The 3 phases of navigating change

By Jim LaDoux
Change is inevitable, and yet it is one of the most challenging things that individuals, teams, and organizations face. Change challenges the status quo and alters the current reality, and once implemented, you cannot go back. But why is it so difficult to embrace change? Resistance to change occurs because we are afraid of the unknown, leading to anxiety and conflict. As a coach, your role is to guide clients through the three phases of change, which are endings, the neutral zone, and beginnings. If you are a coach or leader, consider how  you can coach people through each of these phases and help them become a change champion.

PHASE 1: Endings

The first phase of change is endings, which focuses on the fear of losing something. The changes might lead to the team losing their identity, lack of trust in leadership leading the change, or even fear of lacking skills or resources to embrace change. As a coach, you should explain the changes that will occur, talk to naysayers, and emphasize that going back is not an option. You can celebrate the past and use it as a foundation to build the future. Try to see the issue through their eyes to understand why they are resistant to change.

PHASE 2: Neutral Zone

The neutral phase is uncomfortable, and our tendency is to rush through it. Old issues resurface, and team members start to believe that leadership is trying to destroy their legacy. It's essential to communicate, communicate, communicate during this phase. Take your time and do not rush it. It's time for creativity to surface, and change course without sinking the ship. Listen actively and provide a safe space for everyone to speak truthfully and honestly. Encourage them to share their thoughts and feelings without judgment.

PHASE 3: Beginnings

The third phase is beginnings, where the team has to embrace the change fully. But it's not that easy, fear of the unknown and the desire to "go back to Egypt" are among the top-notch challenges. As a coach, you can create excitement and acknowledge the fear by implementing the 4 P's: Purpose, Picture, Plan, and Part to play. You must provide clarity on the change's purpose, what the change will look like when implemented, the plan's details, and the role each team member plays in the change. This approach helps everyone align and embrace the change fully.

Normalize Change

It is essential to enable the normalization of change. Individuals and organizations need to understand that the presenting issue is not always the real issue. Provide individuals with a safe space to experience grief and enjoy the transformation. Use powerful questions to address the "who" not the "what." Allow clients to identify new opportunities and collaborate in creating a plan to implement the change. As a coach, you need to ensure that you are guiding people through the change process while holding the space for feelings and emotions.


Change is one constant thing every individual or organization faces across all sectors. Coaching clients through change is not a smooth transition, but it is necessary for a successful change initiative. Understanding the three phases of change - endings, neutral zone, beginnings, helps you navigate the challenges and resistance. As a coach, you implement a wide range of techniques to help your clients overcome these hurdles. Engage all stakeholders, communicate, and provide a safe space for everyone to share their thoughts, feelings, and ideas without judgment. Embrace the change with a positive attitude, and with the right approach, you can help your clients emerge from the process stronger and more flexible.


  1. What helps or hinders your capacity to navigate change?
  2. What changes do you see clients needing to navigate most often?
  3. Which phases of the change process do you need to pay closer attention to?
  4. How can you help clients create a change mindset?
  5. What's your primary takeaway from this article?
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Danette M. - September 15th, 2023 at 1:42pm

The topic of navigating change brings to mind the Sigmoid Curve. The idea of companies and individuals resistant to change over the long haul resonates with me. In 2008, our church's new lead pastor recognized where the congregation was on the Sigmoid Curve regarding the life of an organization. With the blessing of the Executive Leadership Team, he made stark changes to elements of the weekend services and overall ministry development. Two years later, he enlisted a coach, Dr. Samuel Chand, who had recently written Cracking Your Church's Culture Code—Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision and Inspiration. Chand identifies categories of church culture and offers valuable processes for improvement. That year, reading and discussing this book as a staff and hearing Dr. Chand teach was my introductory "class" on all things culture and strategy and how to help yourself and others walk through change.

Chand states, "Every organization experiences natural cycles of growth and decline (Chand 2011, 120)." He explains the cycle starts with an energizing vision and moves into growth mode. If momentum is not sustained, energy eventually subsides, leading to erosion of passion, regimentation, and lifeless institutionalization. He uses an illustration of points on a Sigmoid Curve to show the life cycle of an organization. After a successful discipleship campaign, noteworthy outreach, or some other meaningful venture, ministry leaders may be tempted to back away, not realizing that "failure to capitalize on the momentum is the beginning point of decline (Ibid, 121)." Chand makes a case for leaders to recognize the need for change before passing a peak, and the decline has already become a reality (Ibid.). "Great leaders are often misunderstood," Chand writes, "especially when they create chaos when everyone expects a time of tranquility (Ibid.)."

