Most are familiar with the stages of grief that individuals go through during the grieving process. Similarly to grief, there are also stages an individual goes through when faced with change. Understanding the psychological steps involving organizational change management can help managers better assist employees through the change process.

Change vs. Transition in Change Management

One of the most important concepts to understand about the change process is that change and transition are not synonymous.

Change is situational whereas transition is psychological.

What this means is that change is a physical manipulation that occurs on the organizational level. On the other hand, transition is a psychological process that occurs on the personal level. Change occurs externally, while transition is internal. Failing to understand the difference between change and transition is a major contributor to change management failure. Understanding how employees react to and work through change and transitions will make change management more efficient for organizations.

In Managing Transitions, William Bridges outlines the three stages of transition: “Ending”, “Neutral Zone” and “New Beginning”.

The Ending Stage

The Ending is the stage where individuals are aware that there will be changes occurring and that the traditional way of doing things will no longer be the norm. It is important to properly convey this message to employees in order to avoid unneeded pushback. With the “Ending Stage”, be prepared for employees to experience denial, shock, anger, frustration, and stress. While most – if not all – of these feelings are seen as generally negative, they are part of the change process and should be embraced. The most important responsibility as a manager in this stage is to be supportive and communicate with employees. If employees feel supported and encouraged through the “Ending Stage”, they will move more quickly to the next stage.

The Neutral Zone

The “Neutral Zone” is comparable to being in limbo. Individuals have started to let go of the old way of doing things but haven’t yet adopted the new mentality or practice. With this stage comes ambivalence and skepticism. This is a good sign! These are indicators that employees have started to move on from the frustration and stress from the “Ending Stage” and are starting to have questions and mixed feelings about the new changes. At the very end of the “Neutral Zone”, individuals will develop feelings of acceptance. They will become content with the fact that the organization has let go and moved on from one process and are starting to move towards another one. During this stage, it is critical to encourage employees to ask questions!

The New Beginning Stage

The final stage in the change process is the “New Beginning” stage. In this stage, adoption of a new organizational practice or mentality is experienced. This stage starts with feelings of impatience. Though this may seem like a negative feeling, it means employees have fully moved on from old ways and are looking to adopt the new ones. Following impatience will come feelings of hope and enthusiasm. Capitalize on these feelings! Reinforce and reward this behavior as it will keep people motivated and excited to be involved in the change process.

While it can be stressful to juggle daily tasks along with the stress of carrying an entire group of employees through the transition process, it is essential in making it work. Understanding the three stages of transition will prove vital in improving the success of your change management efforts. And remember – telling people about change is not the same as implementing it.

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