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spike bullet May, 1997 - Coping with Change

Debunking the Myths - People really do love change!
Personality Differences - How different personality types respond to change
Tips for Management - How managers can help employees deal with change
Overcoming Barriers - Managing Barriers to Business Reengineering Success
Internet Resources - Links to articles and sites dealing with change

The Myth: People hate change

The Truth: People love change

spike bullet Debunking the Myth

"People hate change" - that's the prevalent wisdom offered whenever things don't work out as planned, especially in the business world.

The truth is - people love change! People change their clothes, they change their hairstyle, they change jobs, they change offices, they change marriage partners, they re-arrange their furniture, they travel to new places and they re-arrange their lives on a regular basis.

Our physical bodies are constantly changing.

Our physical environment is constantly changing.

Our minds are constantly changing.

Our internal world and our attitudes are changing as we cope with the external changes all around us.

Change - that "thing" that everyone is supposedly afraid of - is a normal, natural part of our life. We cannot get away from it.

What people do not like is someone else's idea being foisted upon them without warning. That leads to a feeling of panic or feeling out of control by the person who is surprised by something. 

So, given that constant change is a reality we must face, how can we learn to see it as a positive thing?

It's simple - we must re-adjust our viewpoint, change our mind about the nature of change and our place in it. Instead of fighting a change that appears in front of us, we can learn to see it as a new adventure on the Road of Life. Then, we can get to learning about and enjoying the new adventure, instead of wasting our time and energy looking back at something that is no longer real.

The Pace of Change is Increasing

According to historians, the approach of a new millennium has always been a major event. Comets appeared in the heavens, which foretold major changes. Solar eclipses, lunar eclipses and earth movements increased. People became afraid and predictions of the end of the world were everywhere. Some people felt fear as the new millennium drew closer. Others saw the changes as a sign of hope and were encouraged by the changes on the horizon.

Sound familiar? Of course . . . we are again experiencing the same phenomenon as we approach the year 2000.

According to research, the pace of change is growing faster, fueled by rapid increases in technology and world-wide communications. Today, messages regularly circle the Earth in a matter of minutes, something uncommon just 10 years ago.

In ancient times, most major changes were catastrophic physical changes - the break up of the Ice Age, major plagues, huge migrations of people, the fall of civilizations. If we look back at the history of changes, we might easily assume that our future holds "the end of the world" - our physical world.

Instead, let's try another viewpoint. Suppose that the end of the world as we know it means that we change our attitudes. That our old attitudes are destroyed - rather than our physical world being destroyed.

One often-quoted example of the end of the world is Nostradamus' prediction that California would split into three pieces (people joke about parts of California falling into the ocean). In fact, there has been discussion of splitting California into three states. Isn't this just a slightly different interpretation of the same prediction?

Another often-quoted prediction is that the United States would be split in the middle by water. Looking at aerial maps of floods in the Midwest, it is obvious that the country looks like it was split in the middle by water. Again, isn't the reality just a slightly different interpretation of the same prediction?

Changing our minds will change our future

If one advances confidently in the direction of their dreams and endeavors to live the life that they have imagined, they will meet with success unexpected in common hours - Henry David Thoreau

Change your thinking . . . change your life - Ernest Holmes

The past cannot be changed, but the future is whatever you want it to be - Paula

What you think about is what you become - Earl Nightingale

This type of thinking is what great men and women have always believed. They refused to let fear stop them. They moved forward toward their dream - in spite of obstacles - and achieved that dream.

Responding to change - two options (1):

1. With a positive attitude:

Acceptance and surrender are the most effective responses to changes from an external source that you have no control over. You investigate what the changes are all about and you look to see what opportunities are available within the context of the new changes. Then, commit yourself to taking action aligned with the changes. Staying fluid in the face of changes keep you flexible and able to move around obstacles.

2. With a negative attitude:

Stubborn resistance is a negative response to change that comes as a result of outside forces: hanging onto the old, denying that change is taking place or simply pretending that it isn't happening. Contracting and hardening in the face of change makes you less adaptable, more brittle and thus more breakable. This means the greater possibility of personality breakdown.

(1) Source: Jose and Lena Stevens, Pivotal Resources, Spring, 1997 newsletter (used with permission).

spike bullet How personality types respond to change

"Surviving" Perspective: (1)

  • Reactions to change: (2) intense fear, resulting in paralysis or complete withdrawal, violent panicky resistance, or savage attack out of proportion to the situation. For example, someone faced with evacuating their home due to flooding might fend off authorities with guns and try to kill them.

