Helping People cope with Change

Saying that Aged Care is going through significant reform is stating the bleeding obvious. The life of a home care worker is, in many organisations, going to be completely changed. They are likely to be required to – and I feel like I should be washing my mouth out as I say it in a home care context – more sales-oriented. Not only that, a group of people who are more than likely to be right brain-oriented will find themselves having to exercise their left brain skills, explaining spreadsheets, and encouraging more than ever, people in their care to be more self-reliant.

The organisational changes and personal changes in home care are not trivial. Nor are they restricted to home care. The changes coming in residential care to truly offer consumer directed care are equally non-trivial.

Significant organisational change has a powerful impact on people. Change creates a tension between the past and the future, between stability and the unknown. Despite business rationale, logic, creativity, planning, and strategies associated with change, this tension comes down to people doing different things in different ways and having to give up positions of the past. Asking people to change behaviour on behalf of organisational goals creates an automatic emotional reaction.

Individuals have responsibilities in a program of change. However, how we cope with change depends largely on how our leaders frame, communicate, and lead the change. That being said, it should also not be forgotten that leaders are not immune from the reactions to change as well.

To be a successful in negotiating our way through change, we must first understand the dynamics of change and the ways uncertainty affects us and others. The old way has to be mourned; the new way has to be understood.

It is most important for the change leader to see him or herself as the role model toward whom all team members look for cues and clues about how they should respond to the changing situation.

To do this, it is important that we as leaders personally refocus on what we can do to cope with change. Personally refocusing asks us to examine our individual feelings, motive, and assumptions about change. It is the place to start understanding how to cope with change. It allows us to provide leadership to others.

The Bridges Transition Model

Home care teams are being asked to varying degrees in different organisations to manage or cope with change. What is equally, if not more important, is how we as leaders manage the transition. It isn’t the changes that do us in, it’s the transitions. They aren’t the same thing.

Change is situational; it’s the new team, the new boss, the new policy, the new work site. Transition is the psychological process people go through as they come to grips with the new situation. You could say that change is external and transition is internal. We don’t often see the internal change is creating difficulty for people until it is too late.

Getting people through the transition is essential if the change is to work as planned. When a change happens without people going through a transition, it can be a recipe for disaster.

For more than 30 years, William Bridges’ Transition Model (Bridges Transition Model, 2014) has provided organisations with the tools to successfully implement change and make a successful transition. The three phases are:

article - winds of change - bridges transition model

(Bridges, W. Managing Transitions, 2003)

Ending, Losing, Letting Go: letting go of the old ways and the old identity people had. This first phase of transition is an ending, and the time when you need to help people to deal with their losses.

The Neutral Zone: going through an in-between time when the old is gone but the new isn’t fully operational. We call this time the ‘neutral zone’; it’s when the critical psychological realignments take place.

The New Beginning: coming out of the transition and making a new beginning. This is when people develop the new identity, experience the new energy, and discover the new sense of purpose that make the change begin to work.

Because transition is a process by which people unplug from an old world and plug into a new world, we can say that transition starts with an ending and finishes with a beginning.

Coping with Change Test

Take this test to see how you are doing at helping people manage the transitions.


1. Managing Endings

Yes No  
    Have we provided people with accurate information about what is happening – or at least the decision making and timing – again and again?
    Have we defined clearly what is over and what isn’t?
    Have we permitted people in the team to grieve and acknowledged with sympathy the losses felt by others, even when they seem like overreaction?
    Have we worked hard to unpack old baggage, heal old wounds, and finish unfinished business?
    Have we found ways to ‘mark the ending’, not to denigrate the past, to find ways to honour it? Have I said thank you to everyone who has contributed?
    Have we given people a piece of the past to take with them?
    Have we equipped ourselves with all the information and knowledge we need to manage this aspect of the transition?


2. Managing the Neutral Zone  


Yes No  
    Have we understood the neutral zone as an uncomfortable time which can be turned to everyone’s advantage, choosing a new and positive metaphor to describe it?
    Have we created realistic short-range goals and checkpoints, training programs, temporary policies, procedures, roles, reporting relationships and organisation groupings needed to get through the neutral zone?
    Have we found ways to keep people feeling they belong and are valued?
    Is realistic feedback is flowing upward?
    Have we encouraged experimentation, creative thinking, and trying things a new way?
    Are we pushing for certainty where it would be more realistic to live a little longer with uncertainty and questions?
    Have we equipped ourselves with all the information and knowledge we need to manage this aspect of the transition?


3. Managing New Beginnings


Yes No  
    Do we have an effective picture of the change, the purpose behind it, and the new identity which will emerge from it? Have we communicated it?
    Do we accept that people in the team are going to be ambivalent toward the beginning we are trying to bring about?
    Have we helped everyone to discover the part that they play in the new system?
    Have we included opportunities for quick success to help people rebuild their self-confidence?
    Are we being careful not to introduce extra, unrelated changes while people are still struggling to respond to the big transition?
    Have we checked to see that policies and procedures are consistent with the new beginning so that inconsistencies aren’t sending mixed messages?
    Have we provided training and the appropriate workplace environment to make it easy for people to transfer the learning from the training back to the workplace?
    Have we found ways to celebrate the new beginning? Have we given people a piece of the transition to keep as a reminder of the difficult journey we all took together?
    Have we equipped ourselves with all the information and knowledge we need to manage this aspect of the transition?


How did you rate?

How did you rate at helping people through the transitions? Where do you concentrate on?

My experience is that most people do fairly well at Managing New Beginnings but tend to do less well at Managing Endings. We tend to organise training, make presentations, run pilots, create communication packs, run team briefings, and generally communicate well about what is new.

What we do less well is map who is going to lose power and influence because of what they know and the experience they have under the old system, help people mourn their loss, and help them find new ways of regaining that power and influence under the new system. When they resist we tend to avoid them in favour of those aligned to the New Beginning. We miss the opportunity to help them feel valued. In many cases they leave and take with them their experience and knowledge.

We fail them, we fail our organisation, and we fail our clients by not managing the transition. How many of your aged care staff do you anticipate will leave because of your changes to consumer-directed care?

Works Cited

Bridges Transition Model. (2014, November 11th). Retrieved from William Bridges:

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