The Human Dimensions of Change

There is much change taking place at the moment. Here in the UK there are many people, particularly in the public sector, soon to be looking for different jobs, and many other people are having their roles changed due to organisational restructures. Difficult personal times.

And they are often made more difficult than they need to be by how they are handled. I have for some time worked on the basis that there are four main categories that people experiencing change fit into. I have seen these labelled as The Entrenched, The Overwhelmed, The Whirling Dervish and The Learner. I have absolutely no idea who came up with these classifications, but if you know, it would be great to be able to mention them and give them the credit.

So which are you? Or where do those people you manage fit? By understanding more about how change impacts on us, we can help ourselves – and our colleagues – to cope with such situations more effectively. Here’s a little more detail to help you to understand the categories.

The Entrenched – An Entrenched person has the ability to learn and capacity to change, but is generally not particularly willing to engage in this. The change experience can lead to them feeling frustrated or angry, and to be frightened of what the future holds. They are confident of their proven skills and their past performance – and as such, may well work harder to seek to justify their existence and prove that there is no need for change. They can struggle to understand the organisation’s change in attitude towards previously valued behaviours. They also tend to dismiss the reasons for the change.

The Overwhelmed – Like our Entrenched colleagues, our Overwhelmed people are not willing to engage in the change. Where they differ from the Entrenched is that they don’t particularly have (or believe they have) the capacity to change or the ability to learn the required new skills or processes. This potentially makes them feel powerless, fearful and unhappy. In order to deal with these emotions they can avoid issues and block stressful events. They can blame and commiserate – and hope that normality will return. They also tend to avoid risk, focus on the safe and known tasks and look busy.

The Whirling Dervish – Our Whirling Dervishes really rather look forward to the change, and are willing to embrace it. Unfortunately though, they tend not to have the capacity to make the required changes and learn the new skills. This leads to them being ready to get going with the changes and wanting to implement change – any change. They can be over-confident in their own abilities and as such seek positions of influence. They want quick action and visible results. They are surprised by and unsympathetic towards colleagues who demonstrate caution or concern for the future. They can have a particularly negative influence on Overwhelmed colleagues – as they attempt to lead such people down the garden path.

The Learner – Our final category of people has both the willingness to embrace the change and the capacity to learn the new skills. They tend to be a little anxious, but they are optimistic as they can see the positive benefits – they tend to have a balanced approach, being able to see the pros and the cons. They focus on any problems rather than apportion blame. They are not afraid of making mistakes, and can find humour in difficult circumstances and use it to help others.

Have you been able to – even roughly – label yourself?  Perhaps you can identify where some of your colleagues fit?

This human dimension to change is really important – and the more we understand it, the better we can cope with it – or for managers, the better they can assist others.

In my next blog I’ll give some ideas as to how we can help and manage people within each of these categories to deal with change more effectively.


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