Personality and Change: Creating Effective Change Managers

February 6, 2014 Appirio

By Amy Rollier, Appirio Change Consultant

change managersIt’s 9:00 am and you just entered the conference room. Today you are announcing to your team that the company is undergoing a large change initiative which includes everyone having to relocate offices. Seated around the table is Donald Trump, Hilary Clinton, Taylor Swift, Chris Rock, Peter Jennings and Napoleon Dynamite. All of these individuals process information and communicate differently. How will you be effective? How will you know when they are not accepting the information? How will you get their buy in?

Change Is Hard For Everyone

Creating great change managers out of your team begins with understanding who they are, what’s important to them, what motivates them and what they need from you in order to cope with the stress that comes with change. Some of the most effective coaches, mentors, sales people and leaders are effective because they can adjust their own approach to interact with lots of different types of people and meet their specific needs in times of uncertainty.

There are many different types of personality typologies out there. In general, typologies aim to identify patterns in human behavior that are recognizable by certain triggers and then categorizes those behaviors. Often the behaviors triggered by change such as uncertainty, surprise, withdrawal, indignation, feeling overwhelmed and frustrated are driven by what’s most important to us at our core. In addition, many change initiatives that result in low user adoption do so because change managers and leaders are not equipped to respond to these behaviors effectively.

People are going to respond to change differently but typologies can provide a small predictor of how they will respond and provide some insight into where the behavior is coming from. If you listen carefully, language can be a powerful indicator of what’s most important to people.  In the example of moving offices to a new location, your employees’ concerns might sound something like this:

  • Donald Trump, “Bottom line, what’s in it for me? Who’s going to benefit from this move?”
  • Hilary Clinton, “Why are we doing this? What is wrong with the way we do things now?”
  • Taylor Swift, “How is the team going to feel about this? What if I can’t support them effectively from my new location?”
  • Chris Rock, “Whaaaat, we’re moving?! Who’s moving my stuff for me? This sounds like a really big hassle!”
  • Peter Jennings, “When exactly will this move occur and will there be a project plan so I can plan appropriately? What are the steps?”
  • Napoleon Dynamite, “I don’t even know where to begin. This is too much…”.

Each of these individuals represents a larger group identified by a typology. There are Taylor Swift types and Hilary Clinton types in every organization. During a complex change initiative, a one-size-fits-all approach does not work. Hilary needs to understand the ‘why’ and that it’s the right thing to do in order for her to stand behind it. Taylor needs to be assured she is supported and that she matters as an individual in the eyes of the organization. Peter needs details and specifics so he knows how to be responsible and prepared for the change.

Managing Personality Types

Now amidst the uncertainty of change, instead of support, imagine Taylor’s manager giving her the robust project plan with dates and milestones. Imagine her face expressing one of worry and concern and despite her manager’s best efforts to provide her with helpful information, the additional detail is causing more confusion and overwhelm. Without reassurance and support, Taylor doesn’t hear any of the project plan information.

Down the hall, Peter’s manager is telling him ‘not to worry’ about the schedule because there is going to be a great deal of support available when the time comes. Peter is no longer listening. He has a deep look of thought on his face because he has several questions on his mind about the specifics of the project. His manager genuinely wants him to feel comfortable so she smiles at him and expresses her enthusiasm that he is part of the new change team.

Both managers are giving their very best. They are saying exactly what they themselves would want to hear, however it’s not what these individuals need to hear in order to process the information. The trickle-down effect is what will happen when Taylor and Peter go on to interact with others, especially those looking to them for leadership.

Identifying Change Managers

Choosing effective change champions for your change initiative begins with looking for people with strong observation skills. Observing others is one of the best ways to learn what their preferences are. Observing how they instruct others or give praise are often indicators of how they themselves prefer to receive instruction or praise. For those change champions with a natural ability and genuine interest in learning how to connect with people, additional typology training can go a long way.

If you have ever flown in an airplane you are familiar with the safety instruction, “An oxygen mask will drop down from the ceiling. Put on your own mask before assisting others.” This is a great reminder that we aren’t any good to others if we are suffocating. We must first address our own needs and concerns associated with change before we can support others. In other words, before we can adjust our approach to meet the needs of others, we must first understand our own personality bias, strengths and areas for development.

A primary limitation of many typologies is that they lack strategies for how to strengthen the areas that need strengthening, such as assertiveness, etc. In addition, they often lack strategies for how to apply the typology to others once you’ve learned about yourself. The most value-add typology is one that not only provides training on your (the individual’s) preferences, but also on how to identify other people’s preferences and put that knowledge into practice to be a more effective leader and communicator.

Personality typology training can provide many tangible and intangible benefits to your change initiative. The tangible benefit is that it is a speedier road to adoption when there is less miscommunication. An intangible benefit is that it can help to create a positive experience for your employees; which is critical so that they are open to embrace more change which will surely come.

If you are considering implementing personality training, here are some best practices to consider:

  • Consider a typology that offers strategies for personal development as well as strategies for how to recognize other’s preferences.
  • Consider how much support it will get from the organization. If it’s not fully embraced and reinforced, it may not provide the longer term benefits.
  • Engage managers as subject matter experts to provide ongoing training and support to others.
  • Integrate typology training into both change and enterprise training so learnings can be applied and reinforced.
  • Craft change communications that address the concerns of (and rallies support from) all personality types.

Remember, the purpose of learning about personality is to create awareness of what brings out the best in you and others. Imagine now, its 9:00 am and you are about to enter the conference room, only now you are equipped to minimize resistance and rally the support of all team members.

For additional reading, pick up a copy of the book “The Mastery of Management” by Taibi Kahler, Ph.D. The book offers a good overview of the Process Communication Model® applied to common management situations.

Alternatively, Insights Discovery offers a more corporate-friendly approach to “understanding yourself and others” via workshops and certifications that aim to develop interpersonal skills and improve communication skills.

Previous Article
A Perfect Match: Finding the Right Implementation Partner
A Perfect Match: Finding the Right Implementation Partner

I shaved, brushed my teeth, combed my hair, and put on my best sport coat.  I looked in the mirror one last...

Next Article
The Path to Workplace 2020: HR Predictions and Actions for 2014 (Part One)
The Path to Workplace 2020: HR Predictions and Actions for 2014 (Part One)

At the end of each year, we are often asked, “What do you think is going to happen in the HR and workforce ...