Why Change Fails: The 5 Types of People in Any Change Initiative

Why Change Fails: The 5 Types of People in Any Change Initiative

This is a guest post from Ecatherine Matnadze, who serves as the Vistage Spain In-house Leadership Coach - working with me and the leadership team in clarifying goals and staying disciplined in our actions.

When a change plan fails, it is more often than not due to the human dynamics inside the organisation.  It doesn’t matter whether your plan is “good” or “bad”, it matters that you work to build a coalition of support amongst those that will be affected by your plan.

Most leaders can come up with a goal and with a plan. It’s the relationships that make things happen or not.

The 5 Types of People in Any Change Initiative

  1. Committed Supporters,
  2. Compliant Supporters,
  3. Neutral Parties,
  4. Antagonists, and
  5. Active Resisters.

1. Committed Supporters

Committed supporters are people who will go out of their way to help an idea happen. A committed supporter is someone who will take personal risk to make this happen. There is an old story about a pig and a chicken going to a picnic. The chicken brings eggs; the pig brings bacon. The chicken is compliant; the pig is committed.

We want to know who the committed supporters are. Why do they support this idea? How can we leverage them? How can we get them to influence others?

There aren’t going to be a lot of committed supporters in most organisations. But if you can find them, they can be enormously helpful.

2. Compliant Supporters

These are the chickens who come to the picnic with eggs. They’re helpful. They’re supportive. Who are they? Why do they support this? How can we use their support to get things done?

Maybe we can turn them into committed supporters. Maybe we can build the relationship a little bit more so they’ll go from bringing the eggs to bringing the bacon.

3. Neutral Parties

There’s a lot of people who just sit back and watch and wait. They don’t take any risks, they’re not sure, or they’re just neutral. And again, we want to identify them – if we can get more of them on our side, we can get a lot more momentum for our idea.

Who are they? Why are they neutral? And what reasons can we use to influence them to turn them into a supporter?

4. Antagonists

Now we’re moving to the people who are negative. Antagonists are not willing to take personal risk to stop the idea, but they might feel moderately threatened by it; they might not understand it; they might not like it. Sometimes they’re very vocal against it, but they’re still not willing to do anything.

The best you can do with the antagonists is to get them to be neutral. At least get them not to speak out against the idea in meetings. Would you go and talk to them? Maybe you redeploy them somewhere where they don’t have an impact on this idea.

5. Active Resisters

These are the nemeses, the saboteurs. Active resisters feel personally threatened by the idea and will do anything to resist.

It’s very rare that they’re irrational, unless you have done something that’s caused a personal enmity. Usually they have other incentives and it’s a matter of will, of really working hard to get them on your side. Sometimes it’s a matter of changing the way they’re rewarded. Maybe someone with power can talk to them and say, listen, this is moving forward, I need you out of the way.

Sometimes the best you can do with active resisters is to isolate them – maybe they have to move to a different department, or leave the organisation.

You don’t need Everyone to Support you…

It’s said that in any major initiative at most you’re going to get about one-third on your side as committed and/or compliant supporters. Few want to change, and most people are in a state of inertia. It’s okay for people to be negative, you just don’t want so many of them that it’s going to make it impossible the initiative to succeed. You don’t need everybody to support you. The key is finding the right number of people.

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Ecatherine Matnadze is Certified Executive and Team coach, focusing on coaching top leaders and their executive teams. Having worked as a CEO herself, she understands the demands placed on high-achieving leaders, and helps them balance business results with personal well-being.

Ecatherine is based in Barcelona, Spain. She works with Spanish- and English- speaking clients, both locally and internationally. You should connect and follow her posts on LinkedIn.

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