Movement: A culture of constant personal and corporate growth and improvement is enabled through effective change management, self-development and a leadership pipeline

Helping People Make Smooth Transitions During Change


It’s not so much that we’re afraid of change or so in love with the old ways, but it’s the place in between that we fear. It’s like being between trapezes……It’s like Linus when his blanket is in the dryer. There is nothing to hold on to. – Marilyn Ferguson, American Futurist

We have already shown how the Change Curve can help a leader understand what people experience when they go through change. Another helpful model in guiding people through change is the Transition Model created by change consultant, William Bridges, and outlined in his 1991 book Managing Transitions.

Bridge’s model focuses on transitions rather than change. The differences between transition and change appear subtle but are in fact quite distinct. Change is something that happens to people, often times forced upon them and frequently against their wishes.

Transition on the other hand is internal, it is what happens inside people’s minds, hearts and emotions as they work their way through any change.

A final distinction is that change can happen very quickly, while transitions invariably occurs much more slowly.

Bridges’ model argues there are three distinct stages of transition that people go through when they experience significant change.

  1. Ending, Losing, and Letting Go
  2. The Neutral Zone
  3. The New Beginning

Stage 1: Ending, Losing, and Letting Go

This is the initial stage of transition people experience immediately following the introduction of change. Because people are being asked or forced to let go of that which they are comfortable with, this stage is most frequently marked by resistance and high levels of emotion.

These emotions include but are not limited to the following:

  • Anger
  • Fear
  • Frustration
  • Sadness
  • Grief
  • Denial

Because people have to accept that something is ending before they can accept a new change, if leaders don’t acknowledge the emotions people are experiencing they risk encountering continued resistance throughout the change process.

Therefore, it is important to allow time for people to work their way through these various emotions and can let go of the old ways. This requires conversations where leaders:

  • Listen empathetically
  • Help people apply their experience, skills and knowledge
  • Communicate clearly how the training and resources will be provided to help them work effectively with the new change.

People are more likely to move on to the next stage when leaders provide these reinforcements and allow them time to better understand that which they naturally fear.

Stage 2: The Neutral Zone

In this stage people experiencing change will often have feelings of impatience, uncertainty, disorientation, and confusion. Typically, they are also experiencing the early inefficiencies, lower productivity and higher workloads that accompany most change initiatives.

It is helpful to view this phase as a bridge between the old ways and the new ways, and to realize and accept that people will still have attachments to the old while trying to adapt to the new.

Here, people might experience:

  • Doubts about the effectiveness and efficiency of the change initiative
  • Poor attitudes and low morale
  • Anxiety about their ability to implement the change initiative
  • Resentment towards those who introduced the change initiative

Despite these negative emotions, this is the stage where most learning and new insights take place. Therefore, it can be a time for increased levels of creativity, innovation, and transformation.

Because it can seem that little progress is being made and people are feeling unproductive it is important for leaders to:

  • Provide regular feedback on performance and remind people of their contribution
  • Continually share the desired outcomes and benefits of the change initiative
  • Help people set short term goals and experience quick wins to boost morale
  • Adjust workloads and bring in additional resources if necessary

Stage 3: The New Beginning

Bridges’ final transition stage is a stage of acceptance and enthusiasm. Here people have begun to embrace the positive outcomes of the change initiative. They are experiencing success and seeing the results of their efforts.

In this last transition stage people are likely to experience:

  • New found energy
  • Renewed commitment
  • A desire to learn more

The challenge for leaders in this stage is to capitalize on momentum, lead people to full implementation of the change, and then to sustain it.

Here leaders should consider:

  • Helping people align personal objectives and goals to the change initiative
  • Helping people establish self-development plans linked to the change initiative
  • Celebrating what has been accomplished
  • Rewarding individuals and teams for their patience and hard work

Key Reminders

It is helpful to remember that not everyone will move through these stages at the same pace and that people can easily slip back to a previous stage. It is also important for change leaders to not force or rush people through these stages, but to guide them patiently, sensitively, and with mercy and grace through the process of change.

Also keep in mind that Bridges Transition Model is not a substitute for other change leadership approaches, such as Kotter’s 8-Step Model and the 8-Step Biblical Process for Leading Change we have outlined in other posts. Use it alongside these and the other change leadership techniques we have blogged about to guide people through your change initiatives.

In our next post we will look at Bridges’ three questions and three guidelines for leading people through change and the transitions they cause.


Posted on April 28, 2015

Jim Baker

Jim is a Church Organizational Leadership and Management Coach, Consultant and Trainer. Throughout his career Jim has demonstrated a passion for showing Pastors and Ministers how to use organizational tools for church and personal growth and health.

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“For I may be absent in body, but I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see how well ordered you are and the strength of your faith in Christ.” Colossians 2:5