I’m noticing a lot, that ‘change’ is talked about as if it’s a singular thing.

I’m sure you’ve heard statements like these:
“Nobody likes change.”
“People resist change.”
“People don’t change.”
[Putting aside the fact that “people” isn’t a universal constant – my undergrad philosophy and semantics professor would have a field day challenging such statements!]

“Change is hard.”
“Change is constant.”
“Change can’t be managed.”


What change are they talking about?

I believe more granularity is needed; the term “change” is too coarse to be helpful in conversations about leading, managing or designing change.

I’m evolving a list of ‘types’ that might enrich a conversation about change. The genesis of the list comes from my reflections about the change circumstances I have experienced, observed or participated in. These groupings emerged from that reflection.

The choice of words for the types, takes the perspective of the human (a person), not the perspective of an organisation. The examples are contexts in which an individual might experience the catalyst or act of change.

For this particular set of types, a key dimension is the kind of agency (or choices for action) an individual has for that type of change. For different kinds of agency, I posit there are different assumptions; and different strategies for action are indicated. (Fleshing out such thinking is part of the enriched conversation I seek!)

Type Description Context Examples Choices for action (Agency)
Imposed Done to me/us; without my consent Demotion; Redundancy; Eviction; Organisational restructure; Merger/Acquisition react to it; resist it; ignore it; adjust to it
Intervention Done to me/us; others want to stop a bad unacceptable thing Breach against policy; Criminal act; Substance abuse; Emergency adjust to it; accept it; negotiate it; fight it
Initiated Started by me/us; we want it Renovating a house; Having a baby; Resignation; Getting a new job; Building a business; Starting a grassroots movement; Retirement; Emigration enjoy it; lead it; guide/shape it
Invited Asked to participate; welcomed; with my consent Promotion; Workplace improvements; Innovating an idea; Immigration; Partnership accept/receive it; contribute to it; extend it; influence it; negotiate it
Incidental Random; un-anticipated Earthquake/Natural disaster; Lottery win; Accident/Illness adapt to it; mitigate for it; recover from it
Inevitable Normal course of events; anticipated; can’t avoid Aging; Puberty; Seasons; Enterprise growth stage prepare for it; adapt to it; delay it; hide it; seek it


Some of the examples above might fit into more than one type – it depends on perspective, e.g. A job promotion or partnership might be Invited or Initiated; a redundancy that is voluntary might be Invited, rather than the other kind which is typically Imposed.

There are, of course, other ways Change might be classified for better conversations (e.g. CONTEXT: Personal/Individual, Team, Organisational, Social.), but I’m starting small.

So that’s it. Enjoy musing and let me know what you think.

• What suggestions do you have for the next iteration?
• Might such a typology help change practitioners to better apply their tool-set, mindsets, knowledge and skill-sets?


Author: Helen Palmer is Founder and Principal Change Agent at Questo. Like Winnie the Pooh, she ‘sits and thinks’ … and imagines how people can have a better experience of work. She likes to share those thoughts with the possibility that they inspire and initiate meaningful change.

This post was simultaneously published on LinkedIn.

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3 Responses

  1. Great blog. It is important that all those involved in any change are able to acknowledge how others are perceiving the change too. Like the honesty in the descriptions and choices for action.

  2. I like the direction of your thinking Helen. Is it possible there are other types of change that only happen when we unlock them first?
    It seems your list is mainly reactionary except for “initiated” and maybe the action “prepare for”.
    Are their changes that occur after a period of study, or reflection? Changes that are possible because of an insight or even just new data or a shared viewpoint? Not just iniated, but discovered, maybe?

    • Hi Stu – thanks for reading and commenting on the post.
      There are very likely other types of change. This list came from what I had observed or experienced with respect to ‘agency’ and types of change. (i.e. I am a Change Agent/Agent of Change … so my agency with respect to a change is .)
      As I haven’t achieved omniscience :-) I anticipate there are other types to add to the list. Think of what I shared as a starting point to seed and stimulate a richer typology. Contributions welcomed!

      Changes that occurred after a period of study or reflection, receiving new data or insight, could be of the type ‘Initiated’ – because it is your choice to make the changes that were triggered by such activity or input.
      I wonder: is ‘discovered’ a catalyst for a particular change, or a type of change? Semantic thought exercise: “It was Discovered Change”?
      [Side bar: Playing with the alliteration of ‘I” … “Indicated”, “Illuminated” …]
      “Change” semantically is a noun and a verb, and has a different ‘reading’ when used as a noun than as a verb. The types I proposed lend themselves to the noun-variant, e.g. It was Incidental Change; It is Imposed Change; It will be Initiated Change; etc.
      The interpretation of the type of change comes from the perspective of who is describing the change with respect to what agency they have to that change: The Leader of an organisation = Initiated Change, but the people in the organisation = Imposed Change. The Leader might expect the type of agency from others that goes with Initiated Change, but its more realistic to expect agency of the type that comes from Imposed Change. Having said that – if the Leader positioned the change as Invited Change, then a different set of human agency could be more likely.

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