This blog from our Managing Director, Lucy, is about the psychological journey people go on during change and why, as managers and leaders, we need to be aware of and respectful of this journey. We’re sharing resources like this in the hope that we can help people and organisations to manage change well.
Transitions is a model describing the journey people go through as change happens and was developed by William Bridges in the 1990s. The principle behind this model is that we all go through a psychological journey when we are approaching change. As managers and leaders, we need to recognise that journey and we need to make sure that we can support our teams through those different stages.
It’s a really simple model, described over three stages:
- New Beginnings
Where we stand in the COVID-19 pandemic and the changes happening in response to that, we are currently in the Neutral stage. Often organisations and leaders try to skip straight through the first two stages and go right into New Beginnings but it’s very important that we recognise and allow for the psychological need that people must go through each stage. Below I’ll take you through each stage and why respecting each of them is so important.
The first part of the model is about being able to let go of the old way of working. This stage is about making sure that we allow people the space to let go of their old way of working, that we acknowledge and respect the history and that we communicate with people around that.
This is where most people and organisations are now. The sense people have at this stage is one of ‘we’re not quite sure what’s happening’. We know that we’re changing but we don’t really have a clear way forward.
At this stage, we do know what the clear way forward is and we’re planning for that appropriately.
Why are these stages important?
Currently, I think we’re in the neutral zone and it’s important that we manage that well as leaders because there is a detrimental effect on our organisation and staff if we don’t. If we as leaders don’t respect people’s psychological journey, we won’t deliver the positive change needed. This is particularly true now because of how highly emotive change is for people and families.
Often, in normal change circumstances, people get quite excited about change – particularly those driving it. What they want to do is rush, ignore the first two stages, and go straight to their New Beginnings. This is a mistake because it minimises and disrespects people’s emotions.
Psychologically, people need some space and time to let go of old ways of working and feel that these ways were respected and valued. From a staff member’s perspective, change programmes can sometimes feel like an attack on their professional history. Perception of attack can lead to defensiveness, which can then drive unhelpful emotions and behaviour. Allowing and planning for the Endings stage is essential to help people feel respected and positive about change.
It’s now more important than ever to make sure that we do not minimise people’s emotions because this isn’t a normal change environment. You will have people coming back into your organisation who may have been furloughed, who may have been working remotely, you’ll have people who have lost family members, who may have had family members who have lost their jobs and people who have continued working and keeping things going. It’s a highly, highly, emotive time so as a leader please don’t rush through this. Please make the time to support people to let go of their old way of working.
Where we are, in this Neutral phase, is often described as feeling like you’re living out of a suitcase. You’ve not really got settled into the new way of working, you have, sort of, let go of the past but we’re all just making do and we’re not clear what the future is. At a time when there is uncertainty everywhere, not just in work, it’s even more important to help your staff feel safer. Not only for their own benefit, but because frightened people are less likely to be part of delivering effective change.
What can Managers Do?
What’s important for us to do as managers and leaders during this time is make sure that we are communicating. Over communicate and share the uncertainty with people and plan for it together. That will help your relationships with your staff and it will help you to get the best solution about how you’re going to come out of this.
Then when we do get to our New Beginnings, we must ensure that we continue to communicate, that we’re consistent, and that we celebrate the bits that are going well because of the change. We then can focus on the positives after guiding our teams through the uncertainty and grief.
We have a range of other blogs and videos on our website including the Change Curve, project management, delivering change, so feel free to have a browse.
We support individuals and organisations to plan and deliver their change journey so if you would like some help from us in getting back on your feet after COVID-19 and doing that change well, then please do get in touch.