By Tracy C. F. Brown
Change style assessment creator Chris Musselwhite knows firsthand how personal change style preferences can not only make you more effective in times of crisis or change, they also can help you make better decisions on a daily basis.
“How people deal with change—creating it and responding to it—is a function of identifiable individual preferences,” says Musselwhite. “Depending on whether people see change as a danger, a challenge, or an opportunity, they have corresponding individual preferences that reflect their relationship and reaction to structure, rules, and authority when dealing and making decisions involving change.”
No one knows this better than consultant Stephanie Clohesy, of Clohesy Consulting. Before opening her own consulting firm, Clohesy made a career out of promoting positive change for the good of society, spending more than three decades working to improve the lives of others. Her work ranged from negotiating with governments on behalf of social scientists seeking to improve public policy to teaching democratic models of dialogue and problem-solving to women faced with rebuilding a civil society after war.
Now as a consultant, Clohesy has made it her job to help others in this important work. She does this through personal leadership and organizational development. In her work, she has utilized many tools and tactics to help her clients effectively facilitate positive change, but she readily admits that one tool stands out for its effectiveness: the Change Style Indicator®, an assessment tool she’s used consistently since first being introduced to it in the early ’90s during her work with AmeriCorps.
Developed by Musselwhite through his company, Discovery Learning, the Change Style Indicator (CSI) is an assessment instrument that identifies an individual’s preferred style and preferences when approaching change and dealing with situations involving change. Scores place individuals on a change style continuum, identifying them as being most like the incremental change-preferringConserver, or as more like the rapid change-seeking Originator. A third style, the Pragmatist, occupies the middle range of the continuum, reflecting the fact that most people exhibit a blend of Conserver-Pragmatist or Originator-Pragmatist in their change style behaviors and preferences.
Musselwhite notes that when used in a group, the CSI can identify factors that can impact a group or organization’s readiness to deal with and sustain change in times of rapid change.
“Knowing one’s own change style preferences allows individuals to work better when part of a team, creating more effective work processes, making better decisions, and delivering more satisfactory results. Likewise, understanding the change styles of others provides valuable insight into how best to gain their support and collaboration, which, in turn, enables leaders to better influence and guide others more effectively,” says Musselwhite.
Clohesy agrees. “When I used Change Style Indicator in the leadership development assessment process of AmeriCorps members, it generated a lot of good conversation along with greater self-awareness of personal traits and recognition of important traits in others,” she says. “When done in a group, it also raises interesting insights about cultural and experiential differences, helping to instantly build a kind of tolerance and rapport among people who may previously have been focused only on each other’s differences.”
Helping Philanthropists Make Better Decisions
Today, in the effort to help people with financial resources use them to do the most good, Clohesy is using the Change Style Indicator in a specific and unique context: donor education. Clohesy uses the assessment with philanthropists who come to her for guidance on their giving portfolios.
She began using the assessment for donor education as a result of her work with the Women’s Funding Network (WFN), a global network of about 150 women’s foundations for whom she designs and facilitates annual retreats for major donors.
“The retreats are structured to mix personal and professional, as well as rational and intuitive, approaches to making decisions about investing in the social good,” says Clohesy. “Although the design of the retreat changes each time it is hosted, the underlying purpose and goals remain essentially the same: to help women learn to give more strategically—to move from ‘nice’ giving decisions to more high-impact and satisfying giving choices.”
The focus of the retreats developed out of years of analyzing the giving portfolios of women philanthropists, many of whom recognized that although their giving mission statements expressed a desire for contributing to bigger, larger-scale change, they continued to naturally default to funding ideas and organizations that emphasized small-scale personal change.
In her effort to help her clients understand and get past this disconnect between stated preferences and actual giving, it dawned on Clohesy that a crucial piece of the puzzle is the deeply personal preference we all have about how we like change to happen—our change style.With this realization, Clohesy added the Change Style Indicator to the assessment process at the retreat five years ago, and has been using it to help donors ever since.
“During the retreat, participants learn about social change theory and methodologies, take a quiz to understand their own instinctive problem-solving preferences, and then analyze their giving portfolio,” says Clohesy. “After all that, they take the Change Style Indicator to find out more about their personal change style and see how it may be affecting their giving decisions. By looking at all the pieces of the puzzle—social change methodologies, personal giving preferences, and personal change style—many women experience ‘aha’ moments as they realize that both personal preferences and rational strategic approaches are necessary to give effectively and with a sense of personal joy and satisfaction. “
For example, according to Clohesy, if a woman discovers her change style is that of the incremental-change-loving Conserver but finds herself funding mostly systems change or high- engagement-style projects, she is likely to understand why she has been feeling dissatisfied or “out of place” with her own giving. Conversely, if she is more of an Originator and finds herself with a portfolio of projects and organizations helping individual people make incremental lifestyle changes, she gains insight about why she may feel impatient or disappointed with her giving decisions.
“My clients always tell me that that taking the Change Style Indicator pulls out some truths about how they function, and they are amazed at the useful personal insights gained from this simple assessment,” says Clohesy. “They come to realize that while creativity and innovation are inherent in all of the change styles, understanding your own change style and then intentionally deciding to flow with it or diverge from it, really does lead to better, more satisfying decision-making.”
Clohesy is interested in talking with other consultants who use the Change Style Indicator with wealth, philanthropy, and social change advisors. “I would enjoy talking to others who have used it successfully in specific contexts, especially in the social good context such as board, staff, and leadership development, says Clohesy, who can be reached at Stephanie@clohesyconsulting.com.
“From my own experience, I think the real value comes from using the Change Style Indicator in specific situations rather than in a random or open-ended way. One’s change preferences seem to mean more when put in context—such as in making critical decisions—and even more when individuals learn something about themselves first, and then share it with a group. In addition to creating self-awareness, this shared learning experience builds knowledge, wisdom, tolerance, and creativity among all the participants, and those are key ingredients for a successful group or individual effort, no matter what your goal.”
Tracy C. F. Brown is a freelancer who has written about leadership and organizational development since 1999. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.