Any way you slice it, change can be hard, either as the leader trying to move a team through to the new beginning or as an individual who is managing their own transition. Leah Reilly, human resources consultant, explains a different way to look at change that can help make the process smoother.


by Leah Reilly



One of my favorite models of change is by William Bridges, written about extensively in his book, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change. Bridges has a theory of change that basically asserts that “change” is the actual event. It’s the thing that happens that shocks the system and is a specific point in time and is situational. Transition, however, is psychological, and is a three-phase process of gradually accepting the details of the new situation and the changes that come with it.

In his model, change is fast and it’s the transition that’s slow. Change begins with an ending, something that once was and is no longer the case. The transition process moves through the neutral zone and ends with a new beginning. It’s a challenging concept, so I’ve included a diagram of the model:


If you are a leader who is staring down a major change this year, you might find that this model can be very powerful in coaching others to move through the stages of transition. Often labels like “good with change” or “change resistant” will get tossed around to discuss either the cheerleaders or the heel-draggers in a change initiative. But when you peel back the layers, you’ll begin to understand that it’s not immediate buy-in or sheer resistance that causes the person to behave the way that they do, it’s where they are in their own transition process. As a leader, you can start conversations to understand where people are in their own transition and perhaps help them come out the other side of the “neutral zone” that much faster.

On an individual level, I find this model very helpful and I can apply it somewhat clinically when I’m trying to understand why I’m reacting to events that occur in life. I’ve found that if I can mindfully understand where I’m at in reacting to a change event, I can perhaps work my way more quickly through to a new beginning. It helps me not to dwell in the past and seize opportunities more readily.

Any way you slice it, change can be hard, either as the leader trying to move a team through to the new beginning or as an individual who is managing their own transition. The point Bridges makes is that you can’t hit the fast-forward button on a change event and move straight from the end to the new beginning. During a transition people need time to process and sometimes dwell in the neutral zone before making it up the line toward enthusiasm. The model suggests while the process of transition can be difficult, allowing oneself or others to fully move through the stages can result in a creative and potentially positive outcome.


Leah Parkhill Reilly is a Women of Influence Advancement Centre expert and the owner of Parkhill Reilly Consulting. As a results-oriented human resources consultant, she has a proven track record of driving change across large, complex organizations specifically with regard to learning, development and organizational effectiveness. Leah has worked in a variety of industries including telecommunications, insurance and financial services. Her career experiences run the gamut from project management for systems implementation to human capital strategic planning.


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