Understanding Personality Types During Times of Change

Have you ever noticed how some early adopters of change turnout to resist change during the reinforcement and stabilization periods? Similarly, it often seems that some people who initially oppose a change later become its greatest supporters. Understanding personality types during times of change can help explain these behaviours. It will also provide you with the knowledge to make people work with the change, not against it.

For the sake of this example, I’ll be reducing the plethora of personality types at work into two types placed on a continuum. On one end of the continuum lies the type that jumps at the first opportunity to try something new. On the other end of the continuum lies the person that prefers to stick to a daily routine.

I just want to mention here that there are many other factors that lead to resistance to change that are not mentioned in this post (such as the age of an employee). This will be discussed in future posts (hopefully).

There is probably no better example of a person that is of the ‘change’ type than myself. I always prefer project work over routine work. I’m always the person wanting to try new stuff out. And when it comes time to anchor and stabilize the new into a daily routine, I find myself having to focus a little more time than others. From personal experience, it is helpful for me to be surrounded by employees who prefer the more routine-side of the business to keep me from jumping to the next big thing before it is time.

So who are these ‘routine’ types anyway? I think almost everyone has met or worked with an employee that prefers a daily routine over a change (or you may be one of them). For the sake of anonymity, I will call a previous colleague of mine ‘Dave’. I met Dave on a large ERP-replacement project. Because of Dave’s passion for flawless execution and efficiency with the existing way of doing business, Dave would always be one of the first people to really scrutinize the upcoming changes and assess its validity. He would usually get a head start on examining every little piece of work the change might impact. Dave loves being efficient at what he does – it’s part of his DNA. So to introduce a change that will disrupt his efficiency goes against his work philosophy.

Here’s the catch though. Once Dave got used to the new application and was able to regain efficiency at his job, Dave could not stop talking positively about the changes and encouraged everyone to jump on the change bandwagon.

Both personality types, the ‘change’ type and the ‘routine’ type, pose opportunities and challenges during the change cycle. On one hand, the ‘movers and shakers’ can be targeted to help propagate change in an organization in the beginning stages of the project. Similarly, the employees that prefer routine work can be used to help anchor and stabilize the new behaviours once the new processes and measurements are in place. Utilizing the right people (personality types) at the right time helps smooth out the bumps along the change journey.

In terms of identifying and categorizing these individuals between the ‘change’ type and the ‘routine’ type, this can be done organically. If you have been working for the same company for many years, you will have a good understanding of who fits into these categories. If you are new to an organization, no sweat. As the change initiative gains momentum, the employees involved in the change initiative will start showing their true colors and, at this point, you will have a better sense of which category each person belongs to. Once you have the employees pegged, you will be able to assign leading activities to the right individuals at the right stage of the initiative.

For example, the ‘change’ types can play a more active role at the beginning of the change initiative. Similarly, the ‘routine’ types can play a more active role closer to the end of the change initiative when the ironed-out processes and expected behaviours need to be locked-down.

In a sense, people who prefer change and the people who prefer routine are each others ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ during times of transition. They need each other to help make the change successful. Understanding and embracing both types will help reduce or eliminate the challenges along the change journey.