These past few weeks have been full of change for me, both personally and professionally. The changes I’m experiencing have caused me to reflect on the way I handle change, and the ways in which I’ve seen others handle change.
I think there are four categories of people in how they respond to change:
- Change Agents
- Early Adopters
This is the group I consider myself a part of – someone who not only is open to change but thrives on it, encourages it, and embraces it. I’ve implemented changes, large and small, in organizations of different sizes, sometimes at someone else’s direction, sometimes at my own.
Early adopters are open to changes, if asked they would say “I’m good with it” – they are fine with the changes, volunteer to help implement change, and even seem to encourage others to get on board. I look for these people and pull them close to the process because they help to convince others. Early adopters can become my biggest advocates when I’m implementing a change.
In my experience, most people fall into this category. They don’t love change, and cling to the status quo, or routine, it’s often difficult for them to contemplate the change in terms of the impact it will have on them. This person might seem defensive at first or even difficult but with good information, context, and a little bit of time, they often become advocates as well – and sometimes they become the most passionate once they believe in why change is happening. It’s important for these people to understand the context of a change, that a change is being made to improve something, not just change for the sake of change. One thing that I try to keep in mind is that everyone processes the information in their own way, on their own timetable, so sometimes the right way to bring about change is to let people “sleep on it” and internalize the information before trying to push through a change.
The last category of people seems the same as the Converters at the beginning, but this group doesn’t actually come around. They often live in the past, quoting experiences that are long over, living in the past, unable to grasp even change that we all encounter, like technology, or new processes. They simply want things to be the way it used to be. Unfortunately, they often remember the ways of the past with rose-colored glasses, and not realistically, so you can spend a lot of time working against an unrealistic sense of reality – or memory. These folks may never accept or adapt to change. If you are implementing change into an organization, this is a group where finding compromise is best. Often, their history and work ethic make them valuable employees, and as change gets implemented they eventually “get on the bus” – but they may never truly buy in.
Change is hard. Implementing change is definitely not easy, but understanding your audience is key. Hold your advocates close and embrace your converters because they can become your biggest supporters, and even acknowledge your resisters because they are part of the team. But understand their differences and give those around you the space, time, explanation and respect needed for them to get to where they need to get to on their own terms – you’ll have better buy in and much more success.