"Rule-making" Perspective:

  • Reactions to change: overwhelmed, confused, thrown off balance, disoriented, disorganized, rioting, resistant. When people at this level are faced with unexpected change, they come apart. They may become insane, unbalanced and confused, or they might react with belligerence and irrational resistance. For example, they might react to organizational changes that are beyond their control by attacking their boss or co-workers. These attacks may be verbal (arguing with others) or physical (fighting or worse). They might become unable to do their normal job, due to their confusion or overwhelm. Resistance might show up as bureaucratic delays, calling in sick, losing important files or paperwork, or not doing their job competently. They may appear overly stressed, confused or angry to their coworkers, or they may withdraw and deny the change by seeming to bury their head in the sand and refusing to deal with new procedures, new rules or new demands created by the change.

"Competing" Perspective:

  • Reactions to change: enjoy change, but only with conditions and requirements. For example, the change must be a personal win or must represent a shift to a higher status, better conditions or have the appearance of upward mobility. Change tends to be based on external conditions, a change in life-style or environment. When the changes are not perceived as "better" people at this level will try to defend themselves in whatever ways they can. They may try to blame others who are perceived as gaining a better status over them through the change, try to make their situation or themselves somehow appear to be better, or denigrate those responsible for the changes (one-ups-manship).

"Relating" Perspective:

  • Reactions to change: actively initiate change and accelerate it. They get bored unless there is a great deal of change - this might involve travel, different jobs, different relationships, growth opportunities, etc. Sometimes, they like change just for the sake of change. They begin to value internal changes in their personality, perspective, attitude and belief systems. For example, people at this level might decide to reorganize their department or reengineer their company, just to see how it might work.

"Teaching" Perspective:

  • Reactions to change: initiate change and accelerate it, but are more interested in personal transformation at the deepest levels. They seek to change their outlook, rather than trying to change outside conditions. They are interested in the foundations of change and its sources. They try to learn how to alter life from their intention and desire, rather than by external means. They are not interested in the outside appearances of change, but rather in the reality of it. For example, someone at the teaching level is not interested in a face-lift to appear younger; they are more interested in having an attitude that is filled with the vitality of youth.


(1) Perspective levels are from our Personality Game.

(2) Adapted from: Jose and Lena Stevens, Pivotal Resources, Spring, 1997 Newsletter (used with permission).

spike bullet How managers can help employees deal with change

Different employees have different needs. The most effective managers know this and have learned how to adapt their style based on the individual's needs.

"Surviving" Perspective:

  • Employees in this level are very fragile and should be protected from change as much as possible.  Keep as much of their routine the same since any type of changes - even what seem to be small ones - will be terrifying to them and their reactions may be extreme.

"Rule-making" Perspective:

  • Employees at this level need a "parent" figure to help them deal with the changes - someone who can help them feel safe and secure with the changes as well as help them adjust to the changes at a pace that they can handle.  They need to know the new rules and be able to trust the person who is the authority figure.  Otherwise, they will create all sorts of problems for management.

"Competing" Perspective:

  • People at this level need to maintain their sense of self-worth through the changes. If they feel threatened, they will fight back in whatever ways they can find. If they can be recruited to have a feeling of personal importance in the change, they will find it much easier to deal with. It is important to help them understand that fighting the changes are not in their best interest, and that working with others is the way they can benefit them the most.

"Relating" Perspective:

  • The challenge for people at this level is to feel that everyone's needs are being taken care of. They will feel the pain of their co-workers' struggles to cope with change, yet they may not know how to deal with their own feelings of insecurity. They most value being part of a team and will usually want to help others adjust to the changes. They may participate actively in the gossip about changes. People at this level can assist by being asked to "partner" with someone who is expected to have more difficulty coping.

"Teaching" Perspective:

  • People at this level will be able to understand the reasons behind the changes and can be very helpful as a calming presence for people at other levels. They can be most helpful to management if they are told about upcoming changes and have time to help prepare others. They will be most effective in this role when they can see the change as a positive one and translate that message to those who are more fearful. They will usually take a more philosophical attitude toward the changes when they are told the larger picture and overall strategy behind the changes. As with people in the "relating" perspective, employees at this level can be very helpful if they are asked to help others cope with the changes through a "partner" or "buddy" arrangement, whether formal or informal.

Note: "employee" can be any person who works in an organization - line, staff, management or executive

spike bullet Organizational Responses to Change (1)

Top Management:

Top management has a hard time coming to grips with the direct implications of the change. They often underestimate the impact that change has on their employees. They tend to isolate themselves. Often they engage in strategic planning sessions and gather information in survey reports. They avoid communicating or seeking "bad news," because it is difficult for them to admit "they don't know." They expect employees to "go along" when a change is announced and they blame their middle managers if people resist or complain about the change. They often feel betrayed when employees don't respond positively.

