relationships, group identify Depression Sadness Acknowledge losses Ritualistic endings Creation of a new department or unit; new leader TURF Areas of responsibility; Influence Rigidity Passive Conflict Negotiate new responsibilities (temporary)

Any change that involves how or where things are done (ie. new technology) STRUCTURE Patterns of authority, policies, deadlines, schedule Out of control Confusion Questioning Challenging

Develop new temporary structures Changes in patterns of authority, policies, schedules, leadership, mergers FUTURE Promotions, security, opportunities Demotivation Job hunting Career development Counseling Information Changes in pension or retirement plans MEANING Belief in the organization Challenging Rumor Mill Establish credible rationale

Factual, honest, open Allow feedback Consider WIIFM Change threatens meaning in everyone’s life CONTROL Amount of influence people have on their work life Sabotage Slow-downs Information Involve employees in planning change Powerless to change the outcomes, top down decisions



Change, Transition and Loss

To get a better sense of who is losing what, enter any helpful information below.

Losing What You? Members of Your Team?

Status Turf Power/Influence Relationships Routines/Structures Future Meaningful Work Control of Destiny Personal Identity Competence Other……


7 Employees respond as much to the emotional factors as to the rational factors of change. This grid demonstrates the variety of responses employees may have to a change.

Comply – “I understand the changes but I resent the impersonal way they were made; I will probably comply because I really don’t have a choice.”

Resist – “I don’t understand why the change occurred. I feel betrayed, and I may resist.” Cooperate -- “I don’t fully understand why change was necessary, but I believe the organization and my leader care about me, so I will cooperate.”

Champion – “I understand why the changes benefit the organization. I believe they were made with reasonable regard for my interests, and I will champion them.”



Leading People through the Neutral Zone

The neutral zone is the psychological no-man’s-land between the old reality and the new one. It is the limbo between the old sense of identity and the new. It is the time when the old way of doing things is gone but the new ways don’t feel comfortable yet…a kind of emotional wilderness, a time when it isn’t quite clear who you are or what is real.

 People’s anxiety rises and motivation falls. Energy is drained away from work into coping tactics.

 People miss work more when in the neutral zone.

 Old weaknesses, previously ignored or compensated for, sometimes reemerge.

 People get mixed signals because information is miscommunicated and systems are in flux.

 People become polarized: those who want to rush forward to the new beginning, and those who want to go back to the way things were.

 It is a time ripe with creative opportunity. (This is the good news – in case you missed it!)

People don’t resist change as much as transition.

They resist letting go of old ways and of their former identity. They resist the confusing state of being in between two realities.

They resist embracing a state where they don’t know what the new rules are. They resist the risk of failing or looking stupid as they try something new.

People can only begin a journey from where they are and they tend to go with guides they trust.

Here are ways to help people through this uncertain time:

 “Normalize” the neutral zone. People need to recognize that it is natural to feel frightened and confused at such a time. As the old patterns disappear from people’s minds and the new ones begin to replace them, people can be full of misdoubt and misgivings.

 Create temporary systems for the neutral zone. Review policies and procedures, roles and reporting relationships to see that they are adequate to deal with the confusion of the neutral zone.

 Create short-term goals for people to aim toward. This will help folks have a sense of achievement and of movement.

 Be realistic in what can get accomplished. Don’t promise high levels of output – you’ll end up apologizing for not meeting expectations.

 Strengthen your team. People feel isolated and lost when in the neutral zone. Create new opportunities for connection.



 Use this time for creativity by:

o Talking about using this time to step back and take stock, to question the “usual” and come up with new solutions. Explain how business as usual chokes off creativity and explain why the present is the best possible time to generate and test new ideas. Model this behavior yourself by reviewing your own job, and policies and procedures over which you have control.

o Create opportunities for others to review and refocus. You can do this through retreats, work teams, surveys, etc. Look for occasions to brainstorm new answers to old problems.

o Provide training in the techniques of discovery and innovation.



