Managing Transitions: A Test Case
Table of Contents
Managing Transitions: A Test Case 4
Change vs. Transition 4
Three Phases of Transition 5
A Case Study 5
Case Study Overview 6
Applying Transitional Management 7
Begin with the Ending 7
The Neutral Zone 8
Ending with the Beginning 9
References 11Appendix A 12
We live in a world that requires organizations and individuals to be able to constantly, continuously and quickly adapt to and embrace change. This paper examines the processes that people and organizations need to undertake in order to adapt to and embrace change. Through Bridges transitional management model, which includes letting go, repatterning and making a new beginning, organizations are able to understand and successfully complete transitions. There are various procedures and processes that can be utilized during a period of transition, which will be analyzed and applied to a sample case study involving a software company that is going through an internal reorganization.
Managing Transitions: A Test Case
“In working with organizations and individuals over the years, we’ve heard everyone talk about how much faster change is occurring. Indeed, many people feel that they have never before experienced the types of unprecedented changes that they are now” (Bridges, 2016). We live in a world that requires organizations and individuals to be able to constantly, continuously and quickly adapt to and embrace change. Organizations are in constant evolution as they are challenged with keeping up with fast-paced external environments, and as a result, workplace processes and strategies must constantly update as well in order to remain relevant and competitive (Courtney, 2016). In order to adapt to and embrace change, however, organizations and people alike need to be able to understand and successfully complete transitions.
Change vs. Transition
Despite what many people think, change and transition are not the same thing. Bridges explains that people often overlook crucial differentiators between change and transition; mainly because they think the two events are interchangeable (2016). The failure to acknowledge the difference between the two is the reason that many organizations fail to complete changes; losing employees, company culture, workplace order or their entire business in the process. As Bridges describes, “change is situational: the move to a new site, a new CEO replaces the founder, the reorganization of the roles on the team, and new technology” (2016). Because change is situational, many leaders of organizations think that the actual change is the hard part.
“Transition, on the other hand, is psychological; it is a three-phase process that people go through as they internalize and come to terms with the details of the new situation that the change brings about” (Bridges, 2016). The inability to address the psychological components during a period of change (i.e., the transition) is what has caused many changes to be unsuccessful.
Three Phases of Transition
During a period of change, many organizations spend so much time and effort focusing on the results that change will bring about, and as a result, fail to acknowledge the impact that the change will have on the employees prior to and throughout the change. Bridges states that the mistake that most organizations make is overlooking the process of letting-go completely. But ignoring the emotions and effects that changes bring about will ultimately guarantee a failed transition (2016). Bridges emphasizes the importance of realizing that “the starting point for dealing with transition is not the outcome but the ending that you’ll have to make to leave the old situation behind” (2016).
“Situational change hinges on the new thing, but psychological transition depends on letting go of the old reality and the old identity you had before the change took place” (Bridges, 2016). In order to let go of the old and embrace the new, the organization in its entirety needs to complete the three phases of a transition; letting go of their old ways, old identities and dealing with their losses, going through the “neutral zone” when they have let go of the old but have no yet embraced the new, and finally beginning new with the development of a new identity and acceptance of new habits and processes. Because of the order of these phases, Bridges says that “transition begins with an ending and finishes with a beginning” (2016).
A Case Study
To understand the importance of transitional management and supporting employees during a period of change, Bridges uses a case study in his book Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change (2016). He examines a situation involving a software company that was going through a period of reorganization in order to improve the quality of their customer service.
Case Study Overview
The customer service of the software company was operated via telephone and was an individualistic environment which rewarded employees based on the number of calls they completed weekly, with target bonuses rewarded annually (Bridges, 2016). Despite performance being evaluated on an individual basis, there were three experienced-based tiers that each had a manager that was responsible for directing and evaluating performance. Because support calls progressed through these levels, beginning with the most inexperienced employees and moving up to the more experienced technicians and finally on to the software programmers as needed, there was a feeling of competition and mistrust brewing. The formation of passing calls from level to level also resulted in poor coordination, customer dissatisfaction and delayed solutions provided. As management realized that their current method was not working, they decided to hire a service consultant to recommend a solution.
