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PERSONALITY: Your Personality Determines How You React to Change

When we train leaders on change management, one of the tasks for them to complete is a change personality assessment*. The tool identifies three types of personality preferences and how each responds to change.

The first personality type is the Conserver, an individual who is very disciplined and organized and prefers change that maintains the current structure. If the change is going to mean an overhaul of structure — for example: from a top-down hierarchical structure to a flat, lean structure — this individual will struggle with the inherent upheaval within the process. Conversers see “the roots,” focusing on details and routine. They like predictability and consistency and are slow to be convinced of the need for change. My experience is that many operators, technicians, and others who perform specific daily tasks often are conservers in their change preference.

The second type is the Pragmatist, those who don’t mind change as long as it will produce the expected results. They are practical, agreeable and flexible by nature, open to both sides of an argument. Pragmatists see “the trees” in the change process and can quickly assess whether the change initiative is doable or not. In my experience, they can just as easily be persuaded to follow the resistance, if the change doesn’t seem headed for success. As I think about this particular type, it reminds me of how important it is to have early wins in the change process. The team-oriented pragmatist will form a counter-team if the change isn’t being lead well. On the other hand, the pragmatist can be extremely valuable to the change process because the individual can provide the nuts-and-bolts to get the change implemented. Many of these people are middle-level supervisors and managers and, to my mind, are not included early enough in the change process.

The third type is the Originator, an individual who focuses on the larger “forest” and is visionary and strategic in his or her thinking. Originators are often unconventional and spontaneous and like to challenge the current structure. They enjoy risk and uncertainty and don’t mind upsetting accepted policies and procedures. Depending upon the degree of preference, the originator style can be difficult for the other styles to accept, unless the originator has positional power — such as a CEO or executive director — where originator thinking is needed. Originators often see the change in their minds as complete and struggle with why it’s taking everyone else so long to get on board.

Recently we trained two groups of mid-level scientists on change and most scored high on pragmatist as their preferred style. We started talking about how the pragmatist would need to flex to the conserver  style (e.g. slow the process down, break the change into smaller units, identify what isn’t changing) as well as to the originator style (e.g. be open to fresh ideas, go off-tangent a bit, welcome challenging feedback) when the need arises.

Understanding how we react to change is such a valuable tool for any change champion, not only to understand oneself, but also to recognize that people whom we may think of as resisting, are simply demonstrating a different preference for change. I’d like to hear your thoughts about styles and change. Who are you — a conserver, pragmatist or originator? What has been your experience working with different styles?  

Which would you say you are?  How does that influence your change management at work?  What is the rest of your team composed of?


*Change Style Indicator by Discovery Learning, 336-272-9530

  • Can I be two? I don’t change well and I know that, but I also recognize the need for change and then become the originator as I am a control person. Having recognized the need and rationale for change, then let’s stop talking about it and get moving. Is it possible to fall into two categories? As you can see, this was quite a fascinating read for me. Both of my jobs have been ones with LOTS of control for me; I did 31 years as a primary teacher and now 9 as a retail manager. Would love to hear if other readers think it possible to fall into two categories!

  • Hi Judith,
    I don’t like being pigeon-holed to one either – in theory we want to be the best of all of those – it’s in practice we see where we fall most of the time that makes us that trait

  • So continue…where do you fall? I am fully aware of my strengths AND weaknesses as an employee and as a member of a professional team. Wouldn’t it be dull if we were all the same???

  • Great post! Just wanted to let you know you have a new subscriber- me!

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