Change Management – getting out of the neutral zone
Change management can be described as the process of transition between the closing of one chapter and the opening of another. The ultimate aim is typically to transition as seamlessly and as optimally as possible. Whilst change is one of life’s certainties, managing it doesn’t always necessarily get easier with time especially when each change brings about a different or a whole new dimension. So the Brexit vote shocked many, whilst others were relieved. The future will certainly be different, and whilst we remain hopeful, there is quite a bit of uncertainty that still remains.
Managing the human side of change – the challenges and emotional aspects
For some, not knowing what the outcomes and consequences will be and can often be a source of stress and anxiety. The Brexit result is a classic example of this in action. For others that perhaps love variety, the prospect of change is something they’d relish.
Change consultant and author of the seminal book ‘Transitions: making sense of life changes’, William Bridges refers to this challenging transitional period as the ‘neutral zone‘. A time during a period of change, whereby the end state is not fully formed and yet we no longer remain quite exactly in our old state. In this stage we expereince feelings of resentment, low morale, anxiety and skepticism about the change initiative.
As an example, on a macro level, before the Brexit vote, the U.K. was very much part of the EU. “Whilst the future may indeed now be quite different, for the moment however, we remain in this ‘neutral zone'” whereby we are still currently part of the EU, albeit not quite fully energetically in, more so post the referendum.
On an individual level, an example could be moving to a new home. Whilst on the one hand that might bring about some excitement if this is something you have looked forward to, on the other hand not quite knowing exactly how it will work out might bring about some trepidation and anxiety. It is not until one has arrived at the end state that they’d know how and whether things will turn out quite as hoped.
Another thread to the emotional aspect to change is in relation to identity and one’s association and attachment to a particular identity construct. A couple of years ago, I not too long ago moved twice to a new home within a few months of each other and not just that, a whole new country and culture. I left the UK as a Management Accountant ready to broaden my skill set in a new environment, learning French abroad in Brussels and remained open about the future. Yes it was both an exciting and scary move at the time, but felt right. At the end of my course, I returned to the UK, feeling more so than ever that the Accountant label I had been carrying for years, more than ever before certain, that this label or identity no longer felt authentic. I had sensed this before, but this time there was a new level of certainty about this. The future state, identity or label was not yet clarified, nor fully externalised. I was indeed for a period of time in the ‘neutral zone’.
3 change mmanagement lessons in the “neutral zone”
Below is by no means an exhaustive list, nor is the above a complete view of what is indeed a very complex subject, just a share of what are some of the relevant and consistent themes through personal experiences and current observations.
1. Acceptance not resistance
At times we can get so fixated with a particular identity, thoughts, belief system, a particular status quo that we find ourselves resisting change. If change is indeed one of lifes constant, resistance is rarely the route to progression. Acceptance simply refers to acknowledging what has happened, and beyond that, exploring the event or events further and keeping an open mind about its meanings. This way our energies can be focused on progressive, proactive action rather than lamenting past events or blaming others for the current status quo. Read: Here are 10 tips to help you change your attitude to challenges
Emotions can and often do get too tied up as we fear what we may lose – emphasis on ‘may’. Each situation is unique and whilst, we may be able to make some intelligent projections based on past trends, being attached to a desired outcome or conversely what we don’t want to happen takes away the focus from the present moment, where the real opportunities to influence future action lies. Read: Change My Attitude. Do we give changing our attitudes enough credit?
3. Support system
Times of change may and can often feel like vulnerable times, therefore building the right support network can help alleviate the challenge. Choose wisely here, because support systems in times of change ideally should be individuals who are open, supportive and positive about your transitional period. They may not totally agree or understand what and why you are doing, but they are unlikely to berating you either. Finding interest groups relevant to your journey would also help to be a catalyst towards an optimal change management process.
I would love to hear your strategies that have worked for you during the change management process.
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