Knowing Workers' Change Styles

April 9, 2002 ( - When it comes to thriving in a marketplace that seems to recreate itself all the time, top executives can rest assured that most managers welcome workplace change.

That was one result of a survey by Discovery Learning, a training products developer, of manager behaviors in the workplace.

Discovery Learning classified respondents along a three-part continuum:

  • originators who welcome dramatic change
  • conservers who are comfortable with gradual change
  • pragmatists who most heavily support changes that solve current problems

More than half of the managers surveyed scored in the pragmatist range, 26% were in the originator range and 22% were classified as conservers.
Results also show that:

  • men are much more likely than women to be originators, by a 5% margin,
  • women are much more likely to be conservers than men, 27% compared to 17%,
  • the communications industry had the heaviest percentage of pragmatists at 71% and the fewest conservers at 11%,
  • the petroleum industry shows the fewest number of originators, and
  • the real change agents, or originators, among the professions were soldiers at 46%, school principals at 42%, and business consultants at 40%.

Furthermore, Baby Boomers were the age group that had the most change agents, with 33% of originators while Gen Xers had 26% originators. A little over a quarter of those born during the depression and after World War II were originators

Generally, researchers said, managers would do well to understand the different ways people react to change. For example, they said, a worker who fights change may actually be strongly devoted to the company.

The survey covered more than 5,000 mid-to-upper level managers nationally, contacted between 1996 and 2001.