Middle Management:

Managers in the middle feel the pressure to "make organization change" according to the wishes of top management. The feel pulled in different directions. Middle managers often lack information and leadership direction to focus on multiple priorities. They are caught in the middle, and often fragmented because they don't have clear instructions. They feel besieged with upset, resistant or withdrawn employees who no longer respond to previous management approaches, and deserted, blamed or misunderstood by their superiors.


Workers often feel attacked and betrayed by changes announced by management. They are often caught off guard, not really believing that "my company could do this to me." Many respond with resistance, anger, frustration and confusion. Their response can solidify into a wall of "retirement on the job." They become afraid to take risks, be innovative or try new things. They experience a loss of traditional relationships, familiar structure and predictable career advancement patterns.

Source: (1) Managing Organizational Change: A Practical Guide for Managers. Cynthia Scott and Dennis Jaffee

spike bullet Overcoming Barriers to Change

Many organizations are undergoing change as a result of business process reengineering (BPR). BPR is normally thought of as "planned change" in that it is initiated by management. However, the decision to embark on a BPR project is usually the result of market forces that pushes an organization to decide they must change in order to compete. Therefore, employees are feeling the effects of forced change as well as planned change - a double whammy!

How well organizational changes are accomplished is a direct result of management's ability and willingness to invest in the support and training necessary to achieve positive changes. The following excerpts from Dr. Schumacher's experience in BPR provide real examples of strategies that work.

Factors that Differentiate Winning Teams from Losing Teams (1)

Winning Teams:

  • Are clear about their goals
  • Are in touch with what is going on outside the team
  • Are small in size but large enough to master the process
  • Have and increase complementary skills
  • Value input, regardless of rank
  • Are confident in overcoming conflict
  • Support each other in achieving more than they ever thought possible
  • Celebrate their success

Losing Teams:

  • Bring people together only because they like each other
  • Focus more on the team itself rather than the outcome
  • Are too small or too large in size
  • Do not have the necessary skills available for the tasks
  • Do not train their capabilities
  • Accept ideas only from superiors
  • Fighting (arguing, conflict) is common
  • Flight (avoidance, running away, denial) is common
  • Do not support each other
  • Ignore the need for individual recognition

Identifying the barriers

Barriers to change include hard barriers (i.e., IT problems, resource problems, legal obstacles) and soft barriers (i.e., individual resistance, group resistance, external resistance).

Overcoming the barriers to change includes leadership training/coaching for middle managers and working with staff and manager resistance to convert that energy into a positive force instead of a negative force.

Identifying types of resistance

Symptoms of Constructive Resistance:

  • A person often voices concerns about a particular issue that is being down-played by the project team.
  • Some complain there is not enough information about the planned change available to them.
  • High level of sick leave among affected employees.
  • Muttering: "It doesn't make sense that I present my ideas, but you (project team) have already made your plans for me. You don't care about my thoughts."
  • Requests for explaining again about the objectives of the change. Typical question: "Where will I stand?"

Symptoms of Destructive Resistance:

  • Key people stay away from important project meetings that need their input.
  • Some voice the alleged concerns of others, "I am only saying what these people don't dare say"
  • Some object only in private, whereas in public they stay quiet.
  • Project team receives outright threats. "If you carry on with this, the company definitely will go down the tubes. You are responsible for us losing our jobs."
  • Loud, unsubstantiated opposition. Often repeated over and over again. "I don't understand what this is all about. I have my job to do. Someone has to work around here."

Leadership Styles and Roles:

  1. Dictator Style: The "leader" is in control and micro-manages, with little trust or risk-taking. Leader interfaces with individuals and teams by keeping them totally dependent.
  2. Parent Style: Leader is paternalistic and delegates tasks, assignments, reviews and problem-solves against results. Leader encourages teams to remain dependent and obedient.
  3. Developer Style: Plays three roles (team leader, coach and change agent) in order to guide teams to higher skill development, responsibility and performance. Develops individual/team capability so that teams are well-informed, qualified and are continually learning about improving their work processes.
  4. Enabler Style: Facilitates, teaches and build capability of teams by breaking barriers, streamlining processes and integrating staff/support roles to enhance team's performance. Teams set their own goals and monitor team performance.
  5. Collaborator Style: Builder of critical linkages and networks to help work teams interface with external and internal customers, suppliers, other teams, etc. Teams design and manage their own processes.
  6. Partner Style: Negotiates social/business contracts with teams based on partnership and empowerment principles. Maximizes team choice and accountability. Is highly literate in business issues and trends.
  7. Visionary Style: Higher levels of organizational trust, where work teams take the vision; set strategies and goals, and execute implementation. Leaders are part of a global network of peer visionaries.

