My wife and I often go for a walk in the evening after dinner. During summer in Florida it’s hard to get out for exercise any other time because of the blazing sun and high humidity. Tonight’s walk got me thinking about how it’s often necessary to pick two kinds of Change Agents when tackling significant organizational change: Racers and Pacers.
My wife is a fast walker. I prefer running to walking, but when I walk, I like to saunter, so we often find ourselves adjusting our pace in order to maintain a conversation.
When it comes to picking Change Agents, one lesson I’ve learned is that everyone adapts to change at a different pace. Most Change Receivers can benefit from the guidance and empathy of a Change Agent who understands their situation and draws them gradually toward a decision to support or reject the change. One source of that empathy is the ability to identify with the other person’s thought process.
So in order to meet the variety of Receiver types, consider having a few Change Agents who are hard-charging Early Adopters. These folks can relate to the innovators within your stakeholder group and even challenge these Receivers to get involved in the change. These “Racers” often want to run ahead of the pack when it comes to adoption. Some even see it as a chance to stand out and be identified for more challenging roles.
Some of your stakeholders will simply not be equipped to get to where you need them to be as fast as the Racers or Early Adopters. Believe it or not, that’s typically OK as long as you can still meet the business timelines of the change. But it’s not OK to assume that everyone can adapt as fast as your fastest Receivers.
For these folks who are “late to join the majority”, I have found that it often works best to pair them with a different style of Change Agent I call a Pacer. Pacers were once Receivers who didn’t buy into the change right away, but had to warm up to the idea over time. Pacers can identify with the stakeholder reluctance that is often labeled with the over-simplified title of “resistance to change”.
Pacers gently nudge “Laggers” based on a common experience and a common perspective. However, Pacers don’t give in to the urge to commiserate about the difficulty of change, reminisce about the old way of doing things or condone an all-out refusal by these holdouts to make a decision regarding adopting or rejecting the change. Pacers simply take a more slow and steady approach to helping them get there.
So what has been your experience with Racers and Pacers?
– Have you ever been part of a change where the boss rushed the process by telling staff to “just get over it and accept the change already”?
– Have you been involved in a change where everyone waited for a Racer to run ahead of the group just to verify it was safe?
– Have you ever seen the case where there were no Pacers and too many Racers – so the pace of change was just too fast and people got left behind?