Time With an Old Friend



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.

It’s Alive! Organizational Change In Real Time


My former colleague and current friend, Nadine Pearce, forwarded a remarkable find. Autodesk mapped the impact of three types of change on their organization over a four year period: 1) when an employee joined 2) when an employee left and 3) when an employee changed managers. Watch this!


This amazing depiction prompts three questions:

For individuals: How can you refresh your organizational network to develop relevant relationships?

For team leaders:  How can you refresh or recreate a team structure to reflect the current organization?

For organizations: How do your talent management and incentive systems enable success, given the pace of change?

Once again, you’ve given me much to think about, Nadine. Thank you!

Want Change? Build Leaders, Not Process


It’s two months after a major organizational change effort that affected your job. Which change leader described below might have increased your personal commitment to the change – your personal buy in and willingness to make it work-at this critical stage?

1. Leader A followed carefully planned change management steps. She presented an urgent business case for change and expressed her vision for the future. A guiding coalition was created to lead change. Teams were directed to create the new processes/practices within guidelines. Communications shared the always-good news of progress. The organizational celebrated when the change was completed on time, thus deemed a success.

2. Leader B has a passionate commitment to a shared future vision.  She views change as an effort to achieve this shared vision. She trusts empowered associates to make the vision come alive through the right decisions about their work.  Her high levels of personal credibility are a result of authentic interest in associate well-being and investment in their success. Conflict is acknowledged as an opportunity to learn instead of blame. She doesn’t follow anything but her leadership values and principles. Change isn’t celebrated because it’s “over,” but because it’s a regular result of individual and team innovation.

Commitment to Change Depends Upon the Leader, Not the Process

If you believe that your personal commitment to change- your buy in to make it work- is more likely to be enhanced under Leader B, you share the same conclusion reached in a wide ranging study involving 393 employees involved in change efforts across 30 organizations. The researchers, David Herold, Donald, Fedor, Steven Caldwell and Yi Lui, concluded that transformational leadership qualities, Leader B qualities, had a higher impact on the individual choice to buy in to change than “change management” practices adopted by transactional leaders like Leader A.  It also concludes:

  • Transactional leaders that followed change management steps got achieved better commitment results than transactional leaders who did not. So, some leaders really need change management steps to produce any success with change.
  • Transformational leaders who adopted change management behavior achieved improved commitment because of their credibility and authenticity. These leaders got results because of their personal equity more than their process.

Transaction Vs. Transformation

Leader A approaches change as a transaction. It is something to be done unto others.There is a business case for change presented to associates. This leader believes if associates are told, they will understand. There is a vision, but it is a vision of completing the change. There is empowerment, teams of people who develop a solution until it is approved by the leader. There are tasks and timeless. When these are done, the change is done. Everyone will do what he or she is supposed to do.

Leader B approaches change as they approach leadership. It is something done with others. There is a business case for change, created with associates. They understand it because they produced it. There is a vision, but it is a vision of the future. Associates envision a dynamic organization constantly in change because it is alive and growing.  Empowerment is expressed in teams of people who feel personal accountability for decisions because they will do what they create. There are tasks and timelines. When these are done, the change begins. Associates work differently; unanticipated problems arise or extra support is needed. It’s at this point when the importance of personal commitment to change makes the difference between success and failure. Committed associates are more likely make the choice to try to make it work instead of finding reasons why it won’t.

Invest In Lasting Change

I wonder if many concepts of “change” are old artifacts. Many assume that we still live in static states that get unfrozen, moved to something new and refrozen.  Under this concept, change is another transaction to be managed. It’s delivered by a series of leadership steps and models. Organizations invest in “change management” capabilities because of a belief that if more people know the steps, more can produce change.

Perhaps a better investment to produce organizational change capabilities is to invest in producing transformational leaders. It’s leaders, not steps, that can inspire affective commitment to change. Develop leaders who view change as something created because of people, not in spite of them. Leaders who do not wait for an initiative to lead through shared vision, empowerment and personal credibility. Leaders who understand that change happens when associates decide to stay invested instead of check out.

If you want greater organizational change capability, focus on transformational leaders.


Herald, D.M., Fedor, D.B., Caldwell, S., Lui, Yi. ( 2008). Effects of Transformational and Change Leadership on Employee Commitment to Change: A Multilevel Study. Journal of Applied Psychology, vol. 93, no.2 pp. 346-357.

To Get the Benefits of Change, Manage Transition


The sweet little girl in the photo is my granddaughter, Lucy. Her smile that lights the world has been temporarily replaced with an explosion of concern. Lucy’s Mom just rocked her world by removing a basket of treats, disrupting her plans for a blissful experience with unlimited chocolate. Lucy’s expression captures what we all consider when confronted with unplanned change:  Wait! What just happened here? A minute ago, I had everything all figured out. Then, the senior woman in the house changed my plans. Now what? As we mature, we are socialized not to show a face like Lucy’s. But that doesn’t mean that change, even positive change, doesn’t bring the same confusion and disappointment.  We simply learn not to show it. 

People leading change often forget what William Bridges observed decades ago in his classic work Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change.  Bridges observes that it’s not change that’s so challenging, it’s transition. He defines change as the situation, i.e. the new decision, the new job, the new rules, the new plan. Transition is the psychological process we undergo to come to terms with the change. Change is external – open and apparent for everyone. Transition is internal. We don’t see the personal turmoil of transition, unless people like Lucy make it obvious. When we don’t see the turmoil, we forget that it’s there.  Or, we pretend it’s not there so we don’t have to deal with it.  The mistake of focusing only on the change and not the transition has derailed otherwise positive change or made it much harder than necessary.

Change is often presented as a contrast between a “bad” past and a “good” future. Thus, the rationale goes, we’ll eagerly make the sacrifices necessary once we understand the potential. What this contrast ignores is that the past was good for some people. They figured out the game. Things got easier. They learned how to succeed. Change takes away ideas and behaviors as comfortable as sweatpants on a Saturday morning. No number of business case presentations on the necessity for change will make people who prized the past feel better about what they may lose.

Keys to Successful Transition

If you haven’t picked up Managing Transitions in a while, or ever, it’s a rich guide filled with examples and ideas to help people navigate the badlands between where they are and where they are going. My key recommendations from this work are summarized below.

1. Plan for change and transition. Change is discreet, episodic and impersonal. It’s described in plans or timelines everyone follows. Transition is complex, emotional and personal.  It’s expressed in reactions to endings, losses or sacrifices.

2.  Recognize transition travels at the speed of each individual.  Transition progress is measured in the unique journeys of people. It doesn’t respond to quarter end deadlines or change milestones. Business case presentations, pep talks or threats won’t accelerate transitions. Helping people figure out how they can succeed in the new world, and some patience, will.

3.  Celebrate transition victories. It doesn’t matter if you thought “they” should have adjusted faster or with greater easeWhat matters is that your talented associates are learning to give up the personal success of the old to try out the promise of the new. Small steps are big deals. Treat them that way.

The good news is both change and transition are manageable. That’s good news, because the benefits of change are realized through transition. With support, understanding and patience, people will make the private conversions necessary to move from endings to beginnings. Just like with Lucy, it’s possible to see those smiles again.