Change Management WalkMe TeamUpdated January 8, 2024

Bridges Transition Model: An Overview

Bridges Transition Model: An Overview

Change is a constant on the journey towards growth and success, offering numerous opportunities and benefits. However, it can also be challenging, often eliciting employee discomfort and resistance. 

As organizations navigate through changes, leaders can adopt a change management process to enhance the positive aspects of transformation while smoothing out potential difficulties.

The Bridges Transition Model is particularly effective in guiding employees and leaders through these transitions, emphasizing understanding individual responses to change.

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Addressing transitions’ emotional and psychological aspects helps employees adapt more comfortably and swiftly, facilitating their engagement with learning new processes and embracing new ways of working.

This model eases the potentially overwhelming aspects of change, making it a more manageable and positive experience for everyone involved.

By the end of this article, you will know:

  • What the Bridges Transition Model is
  • The difference between change and transition
  • The three distinct stages of the Bridges Transition Model
  • The benefits and disadvantages of the Bridges Transition Model
  • The various steps needed to apply this model within your business 

What is the Bridges Transition Model?

The Bridges Transition Model is an influential framework designed to assist organizations in navigating the complexities of transition. 

Developed by the notable organizational consultant William Bridges, this model was first introduced in his 1991 book ‘Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change.’

Central to this model is the understanding of how change impacts people on an emotional and psychological level. Unlike approaches that view change as a mere shift in circumstances, the Bridges Transition Model perceives transition as an intricate process that individuals and entities experience during change. 

It emphasizes people’s emotional journey in response to change rather than focusing solely on the change itself.

This approach highlights the importance of recognizing and addressing the human aspect of change. It guides organizational leaders in supporting their team members by understanding their emotional and psychological responses to change. 

This understanding is crucial in reducing the discomfort and resistance often encountered during periods of change.

Often used in organizational settings, the principles of the Bridges Transition Model are versatile enough to apply to various other contexts where individuals face transitions. 

This makes it a valuable tool for managing workplace changes and facilitating personal and social transitions.

Origins of the Bridges Transition Model

Change consultant William Bridges developed the Bridges Model in his 1979 book titled “Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes.”

Over the years, these ideas were refined and expanded, mainly through collaborative efforts with his business partner and spouse, Susan Bridges. 

Together, they revised and republished the work, notably in their 1991 book “Managing Transitions,” which showcased the application of the model in organizational settings.

Following William Bridges’ passing in 2013, Susan Bridges continued to evolve the model, further cementing its relevance and application in various contexts, particularly in the workplace. 

This ongoing development of the Bridges Model reflects its adaptability and enduring significance in change management.

Understanding the difference between change and transition

Change refers to actual external events or developments, such as implementing a new business strategy, a shift in leadership, a merger, or launching a new product. 

Organizations typically focus on the outcomes they wish to achieve through these changes, often in response to external circumstances. The nature of change is such that it can occur rapidly.

Transition, in contrast, is the internal, psychological process that individuals undergo as they adapt to and accept the new realities brought about by change. It involves the mental and emotional journey that people experience as they leave behind old ways and embrace new ones.

Agile leaders understand that change can trigger personal crises and emotional upheavals. Therefore, effectively managing transition starts with acknowledging the endings and losses people face as they move away from familiar situations.

For change to be truly effective, leaders and organizations must address the transition people experience during this process. It is crucial to support individuals through their transitions rather than merely focusing on advancing the change.

Properly managing transitions is essential for fostering innovation and building organizational resilience due to radical change

The Bridges’ Transition Model emphasizes this aspect of transition rather than the change itself, highlighting a subtle but vital distinction.

In the context of this model, change is an external event that happens to people, possibly without their consent or approval. Transition, however, is an internal process, reflecting the personal adjustments and mental shifts that occur as individuals navigate through change.

While change can be swift, transition typically unfolds slower, requiring time and support for individuals to adapt thoroughly.

What are the three stages of transition of the Bridges Transition Model?

The Bridges Transition Model identifies three distinct stages individuals typically experience during change. While the pace of progress through these stages can vary among individuals, understanding each stage can help organizations support their employees effectively.

Bridges Transition Model

So here is a summary of how each stage works:

Stage 1: ending, losing, and letting go

This initial stage is triggered when change occurs. It’s often characterized by resistance and emotional turmoil as people confront the need to relinquish familiar routines or values.

Common emotions during this phase include fear, denial, anger, sadness, disorientation, frustration, uncertainty, and a sense of loss. Recognizing and addressing these emotions is critical; resistance might persist throughout the change process.

Guidance at stage 1

It’s important to validate people’s feelings of resistance without judgment during change initiatives, giving them space to reflect on the current situation. Encourage discussions where team members can share their experiences and emotions, listen empathetically, and communicate openly.

Emphasize how existing skills and experiences will be valuable in the new situation and ensure people know they will receive support with necessary resources and training.

Stage 2: The neutral zone

This is a transitional phase where people may still cling to the old ways while the new ones are not yet obvious. 

During this phase, individuals might feel resentful, experience low morale and productivity, and have anxiety about their roles. However, it can also be a period ripe for creativity and innovation.

