Bridges' Transition Model
Guiding People Through Change by Managing Endings
Change is often quite uncomfortable, leading to resistance in ourselves and others, even when the need to move on is clear.
So, it's important to understand how your people are feeling, and why, as they approach change. If you can guide them through it skilfully and compassionately, they will likely – eventually – accept and support it.
Bridges' Transition Model helps you do this. We'll explore the model in this article, which we developed with the help of Susan Bridges.
What Is the Bridges' Model of Transition and Change?
Bridges' Transition Model focuses on transition, not change. The difference between these is subtle but important.
According to the model, change is something that happens to people, even if they don't agree with it. Transition, on the other hand, is internal: it's what happens in people's minds as they go through change. Change can happen very quickly, while transition usually occurs more slowly.
The Bridges' Model was created by change consultant, William Bridges. He first wrote about his ideas in his 1979 book, "Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes," going on to revise and republish several times with his business partner and spouse, Susan Bridges. Their 1991 book, "Managing Transitions," demonstrated how the model could be applied in the workplace, and Susan developed this further following William's death in 2013.
Mind Tools Club members and enterprise licensees can listen to our Expert Interview with Susan Bridges.
The Three Stages of Transition According to Bridges
Bridges' Model highlights three stages of transition that people go through when they are faced with change. These are:
- Ending, Losing, and Letting Go.
- The Neutral Zone.
- The New Beginning.
Bridges says that people will go through each stage at their own pace. For example, those who are comfortable with the change will likely move ahead to stage three more quickly, while others will linger at stages one or two.
Let's examine each stage in greater detail.
Bridges' Transition Stage 1: Ending, Losing, and Letting Go
People enter this initial stage of transition when you first present them with change. This stage is often marked with resistance and emotional upheaval, because people are being forced to let go of something that they are comfortable with or value highly.
At this stage, people may experience these emotions:
- A sense of loss.
Your team will need to accept that something is ending before they can begin to accept the new idea. If you don't acknowledge and address the emotions that people are going through, you'll likely encounter resistance throughout the entire change process.
Guiding People Through Stage One
It's important to accept people's resistance, and to understand their emotions. Allow them time to reflect on the current situation rather than simply demanding that they let go of it. Encourage everyone to talk about their memories, to express what they will (and won't!) miss, and what they're proud of having achieved. In these conversations, make sure that you listen empathically and communicate openly.
Emphasize how people will be able to apply their accumulated skills, experience, and knowledge once you've implemented the change. Explain how the best parts of the past will be remembered and celebrated, but equally how you'll give people what they need (training and resources, for example) in the new environment.
People often fear what they don't understand, so the more you can educate them about a positive future, and communicate how their knowledge and skills are an essential part of getting there, the likelier they are to move on to the next stage.
Bridges' Transition Stage 2: The Neutral Zone
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 bridge between the old and the new – people may still be attached to the old, and it probably won't be clear what the new is.
Here, people might experience:
- Resentment toward the change initiative.
- Low morale, energy and productivity.
- Anxiety about their role, status or identity.
- Skepticism about the change initiative.
Despite these, this stage can also be one of great creativity, innovation, and renewal. This is a great time to encourage people to try new ways of thinking or working.
Guiding People Through Stage Two
Your guidance is incredibly important as people go through this neutral period. This can be a particularly uncomfortable time, because it can feel like drifting, and it can seem that little progress is being made.
What the change is and where you're headed may be unclear during the neutral zone, so let the team know that it's OK to feel lost or unsettled. Remind them of team goals, and encourage them to talk about what they're feeling.
Meet with your people frequently to listen and to give feedback on how they're performing, especially with regard to change. It's also important to set short-term goals during this stage, so that people can experience some quick wins; this will help to improve motivation as well as giving everyone a positive perception of the change effort.
Also, do what you can to boost morale and continue to remind people of how they can contribute to the success of the change. If required, you may also want to help people manage their workloads, either by deprioritizing some types of work, or by bringing in extra resources.
Bridges' Transition Stage 3: The New Beginning
The last transition stage is a time of acceptance and energy. People have begun to embrace the change initiative. They're building the skills they need to work successfully in the new way, and they're starting to see early wins from their efforts.
At this stage, people are likely to experience:
- High energy.
- Openness to learning.
- Renewed commitment to the group or their role.
Guiding People Through Stage Three
As people begin to adopt the change, it's essential that you help them sustain it. Use techniques like Management by Objectives to link people's personal goals to the long-term objectives of the organization, and regularly highlight stories of success brought about by the change.
Take time to celebrate the change you've all gone through, and reward your team for all its hard work. However, don't become too complacent – remember that not everyone will reach this stage at the same time, and also remember that people can slip back to previous stages if they think that the change isn't working.
Don't get impatient or try to push people through to stage three; instead, do what you can to guide them positively and sensitively through the change process.
Bridges' Transition Model is similar to the Change Curve in that it highlights the feelings that people go through during change. Both models are useful in helping you guide people through change, and they fit together well.
While the model can help you guide people through change more effectively, it's not a substitute for other change management tools such as Kotter's 8-Step Model and Lewin's Change Management Model. Use Bridges' model alongside these tools.
Change consultant William Bridges created the Transition Model in 1979, and developed it with Susan Bridges over the following four decades.
The model highlights the difference between change and transition. Change happens to people. Transition, on the other hand, is internal: it's what happens in people's minds when facing and experiencing change.
You can use the model to understand how people feel as you guide them through change, and to tune your approach accordingly. It has three distinct stages:
- Ending, Losing, and Letting Go.
- The Neutral Zone.
- The New Beginning.
Be sure to avoid trying to jump straight to stage 3, as this will likely lead to resistance, distress and only partially effective change.
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