“Not in his goals but in his transitions man is great.” —Ralph Waldo Emerson
William Bridges’ work has guided thousands of individuals and organizations through the transition process that accompanies change. Bridges was (he died in 2013) considered a preeminent authority on change and transition and transformed the way people think about change. His work continues to be influential.
William had an education in American literature and was influenced by the transcendentalist Ralph Waldo Emerson. During the 1960’s, researchers were interested in finding deeper meaning and understanding of the nature of the unconscious and conscious so that they could facilitate greater capacity in humans for happiness, creativity, and satisfaction. William immersed himself in a study of humanistic psychology. In 1974, William found his focus for his life’s work – researching, writing, and living with transition.
In the updated, 2016 edition of Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, Susan Bridges brings William’s capstone work on living with change and transition into the world of accelerated change.
The Bridges propose a way for organizations to focus on the transitions(the inner psychological process that people go through to adapt to a change) and not get trapped into just focusing on the change(an external event). Organizations and individuals should be proactive, not reactive. They should treat their people as more than just numbers used to help them get to a lucrative ‘bottom line’.
There are three ‘phases’ of transition and change: Endings, Neutral Zone, and New Beginnings.
Transition starts with the ending of the previous situation. It is important for leaders to help people identify with what they are losing or leaving behind – relationships, ‘the way we’ve always done it’, and/or new locations.
The neutral zoneis an in-between time that will differ greatly on each situation. In most cases transitions are complex and there is an interim. Here is where an astute leader can take steps to help people get ready for the next phase. In the 21stcentury, it’s not just “dealing with change, but changes in the acceleration of that pace.” (p. 112)
New beginningsinclude not only the results of the change but also the situations where people move into their new roles. A successful transition reorients and re-energizes people as they move into this phase.
Some reflections on thinking about these concepts as a Christian for use in businesses or churches:
First – The concept of focusing on the transition and managing the 4 P’s – Purpose, Picture, Plan, and Part – puts the human side of change at the forefront. (p. 68) Companies have an alternative to viewing employees as people with emotions instead of “human resource” objects. Churches are not always run like businesses, but the principle of helping people with changes (new pastor, growth, church split, etc..) by managing the transition process better is still valid. It takes courage to step up to the plate and face the issues. I witnessed a painful church split when people wouldn’t sit down and talk. It was easier to just go separate ways.
Secondly – I thought William and Susan could have come up with another term for the “neutral zone”. It sounds too barren, when in fact, according to their website, “It is when the critical psychological realignments and re-patterning take place. It is the very core of the transition process.”In the book they talk about the winter before spring (p. 49). I think that’s a better metaphor.
In the Christian life, perhaps “the dark night of the soul” might be a good metaphor. But transitions don’t always have to be painful. What about voluntary times of isolation when there is change as Shelley Trebesch described? How much better to be prepared for the next time a “dark night of the soul” or “desert experience” occurs. Instead of throwing in the towel, a leader can actually embrace the dry time as a time to grow closer to God and expect amazing things to come of it.Is this a type of transition?
Third – There was a lot of thought given to the individual in organizations. I think that’s a refreshing change and one that will be considered by more by companies. However, there needs to be a balance. What does change mean for the organization as a whole? How is the change going to impact the culture or even the surrounding neighborhood?
Fourth – It is crucial to deal with the ‘aftermath’ of the change. Just because the new pastor is here doesn’t mean everything is automatically honky-dory. GRASS – Guilt, Resentment, Anxiety, Self-absorption, and Stress (p. 153) may be present in any organization or church. Not everyone absorbs change at the same rate. Some wounds, especially spiritual wounds, may be very deep. A thoughtful leader will be very sensitive. Not only that, but as the Bridges point out, change will always be with us! How we deal with change now sends signals to people about how we will deal with it in the future.
The importance of the Bridges work is that change will be more successful when organizations and individuals manage the transition process thoughtfully and proactively. The goal isn’t just to get to the next phase of the organization – but also to grow along the way and lay the foundation for how further changes will be dealt with.
In ministry, we recognize that changes are inevitable. This book is a good tool for analyzing and organizing a transition process. Assuming that the changes are for the better, how can we help people look on the bright side and be optimistic about change without downplaying their feelings? And, as Christians, we also have prayer, the Holy Spirit, and Jesus as a model of the humility, integrity, and courage we need to work with others through times of change.
William Bridges Associates, https://wmbridges.com/what-is-transition/