Leading People through the Neutral Zone: A Checklist





Have I done my best to normalize the neutral zone by

explaining that it is an uncomfortable time and feelings such as fear and anxiety are natural?

_____ _____

Have I created the temporary policies and procedures that we need to get us through the neutral zone?

_____ _____ Have I set short-term goals and checkpoints? _____ _____ Have I set realistic objectives?

_____ _____

Have I found new and meaningful ways for the team to connect?

_____ _____

Have I explained that this time of uncertainty is also a great opportunity for us to look at new ways of doing business and to tackle old problems?

_____ _____

Have I stepped back and taken stock of how things are being done (things that I have control over)?

_____ _____

Have I provided opportunities (and resources and support) for others to do the same?

_____ _____

Have I seen to it that people build their skills in creative problem-solving and innovation?

_____ _____

Am I using this time in the neutral zone to come out stronger than when it all started?



Launching New Beginnings: A Checklist





Am I distinguishing in my own mind, and in my expectations of others, between the start, which can happen on a planned schedule, and the beginning, which will not?

_____ _____

Do I accept the fact that people are going to be ambivalent toward the beginning I am trying to bring about?

_____ _____

Have I attended to the ending(s) and the neutral zone, or am I trying to make a new beginning happen before it possibly can?

_____ _____

Have I clarified and communicated the purpose of (the idea behind) the change?

_____ _____

Have I drawn an effective picture of the change’s outcome and found ways to effectively communicate it?

_____ _____

Have I created a transition plan (focused on the personal and psychological level) and distinguished it from the action plan (focused on tasks and deadlines)?

_____ _____

Have I helped people discover the part they will play in the

outcome and how that outcome will affect the part they currently play within the organization?

_____ _____

Have I checked to see that policies, procedures, and priorities are consistent with the new beginning?

_____ _____ Have I built into my plans occasions for quick successes?

_____ _____

Have I found ways to celebrate the new beginning and the conclusion of the time of transition?



Tips for Leaders -- Leading Change and Transition

Don’t leave an “information vacuum.”

There is NEVER too much communication during a time of change. Lack of clear, honest communication is the #1 complaint during times of change. Even if you think you’re being redundant, say it again. Chances are that someone either hasn’t heard it or hasn’t heard it FOR REAL. And if you don’t have information, communicate THAT…it’s better than saying nothing.

Who, what, where, when, why and how.

These are the basic ingredients to cover in every message about the change.

Be congruent in your messages and your behavior.

What you do speaks louder than what you say. Transition has enough confusion without adding mixed messages from you. Reinforce the behavior that you are looking for in others (see the rewards rule at the end), and be consistent in what you expect. Employees are watching!

Know the difference between “caring” and “pleasing.”

Each employee moves through transition at a different pace. It’s important to tune in to each employee and listen with empathy. But remember, “caring” and “pleasing” are two different things. Don’t derail your change by sending the message to employees that the outcome is still open for negotiation if it isn’t. You can respond with empathy and offer your support, while still reinforcing the change.

Treat the past with respect.

Remember that people identify with the way things used to be. It’s important to distinguish between the past and present, but remember to make distinctions in a non-judgmental way.

Take stock.

Review policies and procedures to see if they appropriate for the “new world.” Get employees involved in this process, and in the process of reviewing their own interests, abilities and skills. Help them make the connection between what they can offer and what is needed. Having a “part to play” can make a difference in attitudes!

Reward the right stuff.

As employees try to adjust to the change, be clear about what you expect from them and reward the behavior that you’re looking for. It may be a difficult time, but it’s probably difficult for everyone and that doesn’t mean results are not important any longer.



Keeping Grounded During Change

1. What keeps you grounded during change?

2. What triggers you or has a tendency to knock you off ‘center’, causing you stress?

3. What structures, strategies or support do you need to keep yourself anchored?



Tips for Employees – Change and Transition

Figure out what is – and isn’t - changing.

How does this change alter your work? What will you be doing differently as a result? What will remain the same? Be honest and specific. If you can’t answer these questions, maybe you need more information. In that case, talk with your manager.

