Managing Transitions: A book review by Bob Morris

Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change
William Bridges
DeCapo Lifelong Books (2009)

Durable Insights…Practical Suggestions

I read this book when it was first published (1991) and recently re-read it, curious to see how well Bridges’ ideas have held up since then. They remain rock-solid. His objective is to suggest how to “make the most of change” and heaven knows there have been so many major changes, both global and local, in recent years. I expect the nature and number of such turmoil to increase significantly, and, to occur at an ever-accelerating velocity. I also expect Bridges’ observations and suggestions to remain valid. Perhaps at some point he will revise this book to accommodate certain changes such as the emergence of what Pink calls “the free agent nation.” The book’s materiel is carefully organized within four Parts:

The Problem: Bridges provides “a new and useful perspective on the difficulties ahead” and then a test case that illustrates that perspective.

The Solutions: Bridges suggests all manner of ways to apply what is learned from the previous Part.

Dealing with Nonstop Change in the Organization and Your Life: Bridges suggests a number of strategies by which to cope with rapid change, both organizationally and personally.

The Conclusion: Bridges provides a rigorous discussion of “A Practical Case” and then his final observations concerning transition management.

In 1991, Bridges was convinced that it is impossible to achieve any desired objectives without getting to “the personal stuff”; the challenge is to get people to stop doing whatever “the old way” and that cannot be accomplished impersonally. He was also convinced that transition management requires experience and abilities we already possess as when we struggle, for example, to “figure out a tactful response in a difficult situation.” However, the strategies of transition management he suggests may require mastery of certain techniques that we “can easily learn.” Presumably Bridges remains convinced today of these same basic points even as new applications and (yes) complications have revealed themselves.

For whom will this book be most valuable? Given the nature and extent of organizational change, I would include everyone engaged (voluntarily or involuntarily) in those changes…at least everyone at the management level. Also, service providers such bankers, attorneys, accountants, bankers, executive recruiters, and management consultants such as I who are directly associated with those organizations.

On several occasions, Peter Drucker has brilliantly discussed the challenge of managing a future that has already occurred but perhaps has not as yet been recognized. I agree with him that that is indeed a major challenge. One of Bridges’ key points seems to be that it is not only possible but imperative to manage effectively the transition from a current situation to a desired destination. It is not always possible to “manage change” but I agree with Bridges that it IS possible to formulate and then manage an appropriate response to it. Those who share my high regard for this book are encouraged to read (if they have not already done so) Bridges’ previous work, Transitions, as well as James O’Toole’s Leading Change, Jon Katzenbach’s Real Change Leaders, and finally, The Manager as Change Agent co-authored by Jerry Gilley, Scott Quatro, Erik Hoekstra, Doug Whittle, Ann Maycunich, Scott A. Quatro, Jerry W. Gilley, and Doug D. Whittle.


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