Ever wonder why change is so hard? Why so many people resist it? Not so surprising, really, when we understand that approximately 75% of the US population is made up of folks who have personality preferences that desire stability rather than change, and who place significant meaning on the past and present rather than the future1. (Based upon the Myers-Briggs Type Distribution of the national representative sample from 2003.)
Organizations are made up of people – people who work with business processes and are aided by technology to get work done. People are at the center of change. We can’t change without them. We can change business processes. We can change technology. But if we can’t incent people to embrace the change, the business will never truly transform.
So, you start on a mission to “pay attention to people during business change efforts”. Often times this “attention” simply results in encouraging people to act in one preferred style. People are typically coached during a period of change to:
- look outward from themselves
- act quickly
- see the big picture
- catch “the vision”
- consider that the past is gone and to find a way to fit themselves into the future
- be flexible; don’t be overly attached to structure.
This is the profile of the Myers-Briggs personality type referred to by the abbreviation ENTP, one who prefers extroversion in their interaction with others, big-picture information rather than details, thinking-oriented decisioning, and flexibility in their approach to their world. This is the natural profile of an entrepreneur, and although it may be very reasonable advice when encouraging change… it natively occurs in less than 3% of the US population1.
Although it may be ideal to have all employees of an organization “temporarily adopt” this personality style in order to more easily embrace change, it is not reasonable to expect people to do so. What is needed to encourage lasting change is to see people and their differences as valuable to the organization, and incorporate the understanding of personality differences into the planning, implementation and managing of organizational change. As implementers of change, we must provide what people need to make and maintain fundamental changes in their work life.
The following table offers insight into how to best encourage change in various personality types. This table covers the four preference continuums as utilized in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Each person will prefer one side of the continuum in each of the four scales. A brief definition of each scale is presented, along with considerations for encouraging change in someone of that preference.
Considerations for encouraging change in organizations
Preference Continuum #1: Speed of interpersonal response
Those who prefer Extraversion (faster speed of interpersonal response, outgoing, talk through it) need:
- time to talk about what’s going on
- have their voice be heard, even if not completely thought-out
- communication, especially face-to-face
Those who prefer Introversion (slower speed of interpersonal response, reserved, think it through) need:
- time alone to reflect on the proposed change
- written communications, and one-on-one or small group discussions
- time to understand and assimilate prior to taking action
Preference Continuum #2: What do we pay attention to?
Those who prefer Sensing (pay attention to details, reality is the present time and the past, need concrete facts and data) need:
- real data regarding why the change is needed
- to understand how the present can bridge to the future
- strategy and vision must connect to the details of the operation
- a concrete plan for “getting there”, including roles, responsibilities and expectations
- encouragement to curb the desire to play “devil’s advocate”, citing every conceivable reason why something might not work – be willing to participate in ideas that contribute to the solution, and not just point out “what could go wrong”
Those who prefer Intuition (pay attention to the big picture, the future can be more “real” than the present or past, are comfortable with abstractions and concepts) need overall rationale supporting the strategy and vision
- involvement in creating the future vision
- exploration of multiple opportunities / options
- general direction, allowing flexibility in execution of the change
- to generate possibilities of what “could be”
Preference Continuum #3: Basis for decisioning
Those who prefer Thinking (form rational conclusions and take action based upon impartial logic and reasoning, detached from the situation) need:
- logic and analysis
- objective reasoning based upon clear rules for decisioning
- fairness to all involved by applying rules consistently
- leadership integrity
- honest, critical assessment of progress
Those who prefer Feeling (form rational conclusions and take action based upon values and subjective reasoning, attached to the situation) need:
- to understand the impact on people
- consistency with value systems
- fairness by balancing rules with consideration of individual situations
- demonstrated caring leadership
- appreciation and support during change
Preference Continuum #4: Approach to organizing the world around us
Those who prefer Judging (prefer closure and focus on timelines, organized, structured) need:
- clear, well-structured plan of action
- expectations, goals and timelines clear
- no surprises
- closure – make decisions now
- realistic priorities
- to get it done!
Those who prefer Perceiving (prefer flexibility, spontaneous, event-focused rather than time-focused) need:
- a plan that allows for flexibility and change
- enough information to make a decision, even if that may mean postponing if more information can add value to the decision
- to help others roll with the punches
- ability to adjust goals / objectives as new information is learned
Also remember to allow time for people to express grief regarding the change. No matter how positive the change may be, some preference types do need significant time to transition from the “way things used to be” and fully embrace the change. Keep these post-change needs in mind when setting expectations and planning for realization of benefits.
When these needs are recognized and honored in the planning, implementation and managing of change, people will respond more positively and will be more likely to participate in and internalize the change for lasting business transition.
For more information on the impact of personality preferences on business change, see references below.
Isabel Briggs Myers, Mary H. McCaulley, Naomi L. Quenk, Allen L. Hammer, MBTI Manual: A Guide to the Development and Use of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, Third Edition, 2003, CPP Inc.
William Bridges, Managing Transitions: Making the Most of Change, 2003, second edition, Perseus Books Group.
Nancy Barger and Linda Kirby, The Challenge of Change in Organizations: Helping Employees Thrive in the New Frontier, 1995, Davies-Black Publishing.