The Art of Mastering Change: The New Beginning

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Terry DowdBy Terry Dowd, CRA, FAHRA

June 2013Last month we discussed the neutral zone, a very important stage in the change process.  Moving from the neutral zone to the actual new beginning is hopefully anxiously anticipated if all the preparations have been completed.  However, there is still a lot of work to be done to ensure the new change is accepted and long lasting.

Beginnings are a new start.  Most importantly the new beginning validates that the “new” has arrived and the “old” is gone forever.  There may be excitement but there will most likely be fear and anxiety as well.  Beware of the “marathon effect”.1  Management has probably transitioned successfully to acceptance – after all we are responsible for the plan and implementation – but front line staff is still in the midst of adjusting. In his book Managing Transitions, William Bridges reminds us that, “successful new beginnings are based on clear and appropriate purpose.  Without them there may be lots of starts but no real beginnings.”1

It is imperative that we reiterate the purpose of the change and help our teams visualize the new process and what it will look like in the future.  Review the plan and remind your team members that their roles in the change will contribute to its success.  Everyone is responsible.  Post a timeline showing how far the team has come and where in the process they currently are.  Hopefully each success along the way has been celebrated and the new beginning is an opportunity to celebrate again!  It might be helpful to create a ”new beginning” logo.  Hand out stickers with that design and the date for name badges on start up day to get everyone involved.  Use that logo on your timeline, posters, and email updates.

As you progress through the first few days keep communication open and constantly flowing. Be visible.   Daily (and later, weekly) status meetings keep everyone informed.  Create a safe environment for feedback.  Add an ”issues board” next to the timeline where anyone with a concern can post problems that need to be addressed.  Displaying the areas of concern for your team sends a message that you acknowledge that everything is not perfect and you are encouraging feedback on what is working and what isn’t.  Ask your team what is helping the implementation and what is hindering it.  Make a list and work together to encourage the “helping” and eliminate the “hindering” items.

Avoid conflicting messages and be consistent.  If the change involves working differently do not allow one group to go back to the “old way” because they have experienced problems.  A designated period of time to truly test the new processes must be adhered to.  When our department went paperless, staff was asked to work solely from the work list.  One area continued to print orders during the start-up even though we had agreed we would not print them. This group had experienced some difficulty and went immediately back to printing the documents.  They were asked instead to post their issues and continue to work without printing for a set period of time in order for the change to be fairly evaluated.  After that time their process was reassessed, their concerns were heard, and a new process was developed.  Allowing for adequate time to experience the new change helped everyone reach the desired lasting change.

Reward employees who actively participate and demonstrate agility during a change.  Celebrate every success both big and small.  Writing individual thank you notes with the ”new beginning” logo to employees and recognizing their contributions to the start-up shows that you appreciate their efforts.  Special thanks should be given to employees who demonstrate patience and collaborate with other areas or departments.  These simple acknowledgements are very effective and encourage the behaviors we desire in our employees all the time.  Unfortunately, despite all your efforts, there may be some team members who are unhappy and will not or cannot adjust to the new system.  It is best to let them go.  It is better to start with an agile new hire who exhibits the behaviors you require than to try to change someone who won’t.

Remember that the “new beginnings” stage can last quite a while.  Success takes time and extended commitment.  Hold off on your final celebration until you have resolved the majority of issues.  Your front line teams know the struggles, and if issues still exist they will not feel comfortable with a declared victory while they are still dealing with major problems that affect how they work.  It is best they feel the new system is working well before there is a celebration and you declare a successful implementation.  And then, congratulations are in order!


1. Bridges W. Managing Transitions.  New York: Harper-Collins, 1991.


Kotter J.  Leading Change:  Why Transformation Efforts Fail.   Harvard Business Review. January 1, 2007:82-89.

Pritchett P and Pound R.  High Velocity Culture Change: A Handbook for Managers.   Dallas, TX: Pritchett, 2007.

Terry Dowd, CRA, FAHRA is the senior clinical manager at Banner Health System-Baywood in Mesa, AZ. She can be reached at

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