Many are familiar with the bell curve that describes how people respond to change: innovators; early adapters; middle adapters; late adopters, and laggards. In my experience in the change process, I have another set of suggested categories to watch for. Where individuals are on this continuum from change resistors to evangelists for change makes a great difference when you are considering them for leadership positions either on staff or a board.
Resisters. Like the laggards on the bell curve, these are people who will actively resist change because they are simply wired that way. This is the individual who told me, "T.J., you can bring whatever change you want to the organization but don't expect me to do anything different." No rationale is going to change the mind of a resister. This does not mean they are bad people. It does mean that they don't do change, and you cannot have them in a place of leadership - ever!
Protectors. The protector is also highly resistant to change but for another reason. They believe in the status quo, the way things have been done in the past, and they will actively try to protect "what is" rather than embrace "what could be." This was the individual who told me and many others that the changes I was bringing to the organization I was leading at the time that I was destroying the organization.
Cynics. This group is simply cynical about change unless the proposed change is their idea. They tend to view change as "the flavor of the month" and are often vocal about their opinion. Cynics generally don't trust leaders, so proposals brought by leaders are quickly discounted.
Loyal followers. These individuals have a deep commitment to the organization and team. They accept change if there is a good rationale for it. These staff say, "Just tell me which direction we are going, and I will go with you."
Idealists. This is an interesting group with an upside and a downside regarding change. When creating change, one inevitably creates a gap between what is and what should be. Idealists are highly impatient to get to what should be and believe we should be there now. On the upside, they want the change. On the downside, they can become highly critical that we have not arrived. Thus on any given day, they can be either an ally or a critic.
Realists. This group is supportive of change, realizes that it will take time and process, and is generally comfortable with that process. They are helpful in realistically figuring out how to get there and can live with the tension of what is and what should be.
Change agents. These individuals not only support proposed changes but will be active agents in helping the organization get there. They are your front lines in speaking a new language, setting a new course, and helping redesign philosophy and strategy.
Evangelists. These are the champions of change who publicly and privately live the change out, help others understand and get there and advocate for the new direction.
In my experience, it is the realists, change agents, and evangelists who will help drive change, while the resisters, protectors, and cynics will actively undermine change. Loyal followers and idealists will go with you but will not drive change.
Think about the implications of these eight ways that people respond to change regarding who you hire, who you put into leadership, and who you ask to serve on a board. One church leader, after hearing these descriptions, aptly commented, "no wonder so many boards are stuck." He is right. Resisters, protectors, and cynics must be managed but beware of allowing them into leadership positions and influence!