Leaders implement organizational change in different ways. There are plenty of change management models, researched theories, and case studies available to guide the process. People approach change differently. Some embrace it while others resist it. For leaders who wish to understand the “human side” of change management in order to facilitate effective change, it is helpful to understand the phases of change and how each phase impacts individuals. 


Change Begins With An Ending

William Bridges, change management expert and author of “Managing Transitions” created a 3-phase model to explain change. The first phase is the “Ending.” Sometimes also referred to as the “Losing” or “Letting Go” phase. Wait, what? How is “ending” the first phase in change?  This may seem counterintuitive at first, but consider the last change you experienced. Chances are good that it included letting go of some old reality, identity, or way of doing things.

The next phase is the “neutral zone”. This is the period of transition. This is the uncomfortable space that comes between the old, familiar, comfortable reality and the new reality or “desired state.” This is a very unsettling time for most people. People in the transitional period, or the “neutral zone” are likely to experience a drop in confidence while they are learning the new way of doing things. 

The last phase is the “beginning”. This is when you’ve reached the “desired state” of the change. The end goal has been reached. The new way of doing things has begun, and people are confident in their abilities. Making it to the “beginning stage” successfully is the challenge, not the change itself. 


Questions For Leaders To Consider

In an article titled “Three Questions, Manage your Transitions”, Bridges offers the following advice when preparing for organizational change: 

  • What is the change? Leaders should consider the impact of the change to the individuals who will need to make the change work and give them a clear understanding of the change. For example, “We are converting to a new software system that automates our workflow, in order to improve our turn time on loans.” makes more sense than something as vague as “We’re rethinking how we can improve productivity.”


  • What will be different because of the change? Organizational change may have obvious benefits, such as measurable revenue or productivity improvements. But leaders who want to help employees embrace change need to make it clear how the change will impact their function and day-to-day tasks. 


  • Lastly, but probably most profound on a human level is the question “Who’s going to lose what?” This is where leaders should  open up conversations about how people will need to make the change work. “The best way to get people through transition is to affirm their experience and help them deal with it.” (Bridges, Feb 2010.)


Cultivating Empathy

Leaders who truly understand the human side of change management are the ones who can effectively demonstrate empathy. 

One of the best ways to do this is to first reflect on a time when you experienced change. Ideally, a change where you had little control over the outcome or the strategy of implementing it. Write it all down. 

Next, re-frame that experience through Bridge’s “Three-phase” model, described above. Recall as specifically as possible what you experienced during each of the three phases (the Ending, the Neutral Zone and the Beginning.) 

Lastly, let your answers from this exercise inform how you approach your change strategy. Implementing change with the human experience in mind will show your employees that leadership recognizes and understands how the change impacts them directly. This will result in a more sustainable, effective change process for the organization as well as the individuals.