by Matt Minahan

Funny thing about change. It always looks good on paper, but when it gets into the hands of real people to implement, somehow, something, and sometimes, everything goes wrong. Often, leaders and CEOs blame the staff for being lazy or resistant to change, saying, "They just don't get it." And often, they're right. But why? Why don't the worker bees "get it," when it's so clear and simple to those at the top?

Most often, the problem is not with the lazy or resistant staff, or even the HR staff who collude to maintain the status quo. Most often, the problem has more to do with the change plan itself. No doubt, it covers the new strategy and organizational structures of the change; it might even identify key leaders in the new scenario. But most often, it is missing any consideration of how people respond to change, and without that, even the best designs are going to encounter trouble.

William Bridges has been thinking and writing about this for years. In "Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes -- Strategies for Coping with the Difficult, Painful, and Confusing Times in Your Life" (1980), he outlines three stages that occur during times of transition:

  • Endings. Remember, all transitions begin with one! Too often, we confuse them with finality, saying, "that's it, it's over, all finished!" A better solution is be conscious and aware that this is a time for sadness and regret, and that's not only OK, it's required before anything more constructive can happen.
  • The Neutral Zone: Feels like walking in molasses! This period seems unproductive, like a time-out when we feel disconnected from people and things in the past, emotionally unconnected to the present. Yet, this is really a time for reorientation, and if we know about it, we can make the most of it.
  • The New Beginning: Most change efforts start here, but get confounded when people seem to resist. Your rationale for change must be compelling, your new strategy must be engaging, your new vision must be inspiring, and, even if you get all of that right, it will fail if you don't account for the endings and neutral zone that accompany even the best designed change programs.