As we strive to help our small-business clients cope with the many daily challenges they face, we must remember that what we are really doing in almost every counseling transaction is helping them deal with change. Sometimes, we counsel them away from a change they think they want to make. Other times, we assist them in navigating a change process that can be hard to understand and even harder to get through. In this and a subsequent newsletter article, I want to propose a different way of thinking about change, a way that you might find useful as you work with SCORE clients.
There are many ways to define the change process, to label the various phases or steps. One way that I find useful looks like change in reverse, a different way to visualize change. In its simplest terms, we can think of the change process as having three major sequential phases: Beginning; Middle Ground; Ending. This process is easy to internalize, easy to explain. But it is just the reverse of these three phases that will enable a client, or anyone else for that matter, to deal with change successfully. In a great book on the subject, “Managing Transitions: Making The Most of Change”, by William Bridges, the author describes successful change in terms of the following process:
The author’s premise is that successful change starts with endings, not beginnings. Endings refers to the letting go that must occur to free up the individual from old habits, relationships, associations, ways of making money, things that will get in the way of making change happen successfully. Moving on to something new is a whole lot easier without a lot of excess baggage. Letting go is the hardest part of the change process because it often means that people must step out of their comfort zones, the warm-and-fuzzies that all of us like to cling to. And letting go can take a long time.
The Neutral Zone is a time of great uncertainty, somewhere between having let go and actually starting to effect the desired change. A good way to think about the Neutral Zone is to recall a time when you and your family relocated from a place you had lived for a long time to somewhere new. Think about all the confusion of moving, the uncertainty of whether or not the move was indeed the right or best thing for you and your family, and all the details of getting established in a new environment. And all this on top of having “let go” of friends, neighbors, familiar surroundings, and co-workers that you left behind!
Beginnings is that period of time during which we “begin” to arrive emotionally at our change destination. We’re there physically; that’s the easy part. Much harder is to plant new roots, establish & build new relationships, and approach a point where the change starts to feel comfortable.
Next time: How you can help clients with Endings, the necessary “letting go”.