The job of a change agent is to spark interest and create genuine buy-in for change. But telling people they need to change doesn’t make it happen.

Different people have different preferences, or built-in reactions, to change. This preference drives a large part of the change response, regardless of the situation or the specific change itself.

Managers who pay attention to change preference can better understand why people react the way they do when faced with change. These managers are more prepared to address concerns, leverage different contributions, avoid pitfalls — and adapt their own change approach as needed.

CCL often relies on the Change Style Indicator (CSI) to help people at all levels and in all roles approach the human side of change. The CSI, created by Chris Musselwhite of Discovery Learning Institute, describes the 2 extremes as well as the midpoint on the continuum of change preferences:

Infographic: Pay Attention to People's Change Preferences

  • Conservers are people who accept the current structure, systems and processes. They prefer incremental change over sweeping, expansive change, or dramatic new directions. Conservers appear deliberate, disciplined, and focused. They are good at defining and clarifying current reality. To others, they may appear cautious and inflexible.
  • Originators like to challenge current structures, systems, and processes. They enjoy taking risks and tend to focus on new possibilities, vision, and direction. Originators are action-minded and likely to challenge assumptions. They appear visionary, but also may seem impractical or miss important details.
  • Pragmatists tend to focus on getting the job done. They prefer change that is functional and are willing to explore changing structures, systems and processes. They often see merit in the perspectives of both conservers and originators and are motivated to find solutions. To others, they may appear practical, agreeable, and flexible — or indecisive and trying to please too many people at one time.

If you are a manager or team leader, knowing the change preference of others allows you to tailor your change communication and influence approach. For example, direct reports who are conservers need more information and more time to accept a change than the originators. Originators need help moving from the idea toward action. And the pragmatists may feel stuck in the middle and overly relied upon to mediate.

Knowing how people respond to change also helps you assign tasks and facilitate progress. Different types of change — or different phases of change — benefit from different change styles. All 3 preferences are needed to make change happen.

Knowing your own change preference is also valuable. When you understand your tendencies, you can adjust your responses and lead change in a way that is most effective.

Regardless of your change preference, you’ll become a better change agent if you follow these CSI tips:

  • Consult with a person you believe to have a change style different from yours before proceeding.
  • Make efforts to understand the perspectives of those with styles other than your own.
  • Imagine putting on a hat of another style.
  • Solicit feedback and suggestions.
  • Step back and be aware of your initial reaction in a situation, especially when you are aware of having an emotional response.

CCL offers a two-day course, Navigating Change, to help managers guide their teams through a current change. Participants work with peers and CCL experts, are immersed in a change simulation activity, learn their personal preference for change with the Change Style Indicator, and plan how to apply and sustain what they learn.

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