If old books are like old friends, then the book in the photo is a trusted and dear companion. My copy of Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change by William Bridges has been with me since 1991. Its dog-eared pages, highlighted sections and margin notes are like a diary of change over the last 20 plus years.
Proceed down memory lane starting with Chapter One: It Isn’t The Changes That Do You In. How many discussions have happened around this point that the change isn’t finished because a deadline has passed? There were the mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures, all eagerly led by true believers that the change would be over when the deadline came. Look at the first underline: Change is external. Transition is internal. I repeated it so many times that I could have made it into a tattoo.
On to the Neutral Zone chapters. The “Neutral Zone” is the period when the old ways don’t work anymore and the new ways don’t work yet. I wrote “day after deadline” to describe this phase on page 34. The neutral zone is a place where weaknesses emerge because the old compensating systems are gone. Frustration rises because 1) things are moving too fast or 2) things aren’t moving fast enough. It’s the place where people hang on to whatever their identities were because they don’t yet know what their identities are.
Next to a highlighted sentence on page 43: Capitalize on the opportunity the neutral zone provides to do things better. Here’s one way I remember this concept during real change. My team was responsible for the creation of a combined training and organization development group to support a newly merged sales organization. Representatives of all three former organizations were on the team. Our first goal was to design a first line manager session. We got through all of the key decisions with remarkable swiftness: objectives, participants, content, and follow up engagement. What was the sticking point? The start time. It was a battle between the “come in Sunday night and roll up sleeves Monday morning” group and the “Start mid day Monday group.” Of course, this was a cover for the real issue. The real issue was “ We did it right and it’s my (our) job to prove it.”
It is during the gap between old and new that the organization’s systems of immunity are weak enough to allow new solutions to emerge. After about a week of bickering, we decided the solution was to survey the participating clients. Their feedback broke through the clenched hands of both groups. Participants had a strong preference for a Thursday/Friday session and a near universal dislike for either a Sunday or a Monday start. All of the old organizations foisted their choice on the participants for years. The neutral zone forced us to consider a better option that was neither of the old choices. Don’t waste the neutral zone in trying to get back to where you were. Use it to get better. The great” start time debate” is a simple reminder of this principle.
Star next to the sentence on page 51: Beginnings are strange things. People want and fear them at the same time. The faces of leaders who sat with me discussing the people behind the names on their organization charts flash before me. How many times did we discuss “Purpose, Picture, Plan, Part?” It’s not whether we say it; it’s whether they get it. Everyone needs a personal message. You said it? Say it again. And again. How do you practice? What gets rewarded?
This trip down memory lane was occasioned by the opportunity I have this week to be certified to use the Bridges Transition Model with my clients. I am so excited, not only to learn something new but also to get the opportunity to use something that I know works. The materials indicate that I’ll get a new book. That’s fine, but I’m keeping my old one. We’re good friends.
Bridges, William ( 1991). Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Cambridge, MA: Persues Books.