On one, two and three we hold on to... ?

Article published on
April 20, 2020

Over the past few weeks, we have all been tested as never before, individually, collectively and organizationally. It is becoming more and more obvious that we can now speak of a 'before Covid 19' and an 'after Covid 19'. These moments of rare intensity will transform us on different points and to varying degrees and force companies and their leaders to a balancing act, forcing them to review their support points.

Regardless of the approach to change management advocated, all models point to the fact that change brings opportunities... an encouraging word, which has been heard very often lately. In this individual, family, professional and societal turmoil, there are opportunities to be seized and, we believe, opportunities to contribute to the greater good. But one must still be able and ready to see them. How can we escape the brutal reality we face every day in the media in order to reflect on them? What opportunities exist for companies here or elsewhere? What environment allows us to detect them? How do these opportunities fit into the reality of organizations outside of the crisis?

In order to provide a framework for our reflections, we propose to build on William Bridges' transition model, which describes the major turning points in life. It describes the transition process which, beyond the change itself often associated with a particular event (i.e. the pandemic here), represents the psychological process we all go through during transformations. It is clear that companies go through this process just the same. This process generally takes place in 3 phases:

First phase: Endings

This phase is characterized by feelings of significant grief and loss (of people, identities, status, etc.). It generates feelings of anger, denial, resentment, anxiety and fear. It often leads to the feeling that it is necessary to leave the past behind and turn the page.

This phase can be seen from both an individual and organizational perspective.

During this phase, it is important to actively seek out all the information needed to understand what is happening and to deal effectively with the changes. It is also important to recognize and accept the need to go through a period of mourning.  As a company, it is important to communicate, openly, frankly and with empathy, on a regular basis. It is important to expect, recognize and accept the signs of grief and to accept that employees may experience things differently and that this may affect their usual activity and commitment.

Phase Two: Neutral Zone

During this phase, the past seems far behind, but the future is not clear yet. It is a time of in-between and chaos, when people and organizations feel disoriented. It is important to restore the 4 elements destroyed by the previous phase: control, understanding, support and purpose. Regain control, as much as possible, over certain elements of our life and organization. Redefine certain ways of functioning that we can control better (e.g. working from home, changes in practices, deliveries, etc.). Better understand what is going on, find support or offer support to others. Rediscover our purpose, or a new purpose, even if the only plausible purpose at the moment is to get through this crisis.

Thinking of others, giving of oneself, acting for the common good can represent this purpose, allowing one to feel in control, to offer and obtain support.

Equally important at this time is creativity. The Neutral Zone period, having destroyed past structures, 'taboos', habitual ways of doing things, creates a highly creative zone that allows for rethinking solutions, processes and innovation. It's time to take advantage of it and benefit from potential opportunities. And even better, if they improve the situation of others around us! Doing something meaningful feels good!

Third phase: New Beginning

During this phase, we begin to imagine and project ourselves into the future. A new chapter begins and a renewal takes shape. It is possible to visualize success, despite past difficulties, and to glimpse a positive future. During this phase, it is particularly important to build this new vision, to understand our raison d'être, that of our organization, and to align our values with our new goals.

Each person and organization will go through these phases during important transitions, but at different rates and through different paths. Even if we notice today that the majority of companies are somewhere between the first and second phase, there is no absolute and resolute answer. What's more, rarely will we experience only one transition at a time. Knowing more about this model and, as a company, what it reveals, we will be in a better position to take advantage of the opportunities that are emerging and available to us.