How to Make Change Stick for Every Personality Type

The powers-that-be have announced it, the managers are fired up to implement it .... and the employees just aren't ready for it. So, they resist.

What are we talking about?

Change, of course. In the business world, it's the only constant. There's always some new edict, some new philosophy that overturns time-honored processes at a stroke. And however well-intentioned these programs are, research tells us that 70 percent of all change initiatives will fail. Why? Usually, it's because of human forces. Most people don't like changes, and organizations have to work really hard to get buy in from their people. 

If you are familiar with the 16-type personality system, you'll appreciate some people have a lower tolerance for change than others. But even someone who is relaxed about change may react to it in unexpected ways. It's fairly obvious, then, that a change program will be far more successful if you can identify what is driving each personality type, and use those insights to overcome resistance.

Here are some pointers for making change stick for the various personality groups.

Strategies for Change-making Rationals 

Rational personality types (ENTJ, INTJ, ENTP, INTP) have the most trust in change as a concept – ENTJs and ENTPs in particular are the great change-makers of the world. Be cautious, however, of thinking that your Rationals are an automatic buy in. They will only trust changes that they can make sense of, can navigate effectively, or that they themselves have initiated. Hit them with a change they don't approve of and your Rationals will resist. In the worst case, they will forge their own path or take other steps to sabotage the change efforts, resulting in lost productivity, wasted time and wasted money.

How to win them over:

  • Rationals are conceptualizers and strategists. They need to hear the arguments for and against change – including the discarded options – before they will give it the time of day. Be sure to explain what problem the change is intended to solve, all the different perspectives that you have considered, and why the solution you have chosen is the best option. Rationals must understand the benefits of the change program from every angle before they will accept it.
  • Given them lots of notice. Rationals are long-term future planners. They need plenty of warning about an upcoming change so they can analyze their work practices in light of the new reality.
  • Get your best change managers on board. Rationals have a general mistrust in people who patently don't know what they're doing. Progress will be very limited if your implementation managers fail to lead by example or are keener on enforcing the process than on problem solving.
  • Use supportive Rationals who have been through change in past and come out other side to create better understanding among those who are traditionally resistant to change. 

Strategies for Guardians Who Protect the Status Quo

It's fair to say that Guardian or "SJ" personalities (ESTJ, ISTJ, ESFJ, ISFJ) are not change enthusiasts. They have faith in the status quo and a preference for keeping things the way they are. If change must happen, Guardians will require that it is practical and meaningful rather than change for the sake of it. You'll have to work quite hard to win these personalities over. Typically, they'll try to stick to the old ways until they are absolutely certain that a better way of doing things exists.

How to win them over:

  • Implement the change in a gradual and organized way. Your Guardians need a long adjustment period so they can slowly get used to the new way of doing things. Provide clear and achievable performance measures so your Guardians can see – in concrete terms – why the change is needed. Guardians will become very frustrated if you implement a series of vague, hasty, and unrealistic goals.
  • Communicate, communicate, communicate. Poor communication is a source of stress for Guardians so you'll need to communicate before, during and after change projects. Allocate time to answer their questions.
  • All Guardians, but Feelers in particular, feel a strong psychological contract with team members, specific managers and certain ways of doing things. They may be reluctant to move out of these comfort zones. Present facts to make them support the change initiatives and where possible, maintain any comforting relationships.
  • Allocate plenty of resources to the change program. Guardians will be more resistant if they feel overloaded by the new situation; for example, they are expected to continue with their current duties in addition to implementing the change. The change should not feel like a burden.

Strategies for Visionary Idealists 

Idealist personalities (ENFJ, INFJ, ENFP, INFP) are motivated by a desire to protect what they see as the company's best interests and core values. They may be pro- or anti-change depending on how well they perceive the new initiatives to align with the common good. Implementation at the expense of values won't stick, especially where the organization already has a strong culture of loyalty and cohesion.

How to win them over:

  • Keep a smooth, organized and transparent transition in order to keep stress levels down. While an Idealist may personally support the change initiative, she will be cautious about the effect change may have on other people.  Be sure to emphasize the fairness of your change initiatives – you may lose a key ally if there's a negative impact on jobs or opportunities.
  • Prepare your vision and communicate this from the beginning – don't make decisions behind closed doors. Idealists are most excited about change when they can see how it fits into the organization's value system and understand where you are going.
  • Avoid rapid change. Idealists like to have security in their jobs, teams and communities. If you can avoid shaking up current relationships too much, these personalities are much more likely to weather the storm.
  • These types are skilled advocates and mediators. Use them to guide others through the change process and dissolve any lingering tensions.

Strategies for Freedom-Loving Atisans 

Of all the personality types, Artisans or SP types (ESTP, ISTP, ESFP, ISFP) may be the best at adapting to change. These types are naturally spontaneous and get frustrated if their environments remain stagnant for too long. Artisans like to be masters of their own destinies, however. They do not generally see the need for change for change's sake, preferring to keep what is already working and change only the things that are not. They can resist change very aggressively if it is forced on them or the change may reduce the quality of their working life.

How to win them over:

  • Where possible, involve them in the change process at some level. Artisans are more productive when given the freedom to make their own decisions. Try to set broad objectives instead of micromanaging the change program.
  • Go for quick wins. Artisans are spontaneous, practical and easy going. They don't engage in long-term thinking and may not be interested in your 10-year plan for improving the bottom line. Focus on communicating short-term goals by writing some achievable KPIs into the roadmap.
  • Communicate well to keep the change on track, but focus more on the plan (what exactly will we do?) and the Artisan's role in it (what's my new job function and process?) rather than the future picture (what will it look like when we've implemented the change?)
  • Reward desired behaviors. Artisans respond well to positive feedback and gestures of appreciation, so take every opportunity to praise them for their contribution to the change program.

The Bottom Line

Most change efforts get derailed for predictable reasons. The biggest reason is failing to surface people's unique concerns about change. Unresolved anxieties will always surface, and this can get in the way of compliance and cause employees to revert back to old behaviors over time.

For a change effort to succeed, employees need to feel that their concerns and being heard and addressed. By involving personality in the planning process, you can anticipate obstacles in the change implementation process and create personalized strategies for making change stick.

Jayne Thompson

Jayne is a freelance copywriter, business writing blogger and the blog editor here at Truity. One part word nerd, two parts skeptic, she helps writing-challenged clients discover the amazing power of words on a page. Jayne is an INTJ and lives in Yorkshire, UK with her ENTJ husband and two baffling children. Find Jayne at White Rose Copywriting.

Share your thoughts