Employee Engagement Series: Managing Transitions – The Key to Employee Engagement

Robert Dilt's 'Neurological Levels of Change'

An NLP Special Feature by Geoffrey Leigh

In the past, many organisations have brought about change merely by insisting upon their employees’ compliance. As long as people did the job, it didn’t matter so much whether they agreed with it, less so liked it!

Faced with the challenges of surviving, competing and winning in an increasingly diverse and fast moving environment, successful employers have already understood the need to create, and recreate again, relevant and dynamic organisations – where people are genuinely committed to do what the business requires.

Employee engagement is no longer a “nice to have”, it’s an essential. To such an end, today’s successful leader is learning to focus not only on what change should achieve, but also on the potential psychological barriers employees are likely to experience in making it happen – barriers which, if not adequately considered and managed, can easily compromise the intended change.

It is rarely the change that causes the problem, it is the psychological transitions.

Change and Transition

Change and transitions are quite different. Change is situational (restructuring, a new policy, a merger) whereas transition is the psychological process people go through in order to come to terms with a new situation.

Specifically, in terms of Robert Dilts’ “Neurological Levels of Change” model (see above), leaders must be capable of promoting adjustment in the psychological realm – these being the purpose, identity and values and beliefs levels.

While there will still exist a subsequent need to support changes at capability, behavioural and environmental levels, providing those types of solutions alone will be unlikely to secure success. Moreover, aligning individuals to the organisation’s purpose, identity, values and beliefs is no longer a limited requirement for a few “problem people”. To a greater or lesser extent almost all employees will be in need of such support at some time or another.

Making these psychological transitions include three key phases: an ending, a neutral phase and a new beginning. These are not absolutely separate with clear timescales and boundaries; they are more likely experienced as the curving strata shown below.

But they all require leaders to explore specific activities to help the change happen and drive employee engagement.


The challenge in the first phase is helping people to let go of the past. Before people can begin something new, they have to end what used to be.

Adopting a new approach usually requires the undoing of former habits or preferences, letting go of thoughts, feelings and behaviours, which have become familiar and people have become reliant upon. Leaders will want to be aware of what endings represent for particular individuals and make appropriate accommodation in their plans.


Neutral zone

The neutral zone is the phase where people are expected to let go of their old ways and adopt the new.

Typically, this is the phase where neither the old nor the new ways are working well. In some situations, this is a brief period. However, when the change is significant the neutral zone can be an extended period of time.

In this phase, anxiety can be unusually high and motivation unusually low so the greatest effort is needed to make the change stick. Serious attention should be given to helping people come to terms with the transition through listening, communicating, giving feedback, coaching and training.



Beginnings are psychological phenomena – not simply practical ones. They concern the assumption of different identities, different values and different beliefs. They demand new commitment and risk-taking.

This is the period when the change concept is finally tested. Beginnings cannot be forced: only encouraged, supported and reinforced. Leaders can only now concern themselves with explaining the basic purpose behind the change; painting a picture of how the outcome will look, sound and feel; defining a step-by-step plan so that people have a clear idea of the journey; empowering people to act.

To sum up, today’s leaders require a new generation of solutions, capable of supporting people in making fundamental psychological shifts. And this new paradigm must consider the employee as resourceful – helping leaders and employees to come together in a non-hierarchically arranged, collaborative relationship to explore and resolve problems as well as create innovative solutions.

Now that’s what I call engagement.

A bit about Geoffrey Leigh:

Following a rewarding career within the Dept for Education & Employment, crafting policy around the national learning and development agenda, Geoffrey now focuses his talents on supporting organisations to boost their productivity and helping their people to achieve the quality of life they want.

As a consultant, Geoffrey continues to develop systems and processes to support successful business planning, cultural change, human resource planning, communications, performance measurement and organisational learning.

As a trainer, he diagnoses, designs and delivers learning programmes reflecting leading edge learning technologies across a range of subject areas including leadership, marketing and sales, diversity, trainer training and financial management.

He is a Certified NLP Master Trainer (INLPTA) and Psychotherapist (Diploma, NLPtCA and accredited UKCP) and carries qualifications in Accelerated Learning and Emotional Intelligence.

Geoffrey works closely with idg to support organisations improve, develop and grow and also delivers a number of NLP courses with us.

A bit more about NLP:

NLP stands for Neuro Linguistic Programming. So what does that actually mean? In the past, people have described NLP as:

  • the study of human excellence
  • an amazing breakthrough in personal development
  • an effective tool for personal and business life

And all of these are true! NLP is about understanding others, and ourselves. What makes us ‘tick’? How do we perceive the world around us? And how does that affect the way we communicate, recall experiences and behave?

NLP will help you to:

  • Improve your communication skills
  • Build and develop relationships
  • Avoid, or deal with, confrontation
  • Increase confidence
  • Set clearer goals – and achieve them
  • Effect appropriate work and life balance

NLP can be used for many purposes, including facilitating organisational development, coaching, consulting, training, improving profits and goal setting. Find out more here.

Posted on January 17th, 2013 by