When thinking about change, I am reminded of the famous scene in the classic movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid where Butch and Sundance find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place, literally.

Being chased through the desert, Butch and Sundance are cornered on a cliff by their pursuers. They have two bleak options for potentially surviving. (1) a gun fight or (2) jump off a cliff into a raging river hundreds of feet below. After a brief discussion, Sundance reveals the underlying fear of option 2 is that he can’t swim. To which Butch replies…

“what are you crazy? the fall will probably kill you”

I think this is a brilliant metaphor for change of any kind – organizational or personal – because we are faced with external situations (the jumping) and internal emotions that makes us afraid (the fear of the fall and not being able to swim). In other words there are two elements we experience, CHANGE (external) and TRANSITION (internal).

Dr. William Bridges has identified three psychological phases that all people go through during change and transition:

  • Phase 1-Ending: the old world is no longer because we have lost something, said good-bye or let it go.
  • Phase 2-Neutral Zone: the transition period before we accept the new world.
  • Phase 3-New Beginning: we commit and integrate into the new world.

Emotional JourneyThe neutral zone is the critical factor that determines if a change will be implemented successfully or if it will be an epic disaster.  All change experiences the neutral zone and the goal is to minimize the time spent here. This is tricky because there is no “one size fits all” approach. Each individual’s internal transition is unique to him or her.

It is the emotional journey and people bounce around like a pinball between resisting the change and exploring new ways of existing.

To ensure successful implementation to the new world, leaders must be conscious of where the employees are along the emotional journey and attune to their needs. Leaders must be patient and continually check in with the employees. During change and transition leaders should be providing employees with:

  • Time to absorb
  • Information and direction
  • Safe environment to express concerns
  • An opportunity to be heard and give feedback
  • Continual updates
  • Support & Opportunity
  • Acknowledgment and appreciation
  • Reinforcement

So remember, people are ok with change, they just don’t like the transition period!

Where are you and your team along this emotional journey, and what is needed?