Change happens… how do I manage this?

Written by Nic Dampier

Long exposure of modern warehouse interior with motion blur of workers and machinery

Your CEO has announced a company-wide restructuring – and your role is one of many affected.

If you’re like most people, the thoughts running through your head at this moment sound like this:

  • What does this mean for me?
  • How will my role change?
  • What if I can’t adjust to the new changes? 
  • What if I can’t work well with my new manager/team?
  • What if I don’t do well in my new role? 

If you find yourself having these thoughts and more, keep calm and take a deep breath – it’s a perfectly normal and natural reaction to change. Change, whether in our professional or personal lives, represents a departure from the familiar. Our brains are wired to react to the unknown with caution, so it’s understandable that our initial reactions include emotions such as anxiety or apprehension when it comes to major changes at work.

Conversely, if you’re an employer who’s making the changes, recognize that these are the expected reactions your employees will go through. Addressing your employees’ fears of uncertainty and managing them through the transition process is an essential part of successful change management. If you fail to get employee buy-in on the change process, you risk facing disengagement, decreased productivity, and worse still – an increased turnover.

To ensure your employees remain on board and supportive throughout the entire change process, you need to be aware of the various ways individuals respond to change, and how to collaborate with each change response style. Aligning your approach with these styles will help you plan your implementation strategy more effectively, ensuring that the change you want happens without any setbacks.

The Different Change Styles and How to Lead Them Through Change

The first step to managing change is by recognizing your own change style. How do you handle change? Is your initial reaction to resist, or do you find yourself excited about it?

Ultimately, every change initiative requires you to look at it from a personal level, as change only happens when individuals themselves alter their behaviors. Understanding how you yourself handle change can reveal insights into how to better support and facilitate change in others.

Individuals typically fall into one of these four categories: Sympathizers, Explorers, Questioners, and Spectators, where each group reflects distinct characteristics and attitudes toward change. Each has its own unique strengths and challenges, and learning how to collaborate with each style allows you to tailor change management strategies, communication, and support mechanisms accordingly.


  1. Sympathizers: “Change Happens” 

Individuals who fall into this category see change as positive and inevitable but are often uncomfortable with it. While they won’t initiate the change, they won’t resist it either or will go along with the initiative out of loyalty to others involved. They will face their difficulties cheerfully but will fall back on using old and familiar methods rather than trying something new.

If You’re a Sympathizer: One tip to help you adapt to change better is to make sure you understand what you need to do to make the change happen.

Collaborating with Sympathizers: If you’re leading sympathizers, identify these individuals as valuable cheerleaders to propel and support the change. Involve them early in the process and encourage them to explore new approaches. Leveraging their positive attitude and loyalty can help the whole team or company move forward.


  1. Explorers: “I Love Change”

As the name implies, explorers are curious and open-minded, approaching change with a sense of adventure. They view change as an ongoing process and work hard to incorporate it into their daily responsibilities.

If You’re an Explorer: Congratulations! You’re highly capable of adapting to change and embracing new ways to overcome challenges. You take the initiative to understand the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of change rather than blindly accepting it. However, understand that others may not be as quick to accept change as you – you need to give them time to adapt!

Collaborating with Explorers:  When working with these individuals, remember to always provide them with a clear vision and engage them throughout the entire initiative. Ensure that you provide enough structure to control any overly enthusiastic explorers from running ahead of the game.

  1. Questioners: “Resist Change”

Questioners tend to approach change with a healthy dose of skepticism, viewing it as a negative process. They try to avoid or eliminate change by loudly and repeatedly questioning the need for it. Their first reaction is to fight or resist the change, and they work hard to demonstrate that the change is not necessary, acceptable, or even possible.

If You’re a Questioner: Recognize that this resistance is your natural response to guarding yourself against the uncertainty of unnecessary changes. Nevertheless, while it’s good to question the validity of a change initiative, the trick is to not constantly criticize but to seek information that helps you move forward.

Collaborating with Questioners: If you’re leading questioners, you may find them challenging at first. Learn to reframe your mindset – these questioners may have valuable insights that can adjust the way you approach the initiative! Actively listen to their concerns and involve them early in the decision-making process to convert them and gain their buy-in.

  1. Spectators: “Ignore Change”

Last, but not least, you have the spectators – those who sit back and watch from the sidelines. Unlike the more proactive styles above, spectators passively accept the change but make little or no progress toward its implementation. They view change as an uncontrollable, negative process, and prefer to survive the process by keeping a low profile and sticking with the familiar.

If You’re a Spectator: Learn to take constructive action toward implementing a change. Ask questions to gain clarity on the ‘why’ and ‘how’ of a change, and then set yourself manageable goals to implement it.

Collaborating with Spectators: Recognize spectators’ need to hang on to familiar, proven ways and help them make connections between the old and the new. Reinforce consistencies and reassure them of things that will remain the same.

To put it simply, guiding yourself and others through change involves delving into a personal understanding of feelings concerning the change and its potential impact. When employees struggle with emotions like uncertainty or fear, it often leads to increased resistance. On the other hand, when employees feel that their concerns are perspectives are acknowledged and validated, they become more inclined to engage positively with the change process. Learning how you yourself handle change, as well as learning how to collaborate with each change style, equips you for greater success in change management.

