Friday, July 25, 2014

How people respond to organizational change and why it matters

I am reposting a blog from November 19, 2012 because of its relevance to any organization going through change. The better we understand predictable responses to organizational change, the more successful we will be in negotiating the white water of change.

Many are familiar with the bell curve that describes how people respond to change: innovators; early adapters; middle adapters; late adapters and laggards. In my experience in the change process I have another set of suggested categories to watch for. Where individuals are on this continuum from change resistors to evangelists for change makes a great difference when you are considering them for leadership positions either on staff or a board.

Resisters. Like the laggards on the bell curve, these are people who will actively resist change because they are simply wired that way. This is the individual who told me, "T.J., you can bring whatever change you want to the organization but don't expect me to do anything different." No rationale is going to change the mind of a resister.

Protectors. The protector is also highly resistant to change but for another reason. They believe in the status quo, the way things have been done in the past and they will actively try to protect "what is," rather than embrace "what could be." This was the individual who told me and many others that the changes I was bringing to ReachGlobal would destroy the mission. 

Cynics. This group is simply cynical about change unless the proposed change is their idea. They tend to view change as "the flavor of the month" and are often vocal about their opinion. Cynics generally don't trust leaders so proposals brought by leaders are quickly discounted.

Loyal followers. These individuals have a deep commitment to the organization and team. They accept change if there is a good rationale for it. These are staff who say, "Just tell me which direction we are going and I will go with you." 

Idealists. This is an interesting group with an upside and a downside when it comes to change. When creating change one inevitably creates a gap between what is and what should be. Idealists are highly impatient to get to what should be and believe that we should be there now. On the up side, they want the change. On the down side they can become highly critical that we have not arrived. Thus on any day they can be either an ally or a critic.

Realists. This group is supportive of change, realizes that it will take time and process and is generally comfortable with that process. They are helpful in realistically figuring out how to get there and can live with the tension of what is and what should be.

Change agents. These individuals not only support proposed changes but will be active agents in helping the organization get there. They are your front lines in speaking a new language, setting a new course and helping redesign philosophy and strategy.

Evangelists. These are the champions of change who publicly and privately live the change out, help others understand and get there and advocate for the new direction.

In my experience it is the realists, change agents and evangelists who will help drive change while the resisters, protectors and cynics will actively undermine change. Loyal followers and idealists will go with you but will not drive change. 

Think about the implications of these eight ways that people respond to change in terms of who you hire, who you put into leadership and who you ask to serve on a board. One church leader, after hearing these descriptions aptly commented, "no wonder so many boards are stuck." He is right. Resisters, protectors and cynics must be managed but beware of allowing them into positions of leadership and influence! 


Christopher Scott said...

Thanks for sharing this. Recently I have been reading Aubrey Malphurs' new book, "Look Before You Lead" which outlines some similar information related to organizational change. It is a good read for anyone interested in this topic and would like to go into more depth.

Thanks for your helpful post!

Hi! It's me, Julie! said...

I am a stay-at-home mom to teenagers and pastor's wife and so much of what you say about leadership I apply directly to my role as a parent. As we are moving through the teen years, I find I can either be resistant to the changes going on or be a champion of change, helping my kids grow and fail and learn. I am coming to understand that my attitude toward change, walking in complete trust with God and His will for my kids: I think these are key in preserving a clear head for the years ahead. Thanks!

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