Six different ways people experience the change management process - in pictures!

Six different ways people experience the change management process - in pictures!

Pictures are great at explaining complex concepts.

I majored in writing, so I focus on words. But I wanted to use illustrations here, because we change managers appreciate using different tools to reach understanding.

Also, pictures are more fun.

In this post, I'll share six sketches with you to explain how people engage with the change management process.

The benefits of drawing out the change management process

If you internalize some of these drawings (and hopefully make some of your own) I think you will find that you can better map the way your people are experiencing change and how it will affect them.

It should also have the benefit of giving you imagery to use. This helps to better identify timelines, areas of concern, and barrier points. This is why maps are sometimes more helpful than directions. Ideally, you have both.

These drawings are inspired by the work of my favorite author, Kurt Vonnegut. He drew the different archetypes of stories by using a chart with on axis representing happiness and the other representing time. He believed that most major types of stories could be embodied with this two-axis chart:

The charts, coupled with Vonnegut’s incisive wit and charm, made a great representation of the modes of literature and story you most often find.

But I'm fairly confident that you have plenty of wit and charm of your own to bring to these drawings.

The Vonnegut-style change-over-time graph

Instead of happiness, we're going to measure openness to change over time. This shows us the way different people engage with the change process. 

We'll look at six archetypes for openness to change over time. Looking at them might give you shorthand to assess what you need to do to support change in different types of people.

Sure, these are generalities. But generalities can be helpful for coming up with a playbook of solutions (e.g., when you find a bear, make lots of noise). More on that later...

Archetype 1: The easily distracted

A person who experiences the change management process as easily distracted will embrace the change at first due to its novelty. However, not long after you will find them distracted by something newer and more exciting.

The easily distracted show deceptive early support for the change, and relying on their sustainable approach to change is not advised.

These types of change agents do not experience individual change as a permanent. Rather, they try to move from thing to thing, looking for the next bit of promise. To the easily distracted the process of change is permanent –individual changes don’t endure. They will lose interest in the change when it becomes difficult or obstacles appear.

This thinking on the part of the easily distracted isn’t inherently wrong, or even problematic. But you will have to continue to sell this person on the change throughout, and demonstrate new elements of how the change can offer them value as it evolves. If it seems stagnant, they will turn their attention elsewhere.

If that happens, it is hard to get them –and their attention-- back.

Archetype 2: The Hopper

The hopper jumps on and off the change process quickly. Compared to the type we classified as the easily distracted (who tend to come in and out of the change), the people who experience it as a hopper will move from one to the next. They leave their change entirely in favor of something else. And they leave entirely.

This doesn’t happen from the desire to find a new change or engage with novelty. The shift tends to come from the expectation that the grass is greener on the other side. Once they hop the fence, they don’t go back… just forward.

You might recognize them if they were to implement a new system or process, and then shortly into that lifecycle, start designing a new system or process. They will always roll the boulder of design up the hill, never stopping to reap the benefits of investments they have already made.

The upside for this group is their commitment to improvement and the expectation that they can work things out. If you can harness that optimism and drive, they can bolster your change management process tremendously.

Archetype 3: The die-hard

These are the people who change managers complain about when they talk shop. They are the source of your best (or worst) horror stories.

They have been doing what they've been doing and no one can convince them of a better way (or the need for change). For whatever reason, they are fundamentally averse to the idea of change.

They could have deep-seated resistance to any change. They may have genuine love for what they have already done or significant investments in the status quo. They may be right, and the change may not help them at all (or actively hurt them). Or they may just not like being told to do anything.

Die-hard resistors are the quickest path to diminishing returns on your change efforts. As one of my colleagues used to say, “With them, change comes at the speed of retirement.”

Your ability to smooth out the change management process with die-hards will be heavily personal and require more diplomacy and negotiation than with any other group.

Archetype 4: The worrier

So many of the people you deal with fall into this category.

Fortunately, worriers are likely to find the change isn't as bad as the anticipation of the change. The fear that something will be disruptive causes disruption before the change even has taken effect.

