Reactions to Change

No two people are the same. When driving change within your team, each of your team members will exhibit his / her own response to the changing situation. Some will become defensive and uncomfortable. Others may be overly zealous and become impatient with the roll out. Below are the seven most common reactions. Thinking about likely reactions in advance will help you plan your response and improve the overall changes of success. Reaction 1: People will feel uncomfortable and tense. This is particularly true when someone is asked to do something different. To understand this idea better, think of playing golf. Have you ever tried changing your grip? If you have, chances are that you have become more aware of the way you hold the club, the people watching you and the bad shot that may follow. The same is true in the workplace. During the first few days in a new job, people are very conscious of wanting to make the right impression.

Reaction 2: People will think first about what they have to sacrifice. For example, when a corporate restructuring is announced, the first thing that goes through people’s minds is not, “this is going to be great for my career” (although some people may be thinking that). Most are more concerned about losing their status, responsibility or team. Their thoughts are about what is going to be different. Only much later will they consider what they stand to gain.

Reaction 3: People are at different levels of readiness for change. Some will believe it is time things changed and will feel impatient to get on with it. They will even volunteer to be the ambassadors of change. Such people will be the most likely ones to switch jobs frequently, shift to new roles in the company, and typically believe disruption caused by new technology is a good thing. Others will see any change regardless of now insignificant, as the worst thing that could possibly happen. They have a mindset that denies change and will probably deal with it by believing that everything will be back to normal soon.

Reaction 4: People will often feel lonely. Most significant changes introduced in organisations have an effect on the staff. During a merger or a takeover, everyone in a department will feel the consequences. However, some individuals tend to feel that the change will have a bearing only on them. They are almost unaware of the feelings of the person sitting in the next cubicle.

Reaction 5: People can handle a certain degree of change. However, if the changes are too drastic and happen in too short a timeframe, people may be overwhelmed and fail to adapt accordingly. Imagine this: you hear about the appointment of a new managing director while moving offices to a new location after a leveraged buyout of your company by its rival. Taken independently, these changes may not be too big, but collectively they can be overpowering even for a person accustomed to change.

Reaction 6: People will feel that there are not enough resources. When change takes place, the general reaction is that there will not be enough time, people, systems and budget to meet the new demands. People often believe in the new goals but mistakenly think that the only way to achieve them is by doing what they have always done.

Reaction 7: People will revert to the old ways when the pressure is off. When change is introduced, the focus will be on implementation. Some are excited while others are nervous. However, regardless of initial reactions, when the focus changes from immediacy to continuity, people go back to the way they used to work.

The first step to navigating your organisation, division or team through change is to recognise how people will react.

Although it is useful to be aware of these seven reactions, they are only reference points to get you started. Keep in mind that everyone reacts differently and many will have some combination of reactions that appear over time.

Your job as a leader is to understand how the change will affect your team before it happens, anticipate their reactions, and put systems in place to ensure that positive opportunities are maximised and negative aspects are minimised. When you do this, the change in your organisations will become newsworthy – and will lead to success, not failure.