Managing Change

Managing Change – Bridges Model
Guiding People Through Change

Managing change is never easy. There is no exact science and how people respond to managing change programmes, will be as individual as it is unpredictable. So, from your own experience have you found that as soon as you mention change, at least a quarter of the people you are talking to will start to shift uncomfortably in their seats?

Worst still, you might also be on the receiving end of tactical resistance. So what makes people so afraid of change?

More often than not they have had a bad experience. A change proposal which is meant to be participative, but is actually a fait accompli. Losing their job in a time of austerity, will also play a major part. There will be a whole host of reasons, some generic, others quite unique to the individual themselves.

Yet, change managed well can bring all sorts of exciting opportunities, so what’s the key to implementing change successfully? Understanding people, their values, their motives and their preferences are all important. Attaching too little importance to understanding your people will lead to resistance and ultimately failure.

There are many, many change models to choose from and Bridge’s Model is one. Developed by change consultant William Bridges, the model is an evolution of the Transition Curve. The word transition here is emphasised. It does not focus on change per se, but transition. This is an important distinction. Change can, and often is, external. It’s what happens to people, whether they like it or not sometimes. Transition on the other hand, is an internal process. It’s the personal journey of the individual and often occurs over a much longer period of time.

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Managing Change - Bridges Model

Bridges argues that there are three transitional stages when they are the subject of change:
1 Ending, Losing, and Letting Go;
2 The Neutral Zone, and;
3 The New Beginning.

The speed at which individuals progress through these stages will be different eg: those who find change harder will often spend longer on stage 1. So what does this look like in reality?

This is the first transitional stage, and how people respond will be very much dependent on their tolerance of change. Often this stage is characterised by tactical resistance, emotional upset, anger, and despondency. They are in effect grieving for what was once their reality.

As mentioned in our Blog: Life After Redundancy individuals will experience a wide range of emotion, including, but not limited to:

  • Fear
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Sadness
  • Disorientation
  • Frustration
  • Uncertainty
  • A sense of loss

It’s important for people to work through this stage before they can begin to reconcile themselves to the change. If you ignore the emotion, you will continue to be met with resistance.

Seek first to understand before you are understood. Wise words from Stephen Covey! Understanding the emotion of others is important, as is allowing people time to work through their emotion. Push too hard, and the barriers will come down and it is unlikely that you will ever get them to buy in to the change. Use empathic listening skills, be transparent in your communication, follow through with actions and don’t make promises you either cannot keep or are not in your gift to give in the first place.

Invite contributions; ask people how they think they can put their skills, experience etc., to good use once the change has been implemented. Are there new skills they would benefit from learning etc.? People often fear what they don’t know or don’t understand, so the more you can communicate, the more you can paint a picture of the benefits etc., the more likely they will be able to work through Stage 1 at a reasonable speed.

Stage 2 often equals confusion, hurt, anger, uncertainty, sarcasm, mirth, contempt etc. It is also at this stage that workload is likely to increase thus exacerbating the perception that the change is ill-thought through and wrong. In this stage, people affected by the change are often confused, uncertain, and impatient. Depending on how well you’re managing the change, they may also experience a higher workload as they get used to new systems and new ways of working.

Think of this phase as the doorway from the old to the new; in many ways, people will still want to work with processes, systems etc., that they are familiar with as this is their comfort zone.

Typically, they may:

  • Resent the change initiative
  • Show low morale and low productivity
  • Show anxiety about their role, status or identity
  • Show scepticism about the change initiative

Despite these, this stage can also be one of excitement, generation of new ideas, and innovation. Talking to people, capturing their ideas, making them feel heard and trying new ways of working are all important here and empowers people accordingly.

Your steer here is very important. As people go through this neutral period they can experience discomfort leading to loss of productivity, poor morale and a feeling of despondency.

Because people might feel out of their comfort zone providing clear leadership and direction is essential. Team objectives linked to the corporate plan helps people know where they fit into the bigger picture. Talk to them about how they are feeling, acknowledge that it is a difficult time, but do also remind them of the benefits.

Hold regular meetings to update people and answer questions, provide feedback on performance, acknowledge and recognise quick wins to establish a more positive perception of the change programme.

Focus on morale, and invite contributions to the change programme. Celebrate success, and also capture the lessons learnt. If workload needs to be reprioritised, do it and if additional resource is required procure it.

As people begin to embrace the change programme, they gradually become more accepting and feel re-energised. They are developing new skills, and starting to see the benefits and how this contributes to the bigger picture. They are seeing the fruits of their labours.

At this stage, people are likely to experience:

  • Increased energy
  • Openness to learning
  • Renewed commitment to the organisation or their role

As people begin to adopt the change, it’s essential that you help them sustain it. Use techniques like Management by Objectives to show people how their personal contribution makes a difference to the long-term objectives of the organisation; regularly talk about achievements and success; reward high performance etc.

Do remember though that not everyone will reach this stage at the same time, and also bear in mind that people can revert back to previous stages if they believe the changes are not realising any true benefits.

Don’t be in too much of a rush or try to place your own tolerance for change onto others; instead, do what you can to guide them positively and sensitively through the change process.

2: Bridges’ Transition Model is not too dissimilar to the Change Curve in that it shines the spotlight on the feelings that people go through during change. Both models are useful in helping you guide people through change, and they work well together.

3: While the model can help you to lead people through change more effectively, it’s not a substitute for good Change Management. Use tools such as Kotter’s 8 Step Model  and Lewin’s Change Management Model alongside Bridges’ model.

For more tip on managing change, watch:
Change Management Explained

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