I like change and that's just as well — the structure, environment and pace of our firm has changed dramatically this year. But just because I like change doesn't mean my employees do. And as CEO, nor should I expect everybody to respond to change as I do.

With this in mind, I made "How People Respond to Change" the topic of a recent internal lunch and learn. Change is how we grow, I reminded my team. And yet our responses to pivotal life developments: starting school, a first serious relationship, a new sibling, a leadership position or becoming part of an organization’s team can be character building or catastrophic, depending on how an individual responds to that development.

Finding comfort with change is important. This entails living through the emotional transition, accepting that something that previously had value and seemed to be working, is going away.

To illustrate I shared an excellent study* about the different patterns of response. [Click here for the self assessment form.] The researcher identified four patterns of response based on two spectrums- a person’s comfort with change and their capacity for change (ability to know how to change). 

  • The overwhelmed. This person has a low comfort and low capacity for change. Typically this type withdrawals and becomes immobilized by significant change.
  • The entrenched. This individual has a low comfort but a higher capacity for change. The typical response to change is denial and/ or becoming overly active. They tend to focus on "riding out"€ the change.
  • The poser. This individual has high comfort with change. They demand new responsibilities but then struggle to learn. The combination of their confidence with lack of self awareness and capability to lead change can be damaging to an organization.
  • The learner. This person feels challenged and stretched but in control of their destiny. The look for opportunities in ambiguous and difficult situations and bounce back in the face of adversity.  Learners have both a high comfort level and high capacity for change.

I asked everyone to think about their response to our biggest current change: the resignation of a long standing team member — and from this, determine which response pattern was theirs.

No response was wrong or bad —– but we agreed that being a learner is best for both the individual and the company. Companies grow more quickly when well populated with learners and people tend to gravitate around learners as well.

The talk fostered honest conversation about our growing staff, clients, our higher education focus, our new processes and how this impacts us. Following this lunch and learn, I am scheduling time with each team member to learn what specifically feels stressful and to better understand his / her response to change. My goal: to help each of us (including myself) become a "€œlearner" because only then can we reach our true potential. We must be ready because more great changes await us.

* Much of the content was adapted from "Responses to Change: Helping People Manage Transition"  by Kerry A. Bunker at Center for Creative Leadership.