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Into the Wilderness Bookmark

Over the years, I have found William Bridges' work in the area of change and transition useful because it helps me think about change in terms of the people it affects. According to Bridges, things change, but people have to transition. For change to be successful, we must tend to the transition. 

It's no great secret that MSAE is in a period of change. We're reviewing every program, product, and service and weighing them against the actual value they create for members. These efforts, as well as last summer's focus groups and the survey that we sent out this week, are the prelude to a strategic planning session scheduled later this month. We are resolute in our commitment to reinventing the association. Cue change...and transition. 

In Bridges' transition model, the first stage of transition is Endings. At this stage, the impending change registers as a loss with people. I'd say many of us (the Board, staff, many of the members, and I) are coming to grips with the first phase. We realize that to make room for new things, other things will need to go away. 

Bridges' second stage is the Neutral Zone. This state of flux, without resolution of the past nor clarity regarding the future, can cause people distress and confusion. My past experiences with change and transition confirm that the Neutral Zone is a very difficult place for most people to be.  

The third and final stage is New Beginnings. This stage is as incredible as it sounds - it is heralded by new energy channeled toward a purpose or identity that is now clear. But MSAE isn't there yet. 

Now we enter the Neutral Zone. We know that MSAE cannot remain the same, but we don't yet know what the 'new' MSAE will be. All this uncertainty is scary, which is probably why Bridges' other term for the second stage is the Wilderness. The Wilderness is NOT a permanent state, nor is it a barrier as many people think it is. The Wilderness is the path that leads to New Beginnings. We must walk through it to reach our destination.   

As you manage change and transition in your own organizations, here are Bridges' key points to support people through transitions: 

  •  - Communicate with the organization about why change is needed.
  •  - Collect information from those affected by the change to understand its impact on them. Gain their investment in the outcome.
  •  - Do an audit of the organization's transition readiness.
  •  - Educate leaders about how the change will affect individuals in the organization to manage the transition effectively.
  •  - Monitor the progress of individuals as they go through the three stages of transition. 
  •  - Help individuals understand how they can positively contribute to the change and the importance of their role in the organization.

Don't hesitate to call or email if you'd like to talk about transition, be it MSAE's or your own organization's. (No one needs to wander the Wilderness alone.) If I don't hear from you before then, I'll look forward to seeing you on the other side. 

If you'd like to learn more about managing transitions, both professional and personal, you may want to check out William Bridges' book, Transitions: Making Sense of Life's Changes. It's an oldy but a goody.

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