Introduction

Change occurs at three levels of our lives: societal, organizational and personal. The world news is filled with stories of societal change that we hear on a daily basis—dictatorships being overthrown, natural disasters and economic disasters. Organizations are also in a constant state of flux due to mergers and acquisitions, new product innovations or leadership changes. And all these changes can and do dramatically affect our personal lives along with other changes that may impact us by way of family and friends.

Needless to say, whether good or bad, change can be quite unsettling. William Bridges, author of the book, “Transitions” as well as, “Managing Organizational Transitions” referred to change as having three phases: Endings, Neutral Zone and New Beginnings. In the book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go”, Dr. Seuss, he also refers to change in very similar way to William Bridges. Dr. Seuss refers to change as the “Lurch”, a beautifully descriptive word that conjures up an image of how change initially throws us off balance causing us to reel or stagger. And he presents the three phases of change as:

  • The Slump in the Bump
  • The Waiting Place
  • Un-slumping

The Slump in the Bump (Endings)

When change occurs, whether it’s societal, organizational or personal we usually experience feelings of loss, grief and/or anger. And, as Dr Seuss explains, “When you’re in a Slump, you’re not in for much fun.” At this time, it’s important to process feelings and reflect on and share key experiences and legacies in order to recognize that the time has come to move on.

Whether, we are dealing with change at a societal, organizational or personal level, we must accept this initial phase and allow for it. On an organizational level, it may mean honouring the past and providing staff the opportunity to say goodbye to someone leaving or to the “old way of doing things”. On a personal level, it may mean giving ourselves time for closure—to say goodbye to the past and move on at our own pace.

The Waiting Place (the Neutral Zone)

On the change journey, the Waiting Place is inevitable; it’s a place as Dr. Seuss describes, where “Everyone is just waiting.” It’s the most feared, fun, uncertain, creative, lonely and crowded place; a place where uncertainty and fear resides. Everyone is just waiting to see what might happen next and because there is emotional ambiguity, people are looking for direction and structure. They may revert to operating by guiding principles or may tighten or loosen structure for how they work through their day-to-day work.

At this stage, communication is extremely important—to provide a common “touch point” or connection for people. On an organizational level, the Waiting Place may require staff to have access to a Change Steering Committee who can be the “touch point” for change. On a personal level, when we are going through change, we may need someone to support and guide us; someone to whom we may express our feelings and who can help us figure out our next steps.

Un-slumping (New Beginnings)

Un-slumping is the point when people are ready to move-on from their “Waiting Place.” They are finally ready to open themselves up to new experiences; ready to escape from “all the waiting and staying” and as Dr. Seuss describes, “You’ll find the bright places where Boom Bands are playing.”

With readiness for a new beginning, we can now think more positively about the future and its possibilities. And as Dr. Seuss teaches us, we are now ready to realize that, “There are points to be scored. There are games to be won. And all the magical things you can do with that ball will make you the winning-est winner of all.” This is because we now feel part of something “new” and are looking for new opportunities.

However, at this stage comes a new challenge; to rebuild our sense of “mastery” in this new, changed environment. We want to feel that we are on solid ground and capable of transitioning from the “old” to the “next.” This phase of change has its tough moments and there are times when we’ll feel alone, scared and discouraged. There’s a steep learning curve for us to be able to adapt and evolve through our new, changed world.

For organizational change, this is the stage where coaching, training and such strategies are necessary to allow people to gain mastery in their new, changed work environment. Un-slumping your team usually requires goal setting and strategies to ensure alignment with a changed organizational vision. For personal change journeys, it may be time for personal counselling, education or other strategies to help us adapt to the new way of life.

Summary

Change is inevitable; it’s part of life. Once conscious of the change process, we can choose to think differently about how we react to it: as a critic, bystander, victim or navigator. So will you succeed? The odds, according to Dr. Seuss, are good: “Yes! You will, indeed….you’re off to great places! Today is your day! Your mountain is waiting. So…get on your way!

Sally Stanleigh

Sally Stanleigh is a senior partner in Business Improvement Architects and the Chief Operating Officer. Sally manages the operation and develops and implements communications, marketing and promotion programs. She is also responsible for spearheading and managing the company's corporate research projects. Sally has a background in marketing and communications and previously worked as a senior product manager with multi-national corporations such as Colgate-Palmolive and Phillip Morris before founding Business Improvement Architects with her husband and partner, Michael Stanleigh. On occasion, Sally is asked by clients for help with business planning. She facilitates the planning process as a consultant and helps clients with the development of their marketing plans and programs. She has also presented to professional groups on such topics as: customer feedback systems, employee motivation, development of incentive programs and trends. You may contact her at sstanleigh@bia.ca.