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June 2013


Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change


William Bridges (Da Capo, 2009)


What are the big take-aways?


Bridges drives home the importance of recognizing that changes are external, tactical shifts in strategy (e.g., a company restructuring) but that transitions are important psychological processes (e.g., how the employees view and adapt to the restructuring).  A change can happen overnight, while a transition can take a long time.


The reason transitions take time is because they require people to go through three necessary phases, which Bridges describes this way (pp. 4-5):


  1. Letting go of the old ways and the old identity people had.  This first phase of transition is an ending, and the time when you need to help people deal with their losses.
  2. Going through an in-between time when the old is gone but the new isn’t fully operational.  We call this time the “neutral zone”: it’s when the critical psychological realignments and repatternings take place.
  3. Coming out of the transition and making a new beginning.  This is when people develop the new identity, experience the new energy, and discover the new sense of purpose that make the change begin to work.


The entire book is a thoughtful and pragmatic “how-to” about working through the three phases of transition.


Why do I like it?


This was a more practical book than I expected; I thought it would be primarily theoretical and instead it’s kind of like a workbook.  I was also surprised that Managing Transitions is geared more towards organizations than individuals, but that makes it especially useful to leaders, for whom it “connects the dots” between an organizational change and the personal transitions it may require of the affected individuals.


A couple of chapters offer case studies, during which you can test your own change-management instincts against Bridges’ advice.  Many chapters end with checklists of recommended actions and communications designed to help leaders support the transition process so that they can therefore move the change along as smoothly and efficiently as possible.


I found Chapter 7 to be particularly valuable, as it astutely addresses a hot issue for many of my leadership coaching clients: “How to Deal with Nonstop Change.”  In it, Bridges notes that – among other things – these may be helpful tips to keep in mind: the three stages of transition could be constantly overlapping as different changes take place; perhaps an organizational mind-shift to “change as the norm” must happen; remaining clear – personally and organizationally – about your ultimate purpose is key; building and maintaining trust is also critical; “sell problems, not solutions” is a good practice for leaders; and it’s important to continually strengthen an organization’s overall “transition-worthiness” (which he likens to a ship’s sea-worthiness).


In what situations would this be useful?


If you’re in the midst of a workplace transition – whether as a leader or an employee, or in another stakeholder role – Managing Transitions is a fantastic resource.  The book strikes an appealing balance between presenting its thesis as simple, and yet presenting its strategic solutions – in the form of detailed advice and checklists – as very comprehensive.


Also, if you sense your organization is at a crossroads in its life cycle, Chapter 6 (“Transition, Development and Renewal”) can help you capitalize on a developmental transition for the purpose of renewal rather than allowing the organization to continue on its path to death (which – without intervention – is the natural conclusion in the life cycle of an organization).  Bridges provides a three-step process for how to choose renewal, and three questions leaders must ask themselves to make this revitalizing transition successful.


What other resources might “pair” well with it?


For more information about how to deal with others’ resistance to change, and working with people who have difficulty making transitions, see Kegan & Lahey’s Harvard Business Review article, “The Real Reason People Won’t Change” or their book on the same topic, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome it and Unlock the Potential in You and Your Organization (previously reviewed in the Leadership Library).  For more on specifically the trust- and relationship-building aspect of effectuating change, see Reina and Reina’s Rebuilding Trust in the Workplace (also previously reviewed in the Leadership Library).


Good workbooks that deal with leadership, change management and transition include Bill George’s Finding Your True North and Kevin Cashman’s Leadership from the Inside Out (both previously reviewed in the Leadership Library).  For transition on a personal level, I’d recommend Finding Your Purpose by Barbara J. Braham (Axzo Press, 2003).


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