10/23/2022, 12:45 p.m. CST
Read Time: 2 min. 30 sec.
In the book Managing transitions: Making the most of change, written by William Bridges, leaders learn how change is easy, and transitions within the change are complex. The author describes that transitions are psychological and include a "three-phase process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about" (page 21 of 256).
A transition consists of the ending (losing, letting go), the neutral zone, and the new beginning. In the ending, people have the challenge of letting go. Here, people must let go of things and behaviors that make up their identity. This is when leaders need to help their colleagues deal with their losses.
After the ending, we enter an uncertain time called the neutral zone. This is an odd place to find yourself. The old is not entirely gone, yet the new is unknown and chaotic, scary, and not fully operational. The neutral zone is an excellent time for creativity and innovation and a time for stress and anxiety. There is a lot of potential for growth in this stage. After surviving the stress of this transition, we enter a new beginning. In the new beginning, a new identity develops in people, new energy abounds, and people come to work with a new sense of purpose that makes the change work.
Patrick Lencioni reminds us that even positive change comes with loss and emphasizes the importance of a ceremony for the ending to move forward. It is about saying "goodbye" to the past while simultaneously burning your ship.
When discussing the neutral zone, Lencioni compares it to buyer's remorse. For example, you might be in a new job, wonder if you made the right decision, and debate about leaving it early on. Here, we remind ourselves of the loss and recognize that we control our response. As leaders, we must have astute situational awareness and deliver support to colleagues for their loss. If we do not offer support, people will return to the old way, give up, or quit and stay, leading to bitterness.
We help others get through the neutral zone by showing up, being present, telling the truth, and letting go of the outcomes. And we do this through care and concern. This is when we try to reassure that it will be okay and the challenge is not attempting to solve the problem for someone else. Some examples to help teachers who are in the neutral zone are: include providing time and training, providing factual information, offering teachers roles to participate in, and offering time for teachers to discuss and reflect with leaders.
Change is easy. Navigating the many transitions of the change is not. People must be constantly reminded of four programmatic and specific things when going through a change: purpose, picture, plan, and part. It is essential to continually remind people why (purpose) they are going through the change in the first place. Second, painting a picture of the destination of where we are going and why it will be better. Third, have a plan delivered in small, understandable, and doable chunks for the change, and, finally, people will need to know their part, or role, in the transition. Change is external and usually welcomed once it is over. The multiple internal transitions within the change often make it hard. As leaders, it is our responsibility to help everyone through the change. This means supporting people through the multiple internal transitions that often make change hard. We must be there for our colleagues, answer their questions, and help them understand what is happening. Only by working together can we successfully navigate through times of change and come out stronger on the other side.