When looking to lead change: The Marathon Effect
The Marathon Effect or Model is taken from William Bridges, author of Managing Transitions, Making the Most of Change. It is often known as Bridges three stage model.
Bridges focus for success to manage the ending and to help people to let go.
Bridges three stage model:
- Change is external
- Transition is internal
Change -v- Transition
- Transition is what affects us, not change
- A transition starts with an ending
- You have to let go to grab something new
- Once you let go, you enter a neutral zone
- Step out of the neutral zone and into the new beginning
Think of transition & change like a marathon, not a sprint
The model or effect mimics what you may see in the London Marathon or a long distance road race with many thousands of participants.
The more experienced faster runners line up at the start, and the rest of the participants are spread out behind them, with the causal joggers towards the end.
As the race begins the fastest and most experienced begin first. As these first runners or “early adopters” take off, those behind them can start moving up to the ‘official start line’ and begin their race. While these followers start the process at a different time to the early adopters. The journey or route is basically the same – although both have and require a different journey to the start.
This starting process creates waves of individuals and populations as they begin their journey.
While many are starting on their journey (race) others (laggards’ have barely moved, in fact it may be some time before they have even realised that the race or journey has actually started.
They eventually get to the ‘official start’ but much time has elapsed between now and when the first runners took off.
So much like organisational change
This view of change, much like to 100’s of runners starting the London Marathon makes an easy analogy to an organisation going through change.
More often than not the senior managers or leaders of the organisation who have been working on the change have had a chance to think through the change, talk about it, and get used to it. These leaders typically go through personal changes and transitions before they launch the changes, while they’re still struggling with the problems and searching for solutions. By the time they have announced the change, they have long since put their personal losses and the transition stages behind them and are ready for the new beginning. The next level of managers are probably just entering the transition stage, and the rest of the rank and file have not yet even made their endings.
In business much like long distance running, keep the marathon model in mind when planning and implementing your next change. While you’re having a nice cold refreshment, there are many others who have not even crossed the starting line yet. Have patience and allow the walkers to complete the same race (journey) you did.
Bridges three stage model:
Bridges focus for success to to manage the ending and to help people to let go by:
- Clearly define what is over and what is not
- Officially mark the ending
- Honour the past
- Make it possible for people to take a piece of the past with them
- Remind people that change is occurring in the context of continually renewing and sustaining the organization
Navigating the neutral zone
- Try to normalise it – acknowledge that it can be uncomfortable, but it can also be used to peoples advantage
- Provide on going training, policy changes and rewards & recognition
- Protect people from other changes
- Create temporary policies, procedures, roles etc as needed
- Define short term goals & objectives
- Encourage risk taking & experimenting
- Step back and take stock – encourage others to do the same
- Don’t push for closure – and certainly no too soon
Help people commit to the new beginning
- “Starts” can happen “on-time” – the beginning may not!
- Clarify and communicate the purpose of the change.. and again, and again, and again!
- Help people understand as soon as possible what part they play in the new world
- Help people identify their skills and contributions
- Walk the talk!
- Hold people accountable for making changes, and recognise & reward them for it
- Build opportunities for quick success to build confidence
- Ask for commitment
Time is an important factor in enabling successful change and transition.
* Inspired by an article by Dan McCarthy