Seismic Change Begins with You
By Lois P. Frankel, Ph.D., President of Corporate Coaching International

A picture containing person, woman, holding, indoor  Description generated with very high confidence

"There is nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success, than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things. Because the innovator has for enemies all those who have done well under the old conditions, and lukewarm defenders in those who may do well under the new."

Niccolo Machiavelli

There’s an old joke in psychologists’ circles:  How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb? Only one, but the light bulb has to really want to change. Human beings resist change.  Our primitive brains are wired to engage in behaviors that are safe, comfortable, and familiar to us.  Just look at how long it took Americans to get into the habit of wearing seatbelts.  Or how our collective resistance to adopting the metric system ultimately led the U.S. government to abandon the idea.  And, be honest about this one, if you’re over 40, how long did it take you to start getting your news electronically instead of by newspaper or magazine?  As HR practitioners, our greatest challenge in effecting meaningful change is helping people to overcome their natural resistance to it and embrace new ideas and systems that will, in the long-run, serve them well.

Harvard professor and change expert Dr. John Kotter says, “The central issue is never strategy, structure, culture or systems…it’s always about changing the behavior of people and behavior change happens in highly successful situations by speaking to people’s feelings.” This is where you come in.  It’s your job to be concerned with people’s feelings.  By necessity, seismic change begins with you.  And that means you first must be prepared to deal with your own biases toward change and then partner with the other change agents in your organization to ensure your employees, customers, clients and other stakeholders are on board with the impending changes. 

Recognizing Your Change Challenges
One way that we exhibit bias for change is in how we process information.  Here’s a quick and dirty test to help you identify what may impede your ability to quickly adapt to change.  Look at the following shapes and choose the one that you relate to most (I told you – it’s quick and dirty, not scientific).


If you’re like most people, you could probably narrow it down to two right away and then, because you were given instructions to do so, you eventually chose one of those two.  That’s because we actually possess the traits (as described below) of all four shapes, but we are inclined to rely on one or two in our daily activities.  Leading change requires us to fluidly shift from one style of behavior to another, depending on the situation and the people with whom we are dealing.  This should not be construed as being phony or false, but rather as being a savvy influencer. 


Commonly Called











Stable, logical, organized, deliberate

Personable, tactful, goes with the flow, honors tradition

Bottom-line oriented, gets things done

Creative, unconventional, theoretical

Potential Change Challenges

Analysis paralysis, unconcerned with the impact of plans on people

Wishy-washy, emotional, clings to the way we’ve always done things

Impulsive, lacks strategy, ready-fire-aim, impatient with people

Impractical, has difficulty with execution

It should be obvious that it helps to have all four types involved in the change process.  Diversity of thought and preference leads to better outcomes.  Yet, in over three decades as a consultant to organizations around the globe, it has been my experience that change efforts can become stalled or scrapped entirely because teams are unable to capitalize on what Isabel Myers and Kathleen Briggs (creators of the Myers Briggs Type Indicator) call “gifts differing.” Facilitating seismic change requires you to first understand your own challenges and gifts and then recognize and capitalize on those of others.  For a more robust assessment of your strengths and areas for development in this arena you may want to take the MBTI Step II with the accompanying interpretive report.
Dealing with Resistance, Yours and Others
Resistance to change shouldn’t be construed as entirely bad.  It’s one way in which people ensure that the baby isn’t thrown out with the bath water.  Let’s suppose a company is considering a wide-scale change effort to address customer concerns about service, follow-up and returns.  Viewed from the lens of each of the types described above, “good” resistance to one element of suggested change might sound like this:

“The data shows that the system we’ve been using to track shipments has 93% accuracy for time and delivery.  I recommend we hang on to it,” says the Thinker.

“Our people are familiar and comfortable with the system we’ve been using to track shipments.  We might want to keep this until we’re sure we really need a new one and can get them fully up-to-speed on it,” says the Feeler.

“The tracking system works.  If it ain’t broke, let’s not fix it and focus instead on things that really need fixing,” says the Senser.

“We only implemented the tracking system for shipments eighteen months ago and at that time it was state-of-the art.  I suggest we keep it until something more efficient comes down the pike and can be evaluated before we purchase it,” says the Intuitor.

No one is suggesting that the change effort not take place.  They are only providing input into what currently works and why time, effort and money shouldn’t be spent reinventing the wheel. 

How Ready Are You for Change?
The HR professional has to be honest about his or her ability to be an integral part of the change leadership team.  Professor T. J. Jenney at Purdue University identified seven traits that measure your readiness for change.  Consider each of those traits described below.

  • Resourcefulness. Effective at utilizing whatever resources are available to develop plans and contingencies. See more than one way to achieve a goal; able to look in less obvious places to find help. Skilled at creating new ways to solve old problems
  • Optimism.  Recognize opportunities and possibilities; believe that things usually work out for the best. See the glass as half-full
  • Adventurousness.  An inclination to take risks and the desire to pursue the unknown. Drawn to a challenge.
  • Passion/Drive.  Believe nothing is impossible. Pursue change with intensity and determination. Energized by change. 
  • Adaptability.  Includes two elements: flexibility and resilience.  When something doesn't work out, they'll say, "Plan A doesn't work, let's go to Plan B." Rebound from adversity quickly with a minimum of trauma.
  • Confidence.  There is situational confidence ("I know I can swim across this channel, learn this program, write this report) and self-confidence ("I can handle whatever comes down the pike.").  Belief in one’s own ability to handle any situation.
  • Tolerance for Ambiguity. The one certainty surrounding change is uncertainty. No matter how carefully you plan it, there is always an element of ambiguity.  Create clarity and direction in the face of uncertainty.

If you’re really honest with yourself, how many of those traits would you count among your strengths?   Ideally, you will say all seven, but in reality you most likely have to develop your muscle on at least one or two.   For a more in-depth assessment you can find Dr. Jenney’s complete  Change-Readiness Assessment on-line.

The Journey of a Thousand Miles Begins with a Single Step
With all of these potential obstacles to change, you might wonder how any organization ever changes!   Seismic change begins with you and your first step.  Here are a few coaching tips to help you get started.     

  • Identify and overcome personal challenges to large-scale change.  You can’t lead change if you don’t deal with your own biases, doubts and insecurities about change and your ability to effect it. 
  • Recognize that change efforts will take longer than you anticipate.  Think in terms of years, not months.  Get comfortable with looking on the horizon for the results of successful change efforts. 
  • Address the human side of change.  The best plans and strategies have no meaning when very basic human emotions such as fear, confusion or resentment are not factored into the change equation.  
  • Over-communicate.  Communicating openly, honestly and often is your best antidote for resistance to change. 
  • Remember: what you measure is what you get.  Identify measurable outcomes and hold individuals and teams accountable for achieving them through incentives and rewards.

About Dr. Lois Frankel
Dr. Lois Frankel, founder and CEO of Corporate Coaching International, is a New York Times best-selling author and consultant to companies and firms such as ATT, Goldman Sachs, McKinsey, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Walt Disney and Warner Bros.  She will be the keynote speaker at CTHRA’s HR Symposium on October 2, 2018 in Philadelphia.  Register to attend!




HR Pulse is a bi-monthly resource published exclusively for the members of CTHRA.    [email protected]