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Managing Transitions Summary

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Managing Transitions PDFMaking the Most of Change

Whether you own a $100 startup or the largest Internet company in the world – one thing is fairly certain: things change.

The key is to make the most of these changes.

In “Managing Transitions” William Bridges explains how.

Step by step.

Who Should Read “Managing Transitions”? And Why?

When it was first published 26 years ago, “Managing Transitions” was one of the very few books on the market – if not the only one – to point out that as difficult as it can be for a company to deal with situational change, the psychological transitions which come by way of it are much more challenging and strenuous.

In other words, that it is essentially the people one should be worried about during times of change.

And when we say “people” we mean the employees, just as when we say “one” we mostly mean managers.

However, even though primarily a business book, some of Bridges’ psychological insights are so profound and his step-by-step instructions so clear, that we feel that “Managing Transitions” can be used by anyone who deals with almost any kind of change in ordinary life.

William BridgesAbout William Bridges

William Bridges was an American author and organizational consultant, widely considered the foremost expert on business change and transitions for most of his life.

Educated at Harvard (BA, English), Columbia (MA, American History) and Brown (Ph.D., American Civilization), Bridges started off as a professor of American Literature at Mills College but changed careers in 1974.

He wrote ten books, three of which are still in print: “The Way of Transition,” “Transitions” and “Managing Transitions.”

Bridges passed away in 2013 at the age of 79.

“Managing Transitions PDF Summary”

Even though “where there’s change, there’s transition,” change and transition are actually two very different things.

Change is merely a new situation presenting itself, but transition is the personal transformation which goes with it.

Change, in other words, is situational; transition, however, is psychological:

People are the ones who have to embrace new situations and carry out the corresponding changes. The psychological shifts that accompany the situational shifts can be difficult for people and must be managed to have everyone on board.

So, when there’s downsizing or a company relocates, when there’s a merger or a new management team comes on board – there are also hundreds of employees who need to go through a personal transition to keep pace with the factual change.

If managers don’t help them, they may remain stuck in the pre-change situation, which is a double catastrophe: both organizational and personal.

Every transition is a three-phase process, which consists of an ending, neutral zone, and a new beginning.

So, let’s have a look at how managers can help employees to go through each of these stages.

#1. Ending

Not many things begin with an ending, but every transition does:

Before you can begin something new, you have to end what used to be.

And there are few simple, but quite crucial steps one needs to make to (help someone) put an end to something:

a) Understand the situation: you need to explain/understand every change in detail, clearly and comprehensibly;
b) Look ahead: go beyond Stage One: every change brings another and then another;
c) Identify losses: once you understand the situation fully, make a list of who loses what;
d) Recognize the reality: losses are not only material – they can also be subjective and emotional;
e) Expect strong reactions: some will grieve, some will be angry; nothing is an overreaction from the perspective of the one who has lost something due to a change beyond his power;
f) be open and keep the information flowing: sometimes, there’s nothing you can do; communicate that in an earnest, sympathizing manner; don’t lie and don’t hide anything from those going through the transition;
g) respect the past: Hernán Cortés burnt his ships at Vera Cruz to make clear to his crew that going back to Spain was now not an option; make your point in a similarly dramatic way.

#2. The Neutral Zone

Think of the neutral zone as some sort of a bardo or a limbo: you’re on your way, but you’re not there just yet.

And even though “one doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time,” we don’t need to tell you that there are a few things worse than uncertainty in life!

The same is true for your employees, so don’t expect them to be orderly and logical once they realize that there’s no turning back.


a) Keep your demands reasonable: reasonable in the neutral zone means lowered expectations;
b) Old rules out: if necessary, allow your employees to circumvent some of the old policies;
c) Set concise goals: to give your employees a boost in morale, set concise short-term goals;
d) Communicate: help your employees communicate among themselves.

#3. The New Beginning

Beginnings are strange things,” Bridges says. “People want them to happen but fear them at the same time.

To help your employees kickstart their future, always have the four P’s in mind:

Purpose: if people know where they are going, they would be willing to tolerate the change;
Picture: go beyond words: show your people the final destination;
Plan: a change plan is not the same as a transition plan; the latter consists of subjective, individual, emotional and psychological elements;
Part: if one is not part of the transition, he/she will be part of the problem; so, make sure everybody gets a role.

To make sure everyone’s on board with the new beginning, follow these four simple rules:

a) Consistency: be consistent with your goal; otherwise, you’ll lose your people;
b) Go for quick wins: as in the neutral zone, boost your employees’ morale with a few quick and low-risk wins;
c) Use the power of symbols: symbols are powerful and meaningful; so, don’t underestimate them, even if we’re just talking about the color of the uniform after a merger;
d) Throw a success party: celebrate the new beginning.

Key Lessons from “Managing Transitions”

1.      There’s a Difference Between Change and Transition
2.      Transition Is a Three-Phase Process
3.      Take Few Tips Out of Moses’ Book

There’s a Difference Between Change and Transition

Even though the thesaurus may list them as synonyms, change and transitions are two completely different things.

Change is situational and much more objective; transition, on the other hand, is a psychological and subjective experience.

In a nutshell, transition is, in fact, the process of adjusting to change.

It’s easy to change; it’s difficult to make the transition to stay even with the change.

Transition Is a Three-Phase Process

Every transition consists of three phases: ending, neutral zone, and a new beginning.

Putting an end to something means leveling the field for something new: the latter will never arrive if you still hang on to the former.

The neutral zone is the region of chaos and confusion, the in-between place where you can feel the loss of the old but are still unaware of the benefits of the new.

Once you become aware of the advantages of the new situation, you’ve gone through the neutral zone; it’s time for the new beginning.

Take Few Tips Out of Moses’ Book

One of the greatest transition stories in history is the sojourn of the Israelites from Egypt to Israel.

So, be a Moses!

Take your people on the much necessary journey once you’re sure you can get them to Canaan.

Tell them that your journey has a purpose and that the next stage is the promised land.

But, also, be very aware that many will not want to follow you and, while in the neutral zone, will look back with nostalgia on the previous phase, the same way the Israelites did while walking in the desert, when they yearned to go back to Egypt even though they had been slaves there.

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“Managing Transitions Quotes”

Where there’s change, there’s transition. Click To Tweet

Before you can begin something new, you have to end what used to be. Click To Tweet

One doesn’t discover new lands without consenting to lose sight of the shore for a very long time. Click To Tweet

Economic and social forecasting is a big business, but when tested against subsequent events, it misses as many boats as it catches. Click To Tweet

Plans are immensely reassuring to most people, not just because they contain information but because they exist. Click To Tweet

Our Critical Review

“Managing Transitions” was first published in 1992 and it was widely hailed as a classic even back then. A quarter of a century later, this brief volume of fewer than 130 pages is considered the definitive guide to dealing with change.

Clear and comprehensible, timely and thorough, “Managing Transitions” is one of the best business books you’ll ever read.

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