One Model of Change for an Organisational Restructure

An explanation of how William Bridges’ change model was implemented at a large organisation

Key Takeaway

There are many excellent change processes and change models and theories that exist. This article explores how one particular change model was implemented and outlines key points for a smooth restructure.

I recently worked with a large organisation that was going through considerable change. This was an organisation that had a long history of stable operations and many staff and leaders had been with the organisation for some time.

The change was going to see one main division separate into two broad structures and some downsizing would occur- the first staff redundancies in some time. The organisation engaged my services to assist them in designing a change strategy that would achieve the results they were looking for, in the time frames their broader board had mandated.


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A clear plan

We started this change process off with a clear plan. I personally think major organisation redesign processes or mergers need to be managed in accordance with good project management process.

Change managed badly can impact the productivity of an organisation due to the effect on morale and capability of employees.

This requires a strong change management set of processes embedded into the process. This is my preferred way of delivering change, not as a simple action list, but as a clear planned process with clear roles and responsibilities, a clear path, clear and measurable results and a solid business justification.

Changing businesses take effort and financial backing. Change managed badly can impact the productivity of an organisation due to the effect on morale and capability of employees.

Discovery, design and deployment

The Change Strategy and corresponding Plan created for the restructure followed a model of Discovery, Design and Deployment.

i) The Discovery stage looked at the current state and the main scope of the change including what the operating model needed to achieve, what current business processes existed and which ones were targeted for change;

ii) The Design stage of the new structure and operating model involved working with senior leadership to design the functionality, process and staffing split into the two smaller structures. This was depersonalised and the decision was to have a ‘spill and fill’ approach to filling the structure, given there would be fewer roles and some staff would have to formally compete for the remaining positions. The leaders would be recruited first to assist with the recruitment of staff that would be reporting in their structures.

iii) At the same stage as the Design stage, plans for Deployment were being developed, that would see the new structures implemented and their new identities and brands created.

A change model

There are many excellent change processes and change models and theories that exist. The change model selected to underpin this process was William Bridges’ (1991) ‘Managing Transitions’, a three stage model of steps:

  • Endings;
  • Neutral Zone;
  • New Beginning.

Bridges, in particular, talks about the psychological transition where people, over time, become aware of the new situation and the changes that come to that and work to adapt to that new beginning. Therefore, as part of the Discovery and Design stages, the change and communication strategy and plan covered these elements from a communication, adoption and engagement perspective.


Endings – the first step – is about the concept of letting go. The process for some is quite hard, filled with resistance to a change to their personal or work circumstances that they may not have wished for.

Ideally, endings come smoother with understandable change – with a rationale they can see.

Acknowledgement of the ending process, what will stay the same and what will not and the grief some staff and leaders might feel is key.

In a change process, it’s a good idea to outline the change in as much detail as possible. Ideally, endings come smoother with understandable change – with a rationale they can see.

Involving people in endings is important as it is involving them in the future; so in this case study, key leaders and staff representatives were involved with the Discovery, Design and Deploy parts of the process.

In a Neutral Zone

The second phase of Bridges’ model is about being in a neutral zone. This is where the change is actually happening ie in the Deployment and is an unsettling time.

Bridges suggests that we do not ideally want to be in the neutral zone for too long. This is where we may see an increased level of anxiety and a drop in productivity. Some of the old habits and practices might appear again. This is also the time to try new things, experiment and reward efforts of success and of failure.

In light of possible uncertainty sometimes, shorter-term objectives or outcomes might be the best approach. In this part of the case study Deployment activity, the recruitment processes were occurring – there was unsettlement in the team which was starting to impact on morale and service.

So, I worked closely with leaders to ensure they were not overpromising and that they were celebrating the wins even if they were small. We also worked with the Human Resource Business partner to have as efficient a process as possible to place people into positions, and if we knew there were staff found to not to be placed, they were transitioned from the business as smoothly as possible with appropriate redundancy payments and support processes ie counselling and career coaching.

A key strategy to assist staff here was resilience training and coaching. If staff were struggling with the change, counselling through a psychological services provider or Employee Assistance provider was provided. We announced confirmed roles as soon as we were able to and also provided support for those who were exiting from the business or being re-deployed to other roles in the business. We needed to adhere to employment policy and the industrial relations laws to cover the business and the employees’ rights in this process.

New Beginnings

The final stages of Bridges’ model is New Beginnings – Bridges talks about the 4P’s : Purpose, Picture, Plan and Part.

  • Purpose is the why we are doing this;
  • Picture is the shared vision of what it will look, feel or even hear like;
  • Plan is the detailed plan for getting there to the embedding aspect of the new team into new cultures; and
  • Part is all about giving people a part to play in the change and through having a role that builds ownership and buy in (in the case study mentioned above).

The recruitment strategy was a cascading model; therefore, as leaders were appointed, they were brought into a central management team to ensure they were all clear on the purpose, and then went about achieving the picture of their future teams through team building and planning activities.

As teams were formed, they designed processes to get on with the new roles and new directions promptly with a clear line of sight.

As part of the New Beginning, there were post implementation reviews, additional staff satisfaction and engagement surveys and leader coaching to ensure that the new business-as-usual environment was right sized and no further minor refinements were required.

In summary, in this example, key points for a smooth restructure are :

  • use leaders as key change advocates and agents;
  • involve people and give them a part to play;
  • make the neutral zone or the actual change as short as possible, being mindful of staff morale and staff support during times of recruitment or redundancy;
  • use a planned approach with a change model at its heart; and
  • check and recheck post deployment as part of New Beginnings to verify results are as expected.

I encourage you to have a look at the change theories that exist – there is a whole body of knowledge out there and the Change Management Institute have a fantastic CMBOK, Change Management Body of Knowledge. There is also more information on my website.

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Headline image courtesy Davide Ragusa@unsplash.com.
#change #changemanagement #transformation

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