20% of the information that gives you 80% of what you need to know

How People React to Change

Based on the dynamics of change as formulated by Ken Blanchard in 1992 and still as valid now as then. There are seven typical ways how people react to change. In the current times of economic challenges and organizational downsizing, it is important to summarize these and remember…

Whatever the kinds of change that people encounter, there are certain patterns of response that occur and re-occur.  It is important that change leaders understand some of  these patterns, since they are normal outcomes of the change process.  Understanding these allows leaders to avoid over-reacting to the behaviors of people. It also helps change agents to appreciate why and how people react to change adversely and with resistance…

People feel awkward, ill-at-ease, self-conscious

Whenever you ask people to do things differently, you disrupt their habitual ways of doing things.  This tends to make people feel awkward or uncomfortable as they struggle to eliminate the old responses and learn the new.   Think back to your own experience and you will discover this theme.  Whether it be learning to use a computer, the first time picking up your infant, or dealing with a new reporting relationship, recall the self-consciousness that you probably felt.  People want to get it right, and fear that they will appear inadequate.

People initially focus on what they have to give up

Even for positive changes such as promotions, or those that result in more autonomy or authority, people will concentrate on what they will be losing.  As a change leader you need to acknowledge the loss of the old ways, and not get frustrated at what may seem to be an irrational or tentative response to change. It is said that resistance to change is often due to a fear of some loss

People will feel alone even if everyone else is involved

Everyone feels (or wants to feel) that their situation is unique and special.  Unfortunately, this tends to increase the sense of isolation for people undergoing change.  It is important for the change leader to be proactive and gentle in showing that the employee’s situation is understood.  If  employees see YOU as emotionally and practically supportive during the tough times your position will be enhanced and the change will be easier.

People can handle only so much change

On a personal level, people who undergo too much change within too short a time will become dysfunctional, and in some cases may become physically sick.  While some changes are beyond our control, it is important not to pile change upon change upon change.  While changes such as downsizing bring opportunity to do other positive things, the timing of additional changes is important.  If you are contemplating introducing changes (that are under your control), it may be a good idea to bounce your ideas off employees.  A good question to ask is “How would you feel if…..”

Different people are at different levels of readiness for change

Some people thrive and change.  It’s exciting to them.  Others don’t.  It’s threatening to them.  Understand that any change will have supporters and people who have difficulty adapting.  In time, no matter how people react to change adversely and resist, eventuallymost will tend to come on board.  Consider that those people who are more ready for the change can influence others who are less ready.   Open discussion allows this influence process to occur.

People will be concerned that they don’t have enough resources

People perceive that change takes time and effort, even if it has the long term effect of reducing workload.  They are correct that there is a learning time for most change, and that this may affect their work.  It is important for change leaders to acknowledge that this may occur, and to offer practical support if possible.  In the downsizing scenario this will be even more crucial, since resources themselves are cut.  Consider following the downsizing with a worksmart process, whereby job tasks are reviewed to examine whether they are still necessary.

If you take the pressure off, people will revert to their old behaviour

If people perceive that you are not serious about doing things the new way, they will go back to the old way.  Sometimes this will be in the open, and sometimes this will be covert.  The leader must remind people that there is a new course, and that the new course will remain.  Coaching towards the new ways is also important.


It is important for leaders to anticipate and respond to employee concerns and feelings, whether they are expressed in terms of practical issues, or emotional responses.  When planning for, and anticipating change, include a detailed reaction analysis.  Try to identify the kinds of reactions and questions that  employees will have, and prepare your responses.  Remember that the success of any change rests with the ability of the leaders to address both the emotional and practical issues, in that order.

For additional insight, please read this article on Change Management


1 Comment

  1. Ali Akbar

    Dear Friends
    “Tell the people they will forget, show them they will remember and let them to do they will understand” – this is a Chinese saying i always follow. People are used to the existing practices and if some one introduces new approach/method then they feel inconvenience ……… but that all remains for certain time period and then things get improved. What the main thing is that the initiator/manager should insist from time to time and ensure the practice in any case (quality matters for example) and then over time this will be improved and done well; this is what I experienced.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

© 2024 Management Insights

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