Richard Batchelor

Change Management & Strategic Human Resources

August 22  2011

Four Reactions to Change

Whenever a change activity is announced there are four ways that people can react to the news.

  1. Enthusiastic
  2. Accepting
  3. Resistant
  4. Destructive or Saboteur

There may be other variances upon these reactions and some others that people will notice, but I see these are the four types of change reactions from people. So what does each mean, and how can you recognise them?

1.       Enthusiasts

Some people may see these as having the best reaction, but they can need some very careful management. These are the guys that embrace every new change with vigour. They want to take on every opportunity to spread the word and get others onboard with what’s happening. They may be great for spreading a positive message but equally a challenge to control. If they are allowed to run freely, the message can get to places far more quickly than you may have planned and those people in the other categories can see them as being a bit forceful or bullying at the extreme.

2.       Acceptors

In some ways, I would say these people are the easiest to deal with. They take the news of the change well and generally work with you to get it implemented. These people can be the foundation stones for a change event, and if managed well can be used as part of the promotion of any change. Sometimes these people can be seen as a little sedentary and reminiscent of the tortoise and hare parable, they are more tortoise than hare, however that does mean that they will get there and take on the change, it just might be a little longer to reach it.

3.       Resistors

So these are the people that make the noise when something is changing. They often challenge the reasoning and comment that there is nothing wrong with the current ways or processes. They do not expend much energy and can often be seen as doing nothing to help the smooth implementation of a change. However, when it comes to making the change they will normally fall in line, with some comment or remark that challenges its need. They rarely give an alternative but openly criticise the change.

4.       Saboteurs or Destructors

People in this category, not only disagree with the change, but will go out of their way to try and stop it and stoke up support to oppose the change. I use the word destructor in preference to destroyer, as they seldom succeed, but can cause major challenges to the change manager. These people will think nothing of expending excessive energy just to try and derail something. They not only don’t like the idea of the change, but often don’t like the idea that a change is even being considered. They long for stability and consistency in everything and want to retain the current situation at any cost. The challenge in managing these sorts of people is in deflating their negative energy and restricting their access to others, who may be persuaded by their over-zealous comments.

You can see these four types of reaction as encompassing almost all reactions you will experience. Destructors and enthusiasts are more extreme in their reaction whereas acceptors and resistors are more tempered. The challenge of a successful change is to moderate the destructors, manage the enthusiasts, try and move acceptors through their change curve as quickly as possible and narrow the field of resistance for resistors, so that they can come on board as soon as possible.

In any workforce there will be broadly as many acceptors as resistors, but they will probably make up around 80% of the workforce.  That leaves 20% split evenly between saboteurs and enthusiasts. But with the great 80/20 management rule applying here, then that 20% of the people needs 80% of the management! I’ll discuss in the coming blog posts, how to manage and maximise the potential of each type of person, as well as giving more information to help identify the type of person you may be dealing with.