The consultant, successfully understanding the problem, advised that the company goes through a restructuring that would result in teams being created that include people from all three levels, rather than segmenting by skills. “A customer would be assigned to a team, and the team would have the collective responsibility of solving the customer’s problem” (Bridges, 2016). This reorganization was announced at a company-wide meeting, after which the policies were rewritten, seminars were given and teams were formed. However, the case study goes on to state that the new structure was unsuccessful, unsupported and virtually nonexistent. “The old levels were still entrenched in everyone’s mind, and customers were still being tossed back and forth…” (Bridges, 2016).
Applying Transitional Management
According to Gartenstein, “most organizational change occurs in reaction to something that isn’t right and needs to be changed” (2018). The management of the software company was correct when they determined that their organization was in need of a change, however, regardless of the legitimacy of the change, the final success is determined by the acceptance of those who are forced to change (Bridges, 2016). The service consultant that they hired failed to provide the company with a transition or change management plan from their old system to the new one.
“A change management plan can support a smooth transition and ensure your employees are guided through the change journey” (Courtney, 2017). Without a smooth transition, approximately 70 percent of change initiatives will not succeed because of resistance from employees (Courtney, 2017). Regardless of the type of plan that is formed, it should always address the three transition phases that were mentioned previously. If all three phases are not appropriately addressed, even the most brilliant change could fail.
Begin with the Ending
Bridges states “transition starts with an ending. That is paradoxical but true” (2016). In order for employees to be able to accept the new processes and responsibilities that will occur as a result of the reorganization, they must first let go of what they are familiar and comfortable with. This phase is also often referred to as the “unfreezing” phase, “because it is a process of fixed ideas and practices becoming unfixed” (Gartenstein, 2018). In order for employees to become unfixed, however, management must make it clear why this unfreezing process is necessary.
A complete organizational transition can only be successful if the company feels the change needs to be made, according to management consultant John Covington in an article for the journal Industrial Management. The initial steps of change involve painting a business picture for the company that shows an essential need for change to avoid negative consequences. (Root, 2017).
After the change has been made clear to all levels of the company, Bridges focuses on the importance of figuring out “exactly how individuals’ behavior and attitudes will have to change to make teams work” and “analyze who stands to lose something under the new system” (2016). Courtney notes the importance of understanding and acknowledging the impacts of change at every level within the organization (2017). These impacts should be continuously evaluated and regularly discusses.
Courtney also emphasizes the importance of supporting employees on an emotional and practical level, in order to ease the transition into learning new skills and behaviors (Courtney, 2017). It is only once employees feel supported, respected and well-prepared that they will begin to consider letting go of their old ways in favor of exploring new possibilities. See Appendix A for additional steps that should be taken during this period of letting go.
The Neutral Zone
“Employees love to stay in their comfort zone. Help them to get out and embrace new ways of doing things” (Tams, 2018). To help them let go of their old ways and begin to feel out this neutral, in-between phase of change, the organization should create temporary systems during the transition that will help ease in to the new change (Bridges, 2016). Bridges stresses that these temporary systems can be used as an opportunity to “improve the ways in which services are delivered by the unit—and, where appropriate, create new services” (2016).
These new ideas can, and should, include updating the cubicle formations to encourage team work, revising compensation plans and changing annual targets from individual goals to team goals. As Gartenstein states, “it is important to recognize and reward the contributions that your staff make as they adopt new practices, and as they learn and grow” (2018). See Appendix A for supplementary actions that can be taken in the neutral zone and in preparation for the new beginnings.
Ending with the Beginning
“As new ideas are adopted and implemented, they reach a stage of stability and legitimacy. Employees get used to practices that initially seemed unfamiliar and your organization begins to reap the benefit of the shifts that have been made” (Gartenstein, 2018). It is during this final stage of transition that people learn how to have a new purpose, embrace new habits and learn new skills, which will all relate directly to the success of the change and the future goals of the organization. It is important for management to reinforce and reward change. By creating accountability and celebrating those who are transitioning smoothly, the organization and its employees can be successful in “letting go, repatterning, and making a new beginning” (Bridges, 2016).
