Racers and Pacers

Jul 30, 2010 3 Comments by

Not all Change Agents need to be Racers

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.

Some Change Receivers respond better to a different pace...

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?

– Steve

Change Agent Skills, Change Communication, Change Execution, Change Leadership, Stakeholder Readiness, Team Dynamics

About the author

I help people and teams succeed with big changes... never a dull moment!

3 Responses to “Racers and Pacers”

  1. Steve says:

    Thanks for the comments Andy!
    I agree that change leaders need to work with all variety of personalities – and appeal to both the emotional and logical side of stakeholders. I’ve seen some pretty heavy-handed situations where the “boss” just tells the “peons” to get used to the new way things are going to be… Most of those resulted in either utter failure or what I call “malicious compliance” where people find elaborate ways to get around the change or sabotage it…

  2. Andrew Stevens says:


    Excellent analogies.

    Although some would argue that we live in an age of information, the counter arguement is people are always people regardless of a time and place. So with living in the age of information why would change not seem to occur faster? Why don’t people always just get on board with adequate information?

    The reason for some change failures or being postponed is the fact that when we deal with change, we are not dealing with simply new settings on a machine, or new business systems that are made more efficient on “upgrades” or different programming.

    Ultimately, the goal is adaptation to change in the people in the group that the change effects. This can come in a number of different scenarios, however they all deal with information and an understanding of people.

    We are not all logical and make decisions based on facts. Some make decisions based on feelings and emotions. Excellent leadership can identify with both the fact dispersment and the emotions of the people involved in the change through a stake holder analysis. Each different group of stakeholders will have subgroups of what the horizon is for adaptation, acceptance, or denial. Excellent leadership does this analysis naturally through their own intrinsic motivation.

    A leader then markets to both the logical and the emotional in the group in order to impliment the change. By not doing so means the difference between only some getting on board, and some being left behind.

    On the flip side, not all in the group can be racers, and not all can be pacers. It is the mix of both that makes a true change under the careful leadership of a leader that identifies with people and the psychology of getting the group on board! One important thing to identify with above is that classifying someone as a “racer” or a “pacer” is that individual people are very different from group psychology when implimenting a change.


  3. Me says:

    adjust or be left behind. ;)

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