Source:  (1) "Managing Barriers to Business Reengineering Success" Wolf D. Schumacher, 1997. Used with permission. web site for full report (e-mail consultecub [at]


Finding the root causes of resistance is the key to finding ways of dealing with people's fears and moving forward.

Dr. Schumacher notes that managers need to be aware of the four most common reasons that people resist change:

  1. A desire not to lose something of value
  2. A misunderstanding of the change and its implications
  3. A belief that the change does not make sense in the organization, and
  4. A low tolerance for change.

Resistance is a way for people to say "NO" to changes they are uncomfortable with. Management often uses threats or exerts more control over people who resist - which only deepens their resistance. When management takes the time to find the causes of the resistance and deal with them appropriately - the result softens the resistance.

As shown in the diagram in the previous section, middle managers feel squeezed from all sides, so they are often a major factor in either resisting change themselves or becoming a major cause for resistance by their department/unit.

The only way to break through resistance (at any level) is to deal with the people involved in a way that is appropriate to their ability to adapt and adjust - different strategies for different people. The more time spent on identifying individual and group needs, then finding ways to soften the impact of change, the easier the transition will be in the long run.

The leadership styles given above provide ways of adapting management style to different people. Each of the styles is appropriate in some situations. The more managers themselves are able to adapt, the more they are able to help their staff adapt.

World Wide Web graphic Internet resources

  • Managing Barriers to Business Reengineering Success - Dr. Wolf Schumacher paper
  • Unconventional Wisdom - from: "A Business Researcher's Interest" - fascinating site!
  • Business Process Reengineering Study Group - The Home of Radical Change
  • Managing Change at Work (revised edition of: Managing Organization Change: A Practical Guide for Managers). Cynthia Scott and Dennis Jaffee. Crisp Publications, Inc. Menlo Park, California. ISBN 1-56052-299-2 (revised edition) (Original edition: ISBN 0-931961-80-7). Available in bookstores or by phone 1-800-442-7477 (US). Also available through international distributors.
  • Quantum's Leap from CIO Magazine (Feb. 15, 1997): A case study of a company that bet the ranch on its employees' ability to handle a major systems project. "In order to keep people informed and motivated during training and testing, Quantum ran a large internal public relations campaign, which entailed meetings, presentations, posters, brochures, an intranet site and many symbolic events that emphasized the system's importance." A four year planning and implementation process involved managers and employees from all business units; the ability to respond quickly to unforeseen situations and take decisive actions; and the resolution to go through several testing cycles while often remaining on tenterhooks.
  • Balancing Work and Family. DuPont's return on such flexibility: Commitment. ``I feel like I owe them something back'' . . . Evidence is mounting that such loyalty has a tangible effect on profitability. At Fel-Pro Inc., a private automotive gasket manufacturer in Skokie, Ill., . . . workers who took advantage of family-friendly programs were more likely to participate in team problem-solving, and nearly twice as likely to suggest product or process improvements. . . . Reductions in absenteeism and turnover are even more manifest. Aetna Life & Casualty Co. halved the rate of resignations among new mothers by extending its unpaid parental leave to six months, saving it $1 million a year in hiring and training expenses.
  • Re-engineering Hocus-Pocus, by Paul Strassman: "Michael Hammer, co-author of Reengineering the Corporation (Harper Business) . . . consistently invokes violence and revolution in rhetoric and practice. 'The way you deal with resistance [to reengineering] is . . . a bloody ax,' he told Across the Board a year ago. Al Capone once said, 'You get a lot further with a gun and a kind word than with a kind word alone.'"
  • Business Process Reengineering by Edwin Dean: "From my personal perspective, humanistically focused BPR, aimed at win-win-for-all solutions, should be an integral part of your quality process"
  • Why IS Projects Fail? Failure to communicate ... "The greatest threat to the success of any IS project is the failure to communicate." This interview highlights the pros and cons of face-to-face and electronic communication with increasing project size and complexity.
  • In Search of "Best Practices" by Paul Strassman. "The principal finding from a detailed analysis of the characteristics of the Computerworld most excellent Premier 100 companies is that they are different, in just about every conceivable measure. . . . "Excellence" arises from the way an organization harmonizes its resources, which are different for each organization."
  • Human and Organizational Aspects of Business Process Reengineering by Siobhan Corrigan. "Middle managers have lost the power base that they once had, one consequence being that they now have to adopt a more collaborative and supportive management style. . . .Employees will not make sacrifices, even if they are unhappy with the status quo, unless they believe that useful change is possible. Without credible communication from the top, hearts and minds will not be converted. . . . Senior management have to learn to "walk the talk" and those who communicate well incorporate messages into their hour-by-hour activities."

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