Will You Stick to Your New Year’s Resolution?

How different personality types can successfully navigate change

Two women and a man sitting at a round table.

Dr. Rachel MK Headley is an organizational culture and leadership expert and Senior Partner/CEO of Rose Group Int’l. Her book iX Leadership: Create High-Five Cultures and Guide Transformation (coauthored by Meg Manke) details how corporate success is based on the internal experience (iX) of employees, emphasizing the way they prefer to work — or what the book describes as their Culture Type.

In a previous article, I introduced to the Bulletin audience to Culture Types and how they can provide insight into team dynamics and addressing interpersonal challenges. The article also explored why some people thrive under chaotic conditions.

Now that it’s New Year’s resolution time, let’s address just how those Culture Types deal with change and how to actually achieve those mundane or lofty goals.

First, you have to understand the model of how people move through change, and then we’ll get to how the different Culture Types affect that model. Having an awareness of how we all move through a transition offers insight into our personal response to change and allows us to be empathetic to others’ reactions to change.

The Kurtz Change Transition Model

Before a change even occurs, mere-exposure effect is running the show — in other words, people develop a preference for things merely because they are familiar with them. And, as it turns out, this effect intensifies under stress. So, when a change event comes along, we immediately cling to the familiar as tightly as possible.

Researchers and organizational change practitioners have been using transition models for a long time. We based ours off of a model by management specialist George Davis (an unpublished model but used in corporate training) and created the Kurtz Change Transition Model. Generally speaking, after a change event occurs, there is a decline in energy and engagement. This can take a few hours to many years, depending on the person and the change. At some point, a person lets go of his or her familiar past and begins to look forward.

And this is where the fun really begins. The letting-go phase is followed by an innovation phase. This is a time of exploration and, perhaps, innovation. In fact, you are more open to change at this time than during almost any other period.

Kurtz Change Transition Model.

Let’s think about that one time you decided to end a relationship. Maybe you finally quit that awful job, got a new car, and moved to a new neighborhood, all at the same time! And, at some point, you thought to yourself, why in the world am I doing all of this at the same time? I must be nuts! Or, maybe during that period you merely considered doing something “crazy,” such as moving far away, or going back to school, or dating that neon light bender (it didn’t work out).

In truth, you are not sure what your future “normal life” looks like. You don’t have that familiar to cling to, so you are open to a lot of lifestyle modifications. Then, after things start to settle (you get that job, you meet someone new, you buy the house), it becomes clearer what your new routine is going to look like. You start making decisions based on that new reality, further solidifying your new familiar.

One important thing to note is the decline phase can be pretty brutal. There are limited ways to help people through this phase. In fact, people in decline can rarely take on new information, so trying to convince them to “get over it” or “gut it out” will only result in hurt feelings and additional stress.

Love It or Hate It

You might have noticed some people despise change — hate it like getting mail from the IRS. And some people love it — even relish in it like the next installment of their favorite series (GoT season 8!).

Using Culture Types (find yours at Rose Group’s website), you can determine just where you and others will fall on the love/hate spectrum and how quickly you will move through the transition. It’s a powerful tool to understand how you will react to changes and how you can help others through change.

We often refer to Stabilizers as the glue of an organization, or even the foundation of the team. That is their strength: They hold everything and everyone together. They also tend to be your experts because they can focus on one thing for long periods of time. Stabilizers are also the ones who tend to struggle the most during a transition. You can expect a Stabilizer to have the longest decline and to generally take the longest to go through a transition. This is because Stabilizers resist change on two spectrums. One, they prefer order over chaos. And, two, they like social stability.

Based on our research, it can take up to two years for Stabilizers to achieve their new normal. Not only is their decline particularly long but also deep. Their reactions to their decline can range from a persistent need to have things “the way they used to be” or a complete refusal to accommodate the new idea, approach, or requirement.

Once a Stabilizer finally lets go of their previous normal state, his or her innovation phase is relatively short. Stabilizers are usually quick to adjust their behavior to mirror the group, so they tend to speed through an innovation phase and adopt a new normal quickly. In some cases, it can seem like Stabilizers are still holding on to the past on a Friday and completely switch over the following Monday. And once they arrive at the new normal, they tend to anchor in it immediately.

When implementing a change event, you can speed up a Stabilizer’s decline by addressing and emphasizing the following.

  • Provide plenty of relevant examples of how other people have successfully implemented something similar.
  • Discuss the pace with them. Will the change be incremental, or will it impact them immediately?
  • How long will the transition last? If it will be a long transition, be honest.
  • What is the new vision?
  • Demonstrate that others around them are responding favorably to the change.
The Kurtz Change Transition Model: A graph illustrating different Culture Types' reaction to change

Organizers, as order-tolerant, will respond similarly to Stabilizers in the face of a change event in that they tend to suffer a rather steep decline. While it isn’t as long as that of a Stabilizer, it still can take an Organizer a long time to let go. An Organizer’s main driver is knowing “why?” Organizers will have difficulty accepting a change event without justification. Loose, nondescriptive, general answers will not be met with much enthusiasm. For example, don’t justify the change to an Organizer by saying, “We just need to shake things up,” or “I’m not sure what’s going to happen — it’s just a good idea.” These are the kind of responses that drive Organizers crazy. “Just because” is not a reason to throw undue chaos into their routine.