We live in a world that requires organizations and individuals to be able to constantly, continuously and quickly adapt to and embrace change. Organizations are in constant evolution as they are challenged with keeping up with fast-paced external environments, and as a result, workplace processes and strategies must constantly update as well in order to remain relevant and competitive (Courtney, 2016). In order to adapt to and embrace change, however, organizations and people alike need to be able to understand and successfully complete transitions. “When an organization proposes any sort of major change, it’s bound to be viewed as exciting to some people and threatening to others.” (Lewis, 2014). But with sufficient support, clear guidelines and goals, and a smooth transition from the old to the new, organizations are able to successfully change.
Bridges, W. (2016). Managing transitions: Making the most of change (4th ed.). Boston, MA:
Da Capo Press.
Courtney, F. (2017, February 22). 6 Steps to Effective Organizational Change Management.
Retrieved June 3, 2018, from https://www.pulselearning.com/blog/6-steps-effective-
Gartenstein, D. (2018, March 15). What Is the Meaning of Organizational Change? Retrieved
June 3, 2018, from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/meaning-organizational-change-
Lewis, G. (2014, August 13). 7 Organizational Change Management Best Practices. Retrieved
June 3, 2018, from http://www.consultparagon.com/blog/7-organizational-change-
Root III, G. N. (2017, November 21). Steps to Manage Transition From Old Organization
Structure to New One. Retrieved June 3, 2018, from http://smallbusiness.chron.com/
Tams, C. (2018, April 24). Why We Need To Rethink Organizational Change Management.
Retrieved June 3, 2018, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/carstentams/2018/01/26/why-
Possible Actions to Take Form
1 – Very important. Do this at once. 2 – Worth doing but takes more time. Start planning it.
3 – Yes and no. Depends on how it is done. 4 – Not very important. May even be a waste of effort. 5 – No! Don’t do this.
4 Explain the changes again in a carefully written memo.
1 Figure out how individuals’ behavior and attitudes will have to change to make the teams work.
1 Analyze who stands to lose something under the new system.
2 Redo the compensation system to reward compliance with the changes.
1 “Sell” the problem is the reason for change.
3 Bring in motivational speaker to give employees a powerful talk about teamwork.
2 Design temporary systems to contain the confusion during the cutover from the old way to the new.
2 Use the interim between the old system and new to improve the way in which services are delivered by the unit—and, where appropriate, create new services.
2 Change the spatial arrangements so that the cubicles are separated only by glass or low partitions.
1 Put team members in contact with disgruntled clients, either by phone or in person. Let them see the problem firsthand.
3 Appoint a “change manager” to be responsible for seeing that the changes go smoothly.
4 Give everyone a T-shirt with a new “teamwork” logo on it.
4 Break the change into smaller stages. Combine the firsts and seconds, then add the thirds later. Change the managers into coordinators last.
1 Talk to individuals. Ask what kinds of problems they have with “teaming.”
3 Change the spatial arrangements from individual cubicles to group spaces.
4 Pull the best people in the unit together as a model team to show everyone else how to do it.
3 Give everyone a training seminar on how to work as a team.
2 Reorganize the general manager’s staff as a team and reconceive the GM’s job as that of a coordinator.
2 Send team representatives to visit other organizations where service teams operate successfully.
4 Turn the whole thing over to the individual contributors as a group and ask them to come up with a plan to change over the teams.
4 Scrap the plan and find another one that is less disruptive. If that one doesn’t work, try another. Even if it takes a dozen plans, don’t give up.
4 Tell them to stop dragging their feet or they’ll face disciplinary action.
3 Give bonuses to the first team to process one hundred client calls in the new way.
1 Give everyone a copy of the new organization chart.
1 Start holding regular team meetings.
2 Change the annual individual targets to team targets and adjust bonuses to reward team performance.
1 Talk about transition and what it does to people. Give coordinators seminars on how to manage people in transition.