Everyone Reacts to Change Differently – An Excerpt

In Saving Organizations That Matter, I describe the fact that we all react to change differently. I place these reactions along a “change continuum” and then subsequently provide specific strategies to help advance individuals who are at different places along the continuum forward and toward the organization’s goals. Here is an excerpt:

Reactions and the Change Continuum

Everyone reacts to change, but not everyone reacts in the same way.  In my own experience and in fairly general terms, people tend to be change seekers, change embracers, or change rejecters.  There are shades of gray in between these descriptive categories, but I am always amazed by how easily people fall into these defined groupings.  Consider this to be a continuum with seekers at one end, rejecters at the other, and embracers somewhere in the middle.

Seekers tend to enjoy change and can be fairly restless in the manner in which they approach life.  I am reminded of my mother, who would often change the furniture and decor in our home, sometimes in ways that even she knew were not pleasing or even functional.  She just felt as though it was time for a change.

Seekers frequently await change, become impatient when it’s not forthcoming, and will have a high risk tolerance when it comes to workplace changes, such as when supervisors and co-workers come and go, new policies and practices are implemented, and they are eager to understand how the organization will react to environmental vagaries.  Seekers will notice declining performance earlier than others and will not be afraid to ask pointed questions about the impact of that decline or wonder about what senior management is going to do about it.

Rejecters are on the opposite end of the spectrum.  Change induces anxiety, and so they will avoid it at all costs. Rejecters will embrace the adage: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it;” unfortunately, they will tolerate high levels of brokenness because they generally fear the possible remedy.  I think about my dad, who was always content to leave things be.  You can only imagine how he reacted to my mother’s habit of moving furniture around the house for no particular reason.

Rejecters will cling to old ways, arguing that those old ways are better, more effective, and efficient and that there is too high a risk associated with trying something new.  Though they are sometimes right, and having rejecters in the organization is helpful as they will be your harshest critics and challenge your thinking at every turn, they are not always right.  A culture dominated by this mindset will hesitate, even lie fallow, and become easy pickings for competitors or adverse environmental conditions.  Rejecter dominated cultures are slow to adapt, and in some industries, such as health care, which evolves at breakneck speed, these companies struggle to keep up.

Embracers wait and see, gather evidence, and can be influenced by those at the two continuum extremes.  They are cautious and methodical and will buy in to change agendas when they believe that the benefits outweigh the risks.  Embracers will be inclined toward quantitative arguments and can be persuaded by tools such as the trend line graphs described earlier.  Embracers can be motivated toward change, but the change proponent has to earn their respect first.

Embracers will ultimately form the critical mass within an organization’s change effort.  Cultures overly weighted toward seekers or rejecters will rush into change or push back against it.  Generally, embracers are the engine that ultimately makes change happen.

People can be categorized as such.  For organizations with histories or leadership profiles, whether from senior management or at the staff level, leaning in one direction or the other on the change continuum will tip the corporate culture in this same direction.  They will have a disproportionate impact on the culture.  As such, assessing the culture along this same continuum is important.

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