Don't Forget About The Buy-In From You Know Who

Register now

In the search for solutions, credit unions instigate change all the time-new strategies are implemented, departments are reorganized, people are promoted, systems are upgraded. Solutions create change and often more time and effort are given to the logistical, economic, and structural aspects of change than to the human side of change.

The success of any organizational change, however, is directly related to the willingness and skill of those expected to implement the change. Thus, it's essential to recognize the powerful impact of change on people and avoid the "They'll get over it" or "They'll get used to it" mentality.

To manage the human side of change and thus better influence the outcomes of change, keep three things in mind: (1) Change and transition are two different animals. (2) Transition involves three distinct stages. (3) Transition must be managed.

Change vs. Transition: Change is the result of an event and it occurs at a moment in time, but the transition associated with a change is a psychological process and it occurs gradually over time. A new boss, job, policy, focus, design, or strategy can be announced in an instant but the transition, the psychological process people go through as they adapt to and integrate the change into their lives, is not so instant. Expecting people to change without going through transition is unrealistic. Those who manage change well actually manage the associated transitions well.

Three Stages of Transition: People's psychological transition consists of three stages: an ending, a neutral zone, and a new beginning, according to William Bridges, author of "Transitions" and "Surviving Corporate Change." Before people can align themselves with a new beginning, they must say good-bye to the old situation and recognize their losses associated with that situation. People don't jump quickly from the old to the new and must spend some time in the neutral zone-a no man's land between the old and new realities-a place filled with uncertainty and confusion. Eventually people emerge from this chaotic stage better equipped to launch into the new beginning-ready to take on the new sense of identity, new relationships, and new behaviors required by the new beginning.

Transition Management Plan: Credit unions that want change to work positively for them must consciously and systematically manage the three stages of transition. You must help your people, departments, and credit union as a whole recognize and deal with the losses in meaning, identity, and relationships they encounter as their credit union changes.

Endings can be painful-they often involve losses of attachments, turf, structure, meaning, and control. Finding ways to help your people work through "The Four D's" of endings: disengagement, disidentification, disenchantment, and disorientation, can help them let go of old ways more quickly. You can do this by helping people let go of the familiar gradually, develop a new identity, find a new "truth," and orient themselves to the new situation. Once they have done this, they move to the neutral zone where you need to provide opportunities for them to take stock of where they and their credit union have been and where both are headed.

Your goal during the neutral zone is to help your people work through the chaos and confusion which usually circulates around four common elements: fear, inertia, feelings of powerlessness, and no sense of personal benefit. To deal with these neutral zone challenges, you need to inspire your people, create a sense of urgency, build ownership, and show benefit. The neutral zone is like driving though a storm where visibility is poor and strong forces of nature are at work. With perseverance, defensive driving techniques, and awareness, you emerge from the storm with relief. In credit unions, not only can you emerge from the neutral zone with relief but also with new insight, strength, and determination for tackling the new beginning.

The new beginning is the time for you to clarify expectations and standards related to the change and to provide the resources, skills, and moral support needed to be successful in the new situation. The success of your new beginning depends on knowing what could undermine people's resolve, recognizing old reactionary patterns, and finding ways to persevere through setbacks. You must remember that even after people are in the new building, using the new computer system, or working for the new boss, internal transitions are still going on. Thus it's critical to build trust to show you care about your people. The level of trust people have during change depends on the level of honesty, integrity, and openness they experience. The strength of the caring relationship depends on the amount of respect, empathy, and personal acknowledgment they receive.

How you handle transitions can make or break your changes. Managing the human side of change is the key to managing change so recognize the difference between change and transition, understand the factors influencing people at each stage of transition, and develop strategies to guide people through the three stages of transition.

Barbara Wirtz is a professional speaker and trainer based in Eugene, Oregon who specializes in people-to-people communication in the workplace. Ms. Wirtz can be reached at bwirtz or (541) 344-8213 or

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.