Back Forward Index Search History Bookmarks Notes Logout Help Settings Add Note Add Bkmk Print
Change Agent

Tool: Transition curve

Typical use (type of issue/project)

To identify where a person is on the transition curve and how to move them productively through their transition.

Ease of use rating

Used by

Line customers, employees, team members, or members of the whole business.

Tips for effective use

Continue to identify, track, and guide your clients through their change transition. Stay attuned to signs that they are evolving in their stance towards the change.

Signals of successful use

Clearly understanding where people are in their transition. Over time, helping them move along the transition curve.

Signals of unsuccessful use

Neither understanding where a person is on the change scale, nor how best to handle them.

Links to other tools

Change readiness interview


Transition curve

You will have many occasions to manage change personally and with your clients, team and colleagues.

Transition is the internal process that people go through as they internalise and come to terms with the details of the new situation that comes with the change.

Whenever we are impacted by change, being it positively or negatively perceived change, we go through different emotions and feelings over time.

These emotions and feelings can be grouped into three phases which represent 'the transition curve': endings, neutral zone and new beginnings. Getting people through the transition is essential if the change is actually to work as planned. The information provided here has been extracted and adapted from the work of William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions.

Where is the person on the transition curve?

Understanding how your client deals with change and whether they are moving through the different phases during a change process is an important element in successfully getting buy in and implementing new ideas. This section introduces you to the idea of transition, the personal experience of change. In the best circumstances the personal experience of change will run in tandem with the change timetable in the business. However frequently it is out of sync, individuals become stuck in one part of the transition whilst the change project moves on.

The three phases of the transition curve

1. Endings

Every change leads to Endings, whether the change is good or bad. When acknowledged and managed Endings are a natural aspect of the ongoing change that is a part of the business cycle. Everyone has their own way of dealing with Ending.

Endings are emotional. Discussing emotions and feelings is unusual at work. When they are ignored and people become stuck, they kill teamwork, productivity and delay progress. As a result, you may see one or all of the following: anger, disengagement, disenchantment, disorientation, deflection.

2. Neutral zone

This is probably the most difficult phase to understand. In this aspect of the transition curve you will see decisive individuals become indecisive. People may act out of character, and then at times revert back to their ‘old self,’ only to act strangely again the next day. People talk about being unfocused, at sea, desperately wanting to move forward but not making progress. Something is holding them back. This phase can seem unproductive and unfocused.

When managed well, it can release the creative powers that are needed to move the change ahead. Tapping into the creative side of this phase can break down the old barriers and come up with great ideas. However, this does not happen without giving people support and encouragement.

3. New beginnings

This is about being ready, not just the new approach starting. This is when people are energised to succeed and focused, particularly when each individual knows their role, believes in it and is motivated to achieve.

People may need help and coaching to acquire new skills, regain old commitment and performance standards, understand the new culture or strategy and reapply their competence in a new environment.

How to determine where a person is in transition

Read the description and quotes below and assess where the client is in the transition based on the comments you hear that are similar to those in each section. Then go to the guidance notes for suggestions on how to deal with the client based on the stage they are at.

In endings people say things like

  • ‘This is a crazy idea. Who suggested it?’
  • ‘When they see how many clients we have upset they will be sorry that they ever did this’
  • ‘Hey, I’ll make you a deal let me keep my clients and deal with them the way I always have and I’ll guarantee you ....’
  • ‘You know I’m really going to miss this old office’
  • ‘Now wait a minute. That’s my area. No one else will know anything about it’
  • ‘Yea, this team has been together ever since ‘x’ even though we are all scattered we will still operate pretty much the same’
  • ‘I just can’t get used to the way we talk around here now’
  • ‘Well there goes my promotion’
  • ‘I just don’t give a damn anymore’
  • ‘I feel like we have lost everything we created’
  • ‘Now that the old crowd has moved I feel like I’ve lost my home base’
  • ‘So many things have changed that I don’t feel like the same person any more’
  • ‘This will never work, if we keep our heads down they will restore the old system’
  • ‘They will have to keep our client system it’s where the real value is. They will work it out soon’

In neutral zone people say things like:

  • ‘How’d we ever decide this? I can’t remember’
  • ‘Some days I feel like this will work, some days it feels like a disaster’
  • ‘I don’t know which end is up any more’
  • ‘I’m not sure whose driving this train’
  • ‘Does anyone remember why we thought this change would be a good idea?’
  • ‘It’s really hard to get up in the morning. I’ve never felt like that before’
  • ‘Do you know that all the Business Partners are playing computer games’
  • ‘I just had this fantastic idea. Can’t imagine why I never thought of it before’
  • ‘It’s scary to realise that we could do almost anything. Nobody knows how this is supposed to work’
  • ‘Even though the change has been announced it feels like we are still marking time, waiting for someone to do something’
  • ‘It feels like everyone is running around but what are we really trying to achieve’
  • ‘They keep talking about the strategy but when is something going to happen’
  • ‘I wish I could understand how we can meet client’s needs this way’

Getting into new beginnings people say things like:

  • ‘Oh, I get it. I see what you mean. I just didn’t understand what you were trying to tell me’
  • ‘I got up this morning and actually felt excited about coming in here’
  • ‘It feels like we are coming out of a long dark tunnel’
  • ‘That meeting yesterday felt good, like we were pulling together and had some energy’
  • ‘It’s been so long since I knew what I was doing, I’d forgotten what it was like’
  • ‘I can see some ways to make this new system work if we tweak it a bit’
  • ‘The clients haven’t reacted as badly as we thought’
  • ‘When you get used to the new place it isn’t half so bad’

Finishing the transition people say things like:

  • ‘It’s funny how unsettling it all was. It feels like ancient history now’
  • ‘I can’t say I love being part of this approach, but it’s OK’
  • ‘I suppose we will end up changing again but at least we survived this. It’s not so bad working this way’
  • ‘Did you see the quarterly client survey. It’s actually paying off’
  • ‘It took a while to get used to, but now it feels like I always worked this way’
First they ignore you, then they ridicule you, then they fight you, and then you win.

Leading people through transition



New beginnings