We talk about, hear about, and experience change all the time. But it wasn’t until the other day that I really started to think about the process (and psychology) of change.
I attended a webinar held by the Georgia Society of Association Executives (GSAE) where Dr. David Renz, Director of the Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership at the University of Missouri - Kansas City, spoke in great detail about successfully leading change initiatives. He explained what components are needed to successfully guide change and what factors often play into change (that leaders should been keenly aware of).
But there was one thing in particular Renz mentioned that stood out. We often think of change as having two parts: an end and a beginning. But change, Renz explained, actually has three parts. (This is based on William Bridges’ Transition Model.)
The three phases of change are listed below:
- Endings and Letting Go - This is where the people involved in the change have to let go of their old ways and deal with the loss. (Note: There’s always a loss, even if the change is wanted.)
- The Neutral Zone - This is a very transitional phrase. This is where the people impacted have abandoned their old ways but haven’t quite made it to “the new way.” They’re trying to figure out what to do on the way there. (Note: This phase is very uncomfortable. Renz gave a good metaphor: Think of it like an acrobat. The person has left one bar but they’re not quite at the next. They’re flying in the air and that can make them nervous.)
- The New Beginning - This is where the people undergoing change finally start to execute the plan. They also start to fine-tune as they learn what works and what doesn’t.
One more important note: People rarely go through one change at a time. We’re surrounded by change in our personal lives and professional lives, so it’s common to be in multiple phases simultaneously. We could be in the neutral zone at a project for work and the new beginning at a situation at home. (This is important to know because emotions are involved, and if we’re the ones leading a change initiative, we need to be aware of the different types of behavior those emotions can cause.)
Ok, so now that you know what phases people go through, how do you - as a leader - successfully guide people through those phases? Renz had a few tips:
Endings and Letting Go
- Clarify who is likely to experience loss and what that loss is likely to be
- Expect grieving and some over-reaction
- Communicate and share information as fully as possible
The Neutral Zone
- Recognize and discuss the realities of ambiguity and uncertainty
- Develop temporary systems and structures for the neutral zone (for example, having a transition support contact or team)
- Enable and support the new ways (for example, offering in-depth training and development)
The New Beginning
- Keep communications going
- Design or fine-tune structures (in other words, eliminate the temporary structures you created in the neutral zone)
- Address the “Four P’s” (purpose, picture, plan, and people) to make sure you’re where you want to be (or at least headed in that direction)
I think we can all agree that change is scary, but it’s necessary to move your association forward, and ultimately, just make it better. For more tips on advancing your association (whether major change is involved or not), check out our Ultimate Guide to Membership Management below. It’s filled with best practices to, again, just make your association better.