Work on changing your attitude, if necessary.

Your attitude is one thing that you DO have control over when changes are happening around you in the workplace.

Be prepared for "psychological soreness."

During transitions it's normal to feel dislocated, frustrated, or confused. Sometimes people react by "goofing off," withdrawing, or exhibiting other less productive work habits. Get in the habit of monitoring your feelings, thoughts, and behavior. It might help to talk to your manager or a trusted colleague.

Be patient with others.

Help and support others as they adapt to change. It just might be the antidote you’ve been needing yourself.

Use this time as an opportunity for growth.

Reassess your personal and professional goals. Take a look at how the new situation can help you reach your goals. You may find that the change allows you to learn new skills or be a part of a project that will develop new knowledge. Communicate your ideas and what you can contribute to your supervisor.

Maintain a sense of humor.

Humor helps you keep things in perspective and it's therapeutic. You and those around you can help each other through the transition if you remain good-natured and upbeat.

Practice good stress management.

Transitions can be stressful. Take some of the stress off through some form of stress-reduction strategy. Exercise may also help, as well as a good diet and plenty of rest.

Keep doing the job.

Experts suggest that concentrating on doing your best and figuring out how you can have a positive influence will help you feel a sense of control and accomplishment.



Resolve not to be helpless.

Take optimistic action and try to find a solution. Feeling helpless is contagious and un-empowering.

Provide your supervisor with ideas on how your office might cope with the situation. One way to open the conversation might be, “After attending the workshop on change, I’ve been thinking about a few ideas that our staff might find helpful.”

Avoid passing along rumors.

Change often creates a vacuum of information, and people tend to fill it with whatever information they can find--true or not. If you need information, ask the appropriate person the appropriate questions.




Consider a change in your life that has affected you (work, family, community, personal interests, etc.). Reflect on these questions…

What was the change?

What ended as a result of this change?

What feelings, thoughts, ideas did you experience as a result of this change?

Can you identify the ‘neutral zone’ time that was a part of this change? What words describe this time for you?

What was the new beginning?

If this change could be ‘lived over’ again, what could be done differently?



REFLECTION AND INSIGHTS… My Relationship with Change

Am I aware of how I handle endings in my life? What is my response to change and letting go of things? How have I handled endings at different stages of my life?

What do I do when I feel resistance inside of me regarding personal and/or organizational change? DO I fight it or do I push it down? Do I explore it and talk about so I can learn and move on?

What beliefs do I have about myself that limit me from exploring new ways of doing things? Do I believe there are multiple responses to issues or do I focus on finding the ‘one’ right answer?

Do I visualize myself taking risks or experiencing new ways of thinking or doing something?

Where is my comfort zone? What situations ‘push’ at the boundaries of what I am comfortable with? What examples can I cite where I have leaned into my discomfort to expand my

confidence and capacity?

What is my decision making style when I am stressed by change?

Do I have at least one person who will support me and provide a ‘safe environment’ to explore the issues and feelings I have during change and transition? Do I make the time to reflect on the changes in my life?


18 Have I recognized and rewarded myself for taking risks and expanding my capacity for

embracing and working with change in my life?

Can you think of a time when you radically changed your view of a particular person or a part of your world? In what way were you different as a result? In what way was ‘reality’ difference?

Identify a time in your life when you were in the victim role. What happened? Did you choose to leave it? What were the results?




Bridges, William. (2003). Transition. Making Sense of Life’s Changes. New York: Perseus Publishing, 2nd Ed.

Bridges, William. (1980). Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. New York: Perseus Publishing.

Ford, Debbie. (2003). The Right Questions. Harper Collins.

Johnson, S., & Blanchard, K. (1998). Who moved my cheese? An amazing way to deal with change in your work and life.

Kotter, John. (1996). Leading Change. Harper Business School Press.

Kotter, John. (2006). Our Iceberg is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions.

St. Martin’s Press.

Quinn, Robert. (1998). Deep change. Jossey-Bass.