Return to MAIN (index) page Return to ASPECTS of LEARNING page Change agents

In whatever context we operate, change is an inescapable feature.  How we respond to change - as individuals, teams and organisations - affects our capacity to survive, to develop and to thrive in that context.  A major factor in the effective implementation and embedding of change is the response of the people it involves.  Whereas the term change agent is usually used in a positive sense to identify those who are keen to drive, manage or respond to change, it could be used equally appropriately to refer to those whose responses to change are more negative.


Featured below are some of the responses to change that may be encountered (with reference to Honey & Mumford's learning styles.)






Innovators do not merely respond to change - they are accutely aware of the need to constantly review and revise products and processes in the light of the changing needs of circumstances, clients and customers.  Innovators are visionaries who see new possibilities, thinking creatively to synthesise new products, processes and methodologies.


Innovators are ideas people.  However, it should not be assumed that all new ideas are necessarily good ideas.  (Remember, ideas people rarely lay claim to coming up with a bad idea.)  Activist innovators are likely to need the back up of a pragmatist to work out the practical implementation (the nuts and bolts); as well as the theorist's attention to detail (including the paperwork); and of the reflector's critical evaluation skills (to see whether it truly was a good idea.)


It is not only activists who are capable of innovation. Pragmatists are likely to discover new products and processes as a result of tinkering Reflectors can be similarly innovative as a result of their inclination to evaluate.  These might more properly be referred to as IMPROVERS.


Reflector innovators can be slow starters, lacking the immediacy of the activist innovator, and will usually benefit from the enthusiasm of an activist to drive the change process.  Although their innovations may be fewer in number, they are probably more likely to succeed.






Inspirers not only embrace change but have the capacity to enthuse and motivate others to do the same.  They are often visionaries who can see the bigger picture.  Consequently, they see themselves as not merely laying bricks but building cathedrals. Activists often portray this enthusiasm - but colleagues can be discouraged by previous negative experience of over-enthusiastic initiatives that failed to deliver.  It is not enough to enthuse - one also has to come up with the goods.


Theorist inspirers are more likely to see the bigger picture from different perspectives - thus ensuring that the team and specific individuals are not merely subsumed into something of no personal relevance.


Pragmatist inspirers are more likely to appeal to those involved in the practical (front end) delivery of the new product or process - because their enthusiasm is directed to how it can be achieved.






Instigators also embrace change but tend to influence colleagues not so much by envisioning them but by persuading them of the usefulness, feasibility or practicality of the change.  Theorists and pragmatists fit more readily into this role - as they are more likely to focus less on the end product and more on the means of achieving it.


Instigators are good at getting projects under way - and of seeing them through to completion.






Imposers introduce new ways of doing things by edict.  They make little attempt to get colleagues on board by enthusing them - often because they are not themselves enthusiasts.  This may be for a variety of reasons, including not fully appreciating the need for change or not fully understanding the necessary change process.  They have a tendency to enforce compliance - using status or threat (overt or implied) - and are often supported by a team of INSPECTORS ( a sub-category of Imposers).  Imposers may be activists (who have responded superficially without any real depth of comprehension).  They may be reflectors who are not persuaded of the efficacy or value of the change.  They may also be theorists or pragmatists with under-developed people management skills - for whom procedures assume importance over personnel.


Imposers often betray a negative leadership style that seeks to control rather than convince.  Under imposers, change will happen but will invariably be adhered to superficially.






Implementers have a pragmatic approach insofar as they recognise that change is a necessity.  They may or may not be persuaded of the importance of any specific change - but rather than fight it, they go with the flow.  Implementers are prepared to be the do-ers.  They are the (often-unrecognised) backbone of any organisation.  They are likely to be pragmatists who relish the practical challenge of achieving a particular outcome.






These are often seen as the dinosaurs of any organisation.  Often (although not necessarily) they do a good job but have become set in their ways and are not keen to move out of their comfort zone.  They may dig in their heels and continue to do things in the way they have always done them.


The Immutable may be reflectors who need time to think things through before jumping on bandwagons.  If the change proves to be a useful one, they will eventually come around to the new way of doing things.


The Immutable may be theorists -with an inclination towards doing things the way they always have - even to the point of obsession.  These i-dotters and t-crossers find it difficult to unlearn old habits, especially where they have proved to be efficacious.






Impeders not only resist becoming involved in change personally - but they will also try to dissuade others from involvement.  This may take the form of non-cooperation, resulting in dependent colleagues being unable to fulfil their obligations.  It may take the form of deliberate attempts to sabotage the efforts of others.  The attitude of the impeder may result from resentment (against the organisation or individuals within it) or it may stem from a deep-seated fear of change.






There are countless other responses to change - including the IMPETUOUS (enthusiastic implementers who will jump on any passing bandwagon, regardless of its relevance), the IMPS (a deceptively light-hearted variant of the impeder, who will respond to any attempts to do things differently in a spirit of playful criticism)  and the IMPOSTERS (who maintain that they are implementing new processes - but who are consistent ineffective in so doing.)


It is the task of the effective manager to be aware of their own attitude as a change agent and how this affects the members of their team.  They must also recognise in their team the traits exhibited by individual members in order to take appropriate measures that will not merely facilitate specific changes - but also foster a positive long-term attitude to change.


Adair has also suggested that a deciding factor between good managers and good leaders is how they respond to change.  Managers cope with how things are – they maintain the status quo … but “change throws up the need for leaders.” (Adair, J. (2003) The Inspirational Leader. London; Kogan-Page. p.65)