Experience has shown me that it is very difficult for the change to be so bad that lives up to the worrier’s fears.

Worriers facing the change management process are some of the best addressed through a fundamental change management strategy: keep them informed, keep them prepared, and listen. If you can address their concerns, and help them tell a more positive story internally, you may avoid some of the fears worriers develop when they are left out in the dark.

Archetype 5: The show-me-first skeptic

The show-me skeptic wants to see the change implemented and working over time. When they have seen that it has indeed taken root, they will support it.

The show-me skeptic wants to see the change implemented and working over time. When they have seen that it has indeed taken root, they will support it.

People who experience the change process as a skeptic want to know that the change works. They need convincing. Preferably, they want to see the change work for someone like them –but someone who is not them.

The skeptics want proof. They expect you to provide that proof before they will be willing participants in the change.

Everyone needs to be won over, but unlike those where you can gain some consensus by listening to their concerns, the skeptics get won over by hearing something convincing from you.  They need facts, figures, reason, and evidence.

Their resistance to change is more intellectual than emotional. This means that bringing you must act directly to bring them to the change. At least with skeptics you know where you stand and what you have to do. 

The challenge in winning over skeptics is producing any proof early in the project, when you may not have facts and figures to share. There is no pilot to share. Early in the project, you will be relying on your word and judgment to prove the change will be beneficial (if you can even argue that, as some people will not benefit from a change.)

What you can do is show them the plans, or early designs as a starting point. But until they have seen it in action, you might not be able to truly gain their buy-in.

A group of skeptics would make a rough pilot group, but once they've seen successful returns elsewhere they should be open to compelling facts.

Archetypes 6: The tipping point laggard

The tipping point laggard waits until there has been a critical mass. Others have jumped on board, they have seen the benefit, and as each group joins the adopters, they are more likely to support. Their support increases with each community stakeholder who adopts the change effort.

The tipping point laggard waits until there has been a critical mass. Others have jumped on board, they have seen the benefit, and as each group joins the adopters, they are more likely to support. Their support increases with each community stakeholder who adopts the change effort.

A laggard chooses to embrace the change at the end of the cycle, waiting for the major obstacles to be removed by others. They are the late adopters.

When the tipping is reached, they will grudgingly give their attention, time, or support.

Their particular barrier to adoption may by inertia or inattention. They may be involved in the change at such a peripheral level that it must reach a saturation point before it has any impact on them or surfaces to their attention. Whatever the cause, they will not be jumping into the change in the design or pilot phases.

There is a theory that change can happen instantaneously --provided you remove the right barrier and the basic building blocks for that change were somewhat present in the status quo. Often, the capacity for change is present in potential but does not become realize until some barrier that maintains the status quo is removed.

Your tipping point laggards are the ones experiencing that barrier, and often the saturation of change erodes those barriers to get their adoption. Of course, you can accelerate that process by getting more awareness and convincing them of the benefit by using good change management practices.

On usage

I don’t think that these are the only ways people experience the change process. Nor do I think these are nuanced enough to explain individual reactions to change. People may display elements of several of these archetypes.

These are not useful in describing individuals, but these archetypes are useful in understanding themes and common challenges individuals face when experiencing a change.

You can use them as avatars when working through your plan –you can think of each and decide whether your change management plan has addressed the unique needs of the archetypes.

That can be a more time-efficient way of thinking through the use of each than trying to assess each individual stakeholder and mapping them on the plan.

These approaches can also be a useful tool when you are trying to deconstruct and manage a complex change. You can use them as placeholders within the bigger picture.

For what it’s worth, consider these models, not a description of the real people you will need to work with to make change happen.

Conclusion The benefit of knowing the change process archetypes

You have a shorthand to discuss the way people interact with the change process, and know what to expect from many of them. You have a way to project what they need at different points in the change lifecycle. Hopefully, you have a model to draw out your forecast for how actual, real people deal with a change so you can plan more directly.

Each interaction with the change process will have a different way of coping. And you will have different interventions to make the change successful.

If you have any suggestions for other change archetypes, I’d love to hear them and add them to this article. Please share a comment with any that you have encountered!

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