This month I’m thinking about all the various ways that people respond to change and how leaders can best prepare to manage a smooth transition. Whether it’s a new system, a new product, a new organization structure or a new office building, each time you introduce change you’ll see some version of the following four faces of response. Being inspired by the novel Life of Pi (good summer reading) which featured a hyena, zebra, orangutan and a tiger, I will also use four different animals to describe typical responses to change.
In this story, which is not meant to depict any real person living or dead, a service team that is all located together is told by their new leader that they will be moving. The company has decided to align team members to various business lines and move them from a central location into offices located in different buildings. This is a big change, because team members’ work will come directly from the client’s emerging needs, and not be divided by who has the capacity or the expertise to take it on. Also, a very small group of specialists will be centralized to launch strategic programs, keeping the original team out of that and ensuring they are full-time available to the business needs.
What is the response of the team members?
One team member is like an Owl during change. She is quiet as she deeply concentrates on the wisdom of the change; as she tries to sort out the logic behind it. She isn’t sure that the leaders making the decision (in the Corporate office in another city) are credible or competent, or that they had all the information they needed. She wants to “get someone from there down here” to grill them a little bit before she is willing to unconditionally support the change. When she is finally given a well-articulated “vision” of the future she feels much better, and when she sees research that this model is a “best practice” in the States (where we are always 5 years behind she likes to say) she feels much better.
Another team member is more of a Dolphin. When the change is announced in a team meeting, he is looking around to pay attention to the reaction of his colleagues. He notices right away who is upset and who wants to talk, and very shortly after the meeting he is booking coffee breaks with people to listen to their reactions. He goes to the leader, informally of course, to let her know how the team is doing, and what concerns others have. He offers to lead monthly “get-togethers” so no one loses touch. And he offeres his services to those on the team who might not have the specific experience they need to deal with client demands.
The third member of the team is the Bee. She decides the best response is to keep her head down and work like mad. She becomes so industrious that she almost doesn’t have time to pack up her office. When the Dolphin asks her about the change, she is very realistic. She has mixed feelings about it – she really wants to line up behind the new vision (she is not going to aggressively criticize the leaders like the Owl did– but she is also afraid that some of the good synergy the team has established will now be missing. She is particularly worried about the loss of the books in everyone’s offices that currently are easy to share. So, she sets up a library catalogue in Excel so everyone knows where the books are.
Finally, there is the Fox. He is so excited by the prospect of this new way of delivering service that as soon as the leader announces the change, he asks “When can we start!” When others are talking about how to carefully plan this and that, and the importance of cautiously advising the clients, he is already packing his office. “Let’s just implement – they will get used to it” he says. He also is excited about how this change will put him in contact with new people and new tasks. The only time the FOX gets annoyed by the change is when a decision is made to implement a consistent and detailed record-keeping system. The Fox is now squirming at the thought that he will have to begin to monitor and track his activity.
Any of this sound familiar to you? It should, since the four animals represent the four temperaments developed by David Keirsey. The Owl is often called the Rational; the Dolphin is called the Idealist; the Bee represents the Guardian and the Fox represents the Artisan temperament.
As a leader responsible for change implementation, you can assume you’ll encounter several different reactions. Here are some hints for making use of this knowledge:
- Give both the “big picture” rationale for the change and as many details about what the future will look like.
- Be honest about what you don’t know, and ask those on your staff who are interested to help plan implementation
- Institute mechanisms for people to ask questions and voice concerns, without fear of retaliation
- Don’t take too long planning the change – where it is possible and low risk, let people jump right in and show others the way
- Respect the different types of reactions by being flexible AND ask each person to be accountable for expressing their needs in order to be involved in a successful change