Once Organizers let go, they can suffer severe peaks and valleys in the innovation phase. Organizers might sort out the logic for themselves and eventually normalize the change, but sometimes they won’t.

Organizers aren’t generally concerned with whether or not the change is going to affect the people around them, but they don’t want to be flung into chaos any more than a Stabilizer does. However, if they understand logic, numbers, and data as a motivational tool and a means to make the transition more predictable and less chaotic, Organizers can be early adopters and:

  • Offer statistics, trends, and figures that reveal the logic behind the change event.
  • Explain why the “old way” wasn’t working and how this new approach will be objectively better than the previous Normal State.
  • Demonstrate how this will result in a better market position, increased customer satisfaction, etc.
  • Give a detailed description of how the change will be implemented.

Fixers will have a shorter decline and are quicker to let go than the order-tolerant Culture Types — it doesn’t take them much time to enter an innovation phase and start cranking out new ideas. It might take only three months instead of 18 months (remember, change takes time!). Fixers quickly busy themselves doing what they do by nature: fix. As soon as they let go, they are already asking themselves, what could possibly go wrong (or is already going wrong), and how can I fix it?

Taking an active part in the transition process usually motivates Fixers. They want to be part of the solution. Because they enjoy working through chaos with respect to a team dynamic, they will help others move through the transition along with them. In this respect, Fixers can be great allies for implementing change. Motivate Fixers by showing them why the change is important and invite them to be part of the process:

  • Offer big-picture information and goals. Remember, Fixers aren’t very concerned with detail.
  • Explain why the change is important.
  • Describe what they can do to help make the change less painful for others or ask for their input.
  • Allow them the freedom to help modify the change.

Independents, like Fixers, have a very high tolerance for change. Even when the change event wasn’t their idea and they have no control over it, even when it is of a great magnitude and will affect their life dramatically, even under incompetent leadership and an unclear vision, these Culture Types are much quicker to let go. You’ll notice that during the worst of transitions they almost instantaneously move into an innovation phase.

Independents won’t respond well to having a change thrown upon them if they have no control or agency over the event. Unless they are part of the process, leadership won’t be able to motivate them through lots of details and statistics or through team member buy-in. Instead, appeal to their need for freedom:

  • Talk about the big picture.
  • Explain why the change is exciting and new.
  • Show how the change will benefit their goals.
  • Give them a role in the transitional process where they have autonomy and control.
  • Remember, Independents love change — especially if the change is exciting, and even more so if it increases their freedom or autonomy.

Will Your Resolution Stick?

So. What does all of this mean for your New Year’s resolutions? Let’s take a look, with our own Culture Type in mind. And consider these tips, which will give you your best shot of sticking to those 2019 goals.

Stabilizer (Order-tolerant, Team-driven):

  • Choose a resolution that you’ve been thinking about for a long time, something that you are truly ready to let go of (losing weight, for example).
  • Use a structured program.
  • Do it with other people.
  • Spend time with a group of likeminded people or those who have already achieved the goal.

Organizer (Order-tolerant, Self-driven):

  • Choose a resolution that feels urgent, that feels like the only logical thing to do.
  • Understand why what you’re doing now isn’t working.
  • Have a plan to implement.
  • Understand why the new thing is better.
  • While you can do it with a group, the other people might just frustrate you, so maybe go it alone.

Fixer (Chaos-tolerant, Team-driven):

  • Choose a resolution with some flexibility (exercising more, for example).
  • Have a group around you — not just one buddy but a gaggle. It’s OK if the others might struggle; you’ll get to be the cheerleader.
  • Don’t get too tied down into one way of doing it.

Independent (Chaos-tolerant, Self-driven):

  • Choose a resolution that sets you apart from others (perhaps picking up an interesting new hobby).
  • Plan on doing it on your own — you can go to the gym (where other humans are), but you don’t need to join a class.
  • Tell people about your crazy new thing.
  • Make sure that it’s something that isn’t too rigid or constricting.

Dr. Rachel MK Headley headshotRachel has led and managed teams for more than 20 years. She enjoys a good challenge and manages big projects, unites diverse stakeholders, guides teams through change, and leads complex and groundbreaking achievements. Rachel is a TEDx speaker and serves on the Council of Trustees for South Dakota State University. She is a Ph.D. scientist, a certified Project Management Professional, a global citizen, a choral singer, and an art patroness. Follow her on Twitter and connect with her on LinkedIn.
South Dakota Mensa | Joined 2004