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We are all humans and so to unlock the emotional side of change allows individuals to move through change in a faster and more productive manner.

Did you know that hiding your emotions during times of change isn’t optional?

William Bridges through working with many organisations where change initiatives had failed undertook research into why this was the case.  Bridges found that most businesses dealt with the process, and forgot about the human aspect of it, namely employees emotions.

Managing Transitions

Bridges described this process of managing the emotional side of a change as ‘transition.’

As William Bridges said in  his 2009, 3rd edition of ‘Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change’ [p. 3]

Even though you probably won’t find it in the change document, transition isn’t some optional “if-you-get-around-to-it” add-on to the change; it’s not icing on the cake that can be forgotten until things ease up and you’ve finished with the important stuff.  Getting people through the transition is essential if the change is actually to work as planned.

Transition does appear to be ‘optional’ in the minds of Senior Executives in today’s organisations.  Many change management plans are focused on the physical change that is occurring, for example:

  • that date in time when the structure of the organisation is going to change completely,
  • when the new system is going live, and it will change your day job,
  • changes in the operating model of the organisation.

The Standard Change Management Approach

Working as a ‘Change Manager’, the title that is used in the recruitment world today, your main focus, just like that of a Project Manager, is to help the business deliver the expected and known business change with as little disruption as possible.

The Change Impact Assessment talks about how this change (that moment in time event) is going to impact all of the stakeholders in and outside of the organisation.

The Communication Plan is seen as very necessary to communicate how the change will impact the business – we’re doing this, so this will change on this date, for example.  And the training is planned so that people can understand how the new system or process works.

This management of change is all well and good as it does help people to understand one aspect of the change, but as Bridges so rightly points out, it’s the transition that is the most important.

Why is the emotional side of change important?

You as a human being have feelings.  During any change, you will react, and with this reaction will come a range of emotions. You’re not immune to it, no matter how much you like to shut down what you’re feeling. It’s normal when things move from being what you know, to different.

Your ‘transition’ will occur, with or without a change management plan. You will feel a sense of loss in some way or other.  People will feel as if for some time they are in a no man’s land of the old not being what it was and the new still not fully understood and visible.  This feeling might be for a short time or a long time.   I heard a recent example of this ‘Neutral Zone’ phase taking someone five years to travel through successfully.  And then there’s the acceptance and welcoming of the new beginning that will occur.

How this all plays out in your organisation

In organisations that are changing due to restructures or re-organisations your staff will experience similar experiences to that posed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in her ‘Grief Curve’.  William Bridges himself explains that the feelings associated with transition are not too dissimilar to feelings of grief and loss.  It makes sense because that is exactly what is occurring.  Loss of a way of being, thinking, or doing for each staff member, whether impacted in a large or small way.  The grief is the emotional reaction to what is occurring and is a very normal experience.  One that should be accepted and acknowledged, rather than ignored.

Accepting and supporting staff through their transition journey, as part of the overall change process, is something that needs to be done, not ignored.

There are five signs that your change management initiatives have failed, and they are all related to the emotions that are visible in your workplace.  Are you seeing signs of strong emotions displayed in your workplace?  This may be a strong sign that your current change management approach isn’t working.