Chand, Samuel R. Cracking Your Church's Culture Code: Seven Keys to Unleashing Vision and Inspiration. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass, 2011.

Carl Horton - September 20th, 2023 at 1:44pm

I've looked up the Sigmoid Curve again. I haven't thought of that for a long time. Thanks for the nudge, Danette.

Matthew M - September 18th, 2023 at 7:44am

Change is most difficult to navigate when we are unwilling to accept that change is happening. The biggest problem is we feel so connected to the past that we are scared to let go and head into the future. This makes the "Endings" section the most problematic because until the client agrees that change is necessary, they will have issues moving into change. It is the job of the coach to give reassurance that the path forward is a better reality than their current position. It is a gradual change that we must delicately partner with the clients to walk through together.

Ed Horstmann - September 19th, 2023 at 9:39pm

What helps or hinders your capacity to navigate change?

Managing change is a matter of awareness and vision. Are we aware of how the culture of an organization is shifting? Do we carry an institutional vision that enables us not only to weather change but to employ it for constructive purposes? And are voices and energies in the broader world affecting us? We need to be watchful, looking out for what may be shifting right in front of us. And we need to promote a vision that can sustain us as we navigate endings, live in the doldrums of the neutral zone, and embrace beginnings.

What changes do you see clients needing to navigate most often?

I am not working with coaching clients at the moment, but in my one on one conversations with people in the community and my church one issue seems to dominate: what will our institutions look like in 20 years? There's a massive decline in membership in the mainline church: can the church bring a vision of purpose to the wider world while it struggles for its own health? How do both journeys happen concurrently?

Which phases of the change process do you need to pay closer attention to?

Endings are challenging for institutions. It's natural to meet an ending and feel that something has been irretrievably lost; that we have somehow failed the ancestors. Yet these endings also create space for new programs and the implementation of new ideas. Celebration can bring closure when endings can not be avoided. And truth be told, sometimes we need to induce endings because a program or tradition is draining away vital resources and energy from endeavors more in line with the organization's mandate.

How can you help clients create a change mindset?

This is the core of my work. I'm not saying I always do it successfully, but I try to keep the promise of transformation in front of me (and in my conversations) all the time. I actually find that people are drawn to change when it's framed in terms of powerful questions, or a challenging idea that prompts re-evaluation of priorities.

What's your primary takeaway from this article?

I thought this was a succinct and helpful summary about change that would make great reading for a group of leaders entrusted with an organization's well-being. It's a helpful way to plot where a congregation is on the continuum of the changes it's called to make, and to anticipate directions that can help to navigate the next phase of change.

Carl Horton - September 20th, 2023 at 1:43pm

HELPS AND HINDRANCES IN NAVIGATING CHANGE: I am helped in navigating change when I anticipate and expect it as a normal and regular part of life. Every day is full of changes, big and small ones. To normalize change is a great way to navigate it. I think our attachments, which are healthy and good, make it hard at times to accept change. Change involves loss. And loss leads to grief. Change that causes me loss and grief leads to resistance. Additionally change that leads to conflict can be unpleasant and difficult to navigate if you aren't prepared for it. Many of us avoid conflict and therefore resist change.

CLIENTS AND CHANGE: Life transitions - like employment changes, familial shifts and milestones - are the changes that are frequently brought into the coaching conversation. Clients seek coaching to find their way through these kinds of life transitions.

PHASES OF CHANGE PROCESS: I tend to be a future-oriented, imaginative and visionary person, so the final phase of beginnings is usually life-giving and energizing to me. I think the harder parts of the change process for me are the neutral zone and endings. I am sentimental and tend to form attachments, even to objects. For instance, I have a hard time selling a car that I've had for 10 years and has 200,000 miles. Even at the prospect of a new electric car, I grieve the retirement of my old gas-guzzler. I also may be challenged by the neutral zone. I get excited about next things so waiting and long delays can be problematic for me personally.

HELPING CLIENTS: I can help my clients create a change mindset by helping them normalize change and exploring the tools they have to navigate change, not only accepting or managing change but thriving through it.

MY PRIMARY TAKEAWAY: Change is both a constant and a process. It is therefore to be expected and navigated. The coaching part of change is that we don't have to navigate it alone.

Tony Myles - October 7th, 2023 at 10:30pm

As I think about change, I'm most apt to do it when it involves me. If it causes my loved ones to struggle, then I struggle. This can transfer to people I work with and care about, too. The issue most people struggle with here isn't so much the change but what they feel it represents.

I personally appreciate looking ahead to what change offers. It has been difficult when I'm having to give something up, and so I want to use that to help me gain empathy for the clients. By identifying with them (privately, not out loud to pollute the coaching session), I sense I can help them take next steps.