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What Type of Change Agent Are You?

Dealing with different types of reactions to change

ROANOKE, Va. — During my 44 years of active management in the laundry industry, I got to work with a lot of managers and supervisors as we implemented changes to our process or organization. Over the years I came to see the same type of reactions to change from various people. I will attempt in this article to define several of the types and how best to handle them. 

The first type can be recognized by the frequent use of the following statement: “We tried that before and it did not work.” This statement is designed to prevent the group or the boss from looking further into the idea. If you think the idea is a good one, then you must push through this initial resistance. 

The best way to do so is to thank them for their opinion and then ask, “What caused the idea to fail in the past?” Many good ideas fail because of poor planning, staff resistance or lack of proper resources. 

Understanding what went wrong in the past helps the group to determine if there is a way to make it work in the future. Asking the question will surprise them, and making them analyze why it failed in the past will be something they are not prepared to do. Getting their input into the idea and looking at it from a cost/benefit perspective will help overcome the resistance from this type of person. 

The second person is what I call a passive resister. They might say that is a good idea, but the staff, or several key team members will never accept that type of change. The truth is that they do not want the change but will never put themselves in the position to have to defend their feelings.

The best way to handle this person is to go around them. If they say Jane will never accept that idea, then go to Jane and discuss it with her. If you can get Jane to agree to work with you on the project, then in your next meeting you can say that you talked to all those that had concerns about the idea and they agreed to try it. 

You will never win over a passive resister. They will always be against the idea and in private they will talk it down to anyone who listens. Such a person is a real drag on the organization.

Fortunately, I have found that this type of manager or supervisor, when faced with the team actively planning and working together to implement the planned change, will often find themselves another job. They cannot stand this lack of respect because their ideas were not followed. 

The opposite of the passive resister is the over-enthusiastic adopter. These people are always looking for change. I have often called these people my great idea generators. They may approach you every day with a new idea on how to improve the operation. 

The challenge with this type of person is to get them to slow down and understand the risk benefits of what they are proposing. I love this type of person, and if they give me one or two good ideas a year, it is well worth my time in dealing with their many ideas.

The final type of person I will cover in this piece is the over planner. This type of employee embraces the need for change, loves the process of planning for the change but is never comfortable with actually implementing the change. 

They always feel there is more planning and more what-if scenarios to be looked at and added to the plan. It is difficult for them to understand that even after our best planning efforts, some things will need to be changed on the fly. Unanticipated problems will arise that will require us to adapt our program to deal with these issues. The best way to deal with them is to set a start date and hold to it.

I am sure you could add to my list, and I have not attempted to define each type I have run across, but I’ve given you the four major types that I experienced during my 44 years of management. You may want to reflect and see if you fall into one of these groups yourself. 

As a manager or a supervisor, your job is to help your organization improve and respond to industry challenges. You may not always succeed with each idea, but doing nothing is never the right decision.

Have a question or comment? E-mail our editor Matt Poe at [email protected].