What Do You Mean By Transitions?
As we think about easing through transitional times of life (let alone breeze!), I’d like to draw from William Bridges’ wonderful work in Managing Transitions. In my mind, it’s a “must-read” both professionally and personally. For, it equally serves both contexts.
The first key distinction he makes is between change and transitions. Change is an external event or situation. Transition is internal – the psychological process all people go through to come to terms with new situations.
It matters not whether the “external” change is positive or negative for you. It could be a happy event like birth, an anticipated move of residence or a tragedy in the form of a loved one’s loss. Unless a genuine transition happens, change will not take.
Successfully Moving Through Three Phases
This brings me to the next tenet I love about Bridges’ work. So often, when corporate talk turns to “change management”, leaders singularly focus on projected outcomes. They overlook who will have to let go of what. Yet, I quote: “The failure to account for the endings and losses which change produces is the single largest problem which organizations in transition encounter.”
For that reason I suspect, transition consists of Endings, Neutral Zone and New Beginnings – in that sequence. First, strong emotions need to be given voice – in a process totally akin to the death and dying cycle itself. If people are stifled in expressing their truth, they’ll not truly let go of anger, sadness, etc. Inevitably, emotional baggage will get carried into new ventures.
Within the Neutral Zone – uncertain and chaotic as it is – individuals are pulled between the past and future. Though uncomfortable, there’s great opportunity here for renewal and innovation. While tempting to rush past ambiguity, premature escape will compromise learning and end results. Only by experiencing and releasing the first two phases will you fully embrace New Beginnings.
When I trace my own 25-year Organizational Development career, I especially remember a consolidation of 30 North American mini-Call Centres into one location. No small feat! Think of the logistics – let alone the human aspects. Ten years later (wow), I can honestly say our attentiveness to people’s legitimate right to grieve their losses plus mark Endings through celebration led to hugely successful re-employment (in new companies or the larger Call Centre, including many staff who moved cross-country).
The Top Ten List
Now it’s your turn! Either consider a transition you’ve gone through (at work or otherwise) or one you’re about to embark upon. You know how critical it is to grant yourself permission to live all feelings that arise at each phase. I’m here to support you in reflecting on these questions, applied to your chosen situation. Pick any subject you want and go for it:
- What are you losing as a result of this Ending?
- With whom can you share your feelings?
- How can you make sure to take care of yourself?
- What temporary structures/routines can you set in place during the Neutral Zone?
- What short-term goals can you achieve?
- How will you celebrate and reward yourself for achieving your goals?
- What is your version of success in the New Beginning?
- What might you gain as a result?
- What can you do to bring about the best possible outcome?
- Identify anything else you need by way of support/resources to move productively through the three phases of Endings, Neutral Zone and New Beginnings.
There! How does that feel? As a consequence, are you starting to take back your power? Your aim is to both clarify what needs to be let go but also to identify new possibilities (even if your scenario has associated pain).
Remember: So-called positive events like the arrival of a new bouncing family member aren’t without their challenges! Birth by no means denotes movement into the next transitional stage. It’s really only months later (when you’re comfortably settled into your “routine” with the little one) that a New Beginning can be said to have arrived. And if you need any further “proof”, see if you can relate to these great extracts from Mr. Bridges’ work:
You simply cannot get the results you need without getting into the “personal stuff”. Results depend on getting people to stop doing things the old way and getting them to start doing things a new way. There is no way to do that impersonally.
“Get on board,” they tell me. “That’s easy for them to say. They know what’s going on. But before I can get behind this thing, I need some time to figure out what’s going on and how I’m going to deal with the situation.”