Guidance at stage 2

Leadership is crucial in this neutral phase. Regular communication as part of a change management communication plan, setting short-term goals for quick wins, and providing feedback on performance are key strategies. 

It’s also important to maintain morale and manage workloads effectively. Reassuring team members and helping them see the potential in new ways of thinking or working can significantly aid their transition.

Stage 3: The new beginning

In this final stage, acceptance and energy prevail. Individuals start to embrace the change, develop new skills, and witness the benefits of their efforts. Characteristics of this stage include high energy, openness to learning, and renewed commitment.

Guidance at stage 3

As people adapt to the change, supporting their ongoing commitment is vital. Linking personal goals with organizational objectives, celebrating successes, and recognizing individual and team efforts are essential. 

However, it’s essential to remain vigilant, as not everyone reaches this stage simultaneously, and there can be a risk of reverting to earlier stages if the change doesn’t seem to be succeeding.

Leaders can more effectively guide their organizations through change by knowing and addressing the unique challenges and needs at each stage of the Bridges’ Transition Model.

What are the benefits of the Bridges Transition Model?

The Bridge’s Transition Model is a practical framework for cemeting the gap between leadership and employees, particularly during emotionally impactful change.

It emphasizes the human factor, prioritizing individuals’ emotional and psychological responses over the purely operational elements of the change process. 

By adopting a personal approach, this model focuses on the employee experience as it helps them adapt to changes, considering their emotional states and reactions.

Focusing on the transition aspect, the model promotes smoother change management and boosts employee commitment, fostering long-term loyalty. This, in turn, results in improved performance and a heightened sense of team unity. 

This focus on the human side of change is essential for creating a supportive and resilient organizational culture where individuals feel valued and understood during transition.

What are the disadvantages of the Bridges Transition Model?

Similar to other models like ADKAR, the Bridge’s Transition Model doesn’t provide specific action steps or directives for implementing change. Instead, it serves as a set of guidelines rather than a detailed, step-by-step manual for enacting change. 

Since it isn’t a comprehensive change management framework, it’s most effective alongside other models or approaches like Kotter’s 8-step model or Lewin’s Change Management Model. This combination can offer a more rounded approach, encompassing the emotional and procedural aspects of managing change.

Step-by-step guide for applying the Bridges Transition Model within your business

How to create a successful leadership vision

The Bridges Transition Model offers a structured approach to assist organizations and their employees through the stages of change. Understanding that individuals may experience these stages at varying rates, this model provides a supportive framework to help employees navigate their emotional responses throughout the transition.

Addressing employee concerns and fears

As change begins, leaders must be ready to support employees grappling with the end of the familiar. Initially, employees may feel anxious, confused, or even resentful. 

Open communication about the changes and addressing employee concerns and fears can ease this initial discomfort. Leaders should encourage open expression of feelings and be ready to show how employees’ existing skills and knowledge will fit into the new scenario.

Setting KPIs for transition management

Throughout the transition, tracking progress using employee performance metrics is important. These include metrics such as the time taken to implement changes, related incidents, employee satisfaction, the effectiveness of training programs, and the impact on ongoing projects.

Preparing employees for the shift

As the transition period nears, it’s important to keep employees informed. They should understand what to expect, the benefits of the change, and their role in the process. Regular updates and support are key to ensuring employees feel prepared and engaged.

Supporting skill acquisition

During the transition, employees may need new skills to adapt to change. Collaboration between change management and learning & development teams is essential to provide effective training. Digital Adoption Platforms (DAPs) can be particularly useful, offering real-time guidance and personalized learning paths.

Training managers to support their teams

Managers play a vital role in supporting their teams through transitions. They should be equipped to address concerns, communicate effectively, seek feedback, and help their teams adapt to new expectations and realities.

Promoting continuous learning and adaptability

Organizations should create a continuous learning culture to thrive in an environment of ongoing change. This enhances employees’ adaptability, confidence, and problem-solving skills, helping them view change as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

Evaluating the transition’s effectiveness

After the transition, it’s important to assess its effectiveness using KPIs, employee feedback, and other metrics. This evaluation is critical for understanding the impact of the transition and improving future change management strategies.

By following these steps, leaders can effectively use the Bridges Transition Model to support their organizations and employees through periods of change, ensuring a smoother and more successful transition.

Advance organizational change with the Bridges Transition Model

Understanding the personal impact of change on individuals is crucial in effectively managing it. The Bridges Transition Model underscores this by emphasizing the importance of comprehending the three transition phases to navigate people through change successfully.

William Bridges’ model is notably insightful in assisting leaders in managing employees and stakeholders as part of a proactive change management process. However, it only provides a plan for part of the change management process.

Integrating Bridges’ model with other change management frameworks, such as Kotter’s 8-Step and Lewin’s Change Management Model, is beneficial. 

Using the Bridges Transition Model in tandem with these tools can offer a more comprehensive approach, combining the human-centric perspective of Bridges’ model with the structured methodologies of Kotter’s and Lewin’s frameworks. 

This integrated approach ensures a holistic handling of organizational change’s emotional and procedural aspects.

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