phase two – the neutral zone

"The gap between the old and the new is the time when innovation is most possible and when revitalization begins."
William Bridges

Findings of a study conducted by the Building Movement Project on generational differences in leadership in small and mid-sized social change organizations.
Frances Kunreuther
Building Movement Project
The very heart of the transition process is the Neutral Zone – that uneasy period when the organization moves between the old reality and the redefined, new reality. It can be a confusing, anxious experience, which is why turnover is often higher during a leadership change. It can also be a time of significant innovation, allowing creative ideas to emerge without the boundaries of established thinking.

The following steps are taken in the Neutral Zone.

An audit of the organization is performed to identify:
• Strengths and weaknesses
• Opportunities and threats
• Priority challenges and opportunities
• Adequacy of Board oversight and governance
• Agency work culture
• Agency life cycle
• Goals for an interim ED
The audit is an opportunity to challenge accepted answers, solicit new ideas, and encourage experiments. It can be a highly creative time for both staff and board members.

The board and staff design a Transition Management Plan that acknowledges the instability inherent in transition, includes interim rules and procedures, and sets check points along the way to longer-term goals.

In preparation for ED recruitment, the nonprofit’s vision statement is updated, major strategic questions are identified, and a profile of the desired chief executive is drafted.

A board development plan is created, even though it may not be implemented until after the new ED arrives.

The search for a new ED itself begins during this phase.

The path through the Neutral Zone takes time. It cannot be rushed. To do so runs the risk of compromising the transition and missing important capacity-building opportunities.
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