The Five Phases of Change

When you lead your team through change, it’s crucial to provide a clear vision for the initiative where you outline the benefits and address potential concerns. Of course, in instances such countrywide Covid-19 lockdowns where changes are unforeseen and forced upon you, taking a well-planned and structured approach may be out of the question. However, if the change is initiated by choice, then adopting a proactive and organized approach can help your team stay informed, motivated, and supported throughout the process.

A comprehensive change management process includes the following five phases:


  1. Identify

In this stage, identify the need for the change by pinpointing the reasons behind it. What’s prompting the need for this change? Is there any evidence or data that supports the need for this initiative?

Before proposing any changes, take the time to consider the potential impact on your employees. When faced with too many changes over a short period, individuals may experience a state of mental and emotional exhaustion, otherwise known as change fatigue.

To avoid the risk of fatigue, analyze how the proposed changes will affect your team. Evaluate factors such as the size, difficulty, complexity, number of concurrent changes, and duration of the initiative. Additionally, assess external obstacles that might play a role, such as economic conditions or timing. When conducting a fatigue analysis, always these three questions in mind:

Why the change? Who does it impact? What does it impact?

Remaining mindful of these questions will assist you in making a well-informed decision regarding the current necessity of the proposed change.


  1. Plan

Here, detailed planning and preparation take place to ensure the successful implementation of the change initiative. This stage involves creating a comprehensive roadmap that outlines the plans needed to execute the change in a step-by-step approach.

Under this stage, three main strategies come into focus:

  1. Communication Plan:Have you thought about how you will communicate the change to your team or the rest of the organization? Sending just an email may not be sufficient, as it doesn’t encourage an open channel for people to ask you questions, or for you to explain the ‘why’ of the change. If opting for a meeting, then evaluate whether the best option to communicate is in-person or virtually.
  2. Implementation Plan:How are you going to implement the changes over 30, 60, or even 90 days? What steps, strategies, or resources will you need to put in place during this time?
  3. Training Plan:How will you train others to follow along with the implementation steps? What additional resources will you need to make sure your employees follow along and don’t get left behind?

Having the three plans above will go a long way in ensuring that your change initiatives can progress without any unforeseen hiccups.

  1. Communicate

Don’t ever be afraid to overcommunicate the messaging of the change. Employees need more information than what is just ‘need to know’. When you lay out a comprehensive communication plan, you ensure that everyone in the organization is on the same page, understands the reasons behind the change, and has an avenue to seek clarification. Overcommunicating, rather than undercommunicating, helps create buy-in, address concerns, and provide clarity to ensure everyone is prepared for the upcoming change.

  1. Implement

This is where the actual change begins! If you’ve taken the time and care to complete the three steps above, your employees will be well-equipped to handle the transition when it comes into effect.

During this time, you need everyone’s support to move the change forward – and that involves collaborating with the Sympathizers, Explorers, Questioners, and Spectators. Remember to adjust your approach when engaging with each style to help you propel and sustain the change.

  1. Evaluate & Reinforce

Often the forgotten step, this stage will either make or break your initiative. Once the change has been implemented, regularly monitor and evaluate its effectiveness by gathering feedback and making necessary adjustments. If this stage is overlooked, the change may not be sustainable as areas of improvement are ignored.

Moreover, using positive reinforcement for the change can contribute to solidifying the adoption of new expected behaviors and norms. By consistently communicating about the benefits, milestones, and achievements of the change, you guarantee the success of your change initiative.

Embrace Change with Frontline

We all know that change is the only constant, and there’s no way of avoiding it at times. Whether the change is forced upon you or initiated by choice, employees will still go through a full range of emotions ranging from anxiety and frustration to excitement. Being able to manage these emotions is a fundamental aspect of leadership, one that requires a deep understanding of individual change styles, collaborative strategies, and structured change management processes.

To learn more about how change impacts your employees and to explore ways to address it, check out our free webinar. Or contact us at Frontline for more insights on how we can assist you in making informed decisions regarding change initiatives. Our goal is to ensure that no one on your team gets left behind but instead learns to thrive in a culture of resilience and continuous improvement.

If you are a leader responsible for managing some form of change within your organization, consider Leading Change training by Frontline!

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About the Author

Nic Dampier

Nic Dampier understands the value of good storytelling and the impact this has on brand identity and community. As the Director of Marketing for Express Employment Professionals of Grand Rapids, as well as Frontline Training Solutions and the Grand Rapids, Michigan location of Specialized Recruiting Group, he is responsible for the strategic direction, vision, and branding of all marketing and communication initiatives. He has a passion for storytelling with excellence and helping brands become scalable and sustainable. Nic is a graduate of Mississippi State University with a Degree in Strategic Communication Management and is focused on developing brand strategy that cuts through the noise by following a communication filter he designed called C.R.I.C.K.E.T., which stands for brand messaging that is Clear, Relatable, Intentional, Consistent, Kinetic, Engaging, and Truthful. Nic is also a veteran of the United States Navy, where he served as a Religious Program Specialist Petty Officer Second Class immersed in the middle east culture learning how to communicate across cultural boundaries. After the Navy, he spent a decade serving as a Creative Arts Pastor for a large multi-site church network telling stories of the church and directing the production/music experience for thousands of people in person and online. He is an accomplished destination wedding and brand filmmaker of 13 years. Most recently he was featured in the 2021 ArtPrize International Art Competition as a “must see,” by local news where he won 97 individual fan-favorite awards for his entry featuring 19 stories overcoming various adversity and struggles like homelessness, alcoholism, and prison through…