The power of identity to influence change

Cartoon of businesspeople seated around a conference table; the leader is standing with raised fist. Caption reads "I don't want to change. I want all of you to change."There’s an often-overlooked factor that significantly influences how change works.


We all have a sense of identity – that’s not new news. But it’s not just us as individuals; it’s also teams, departments, and entire corporations, even very large and very small corporations.

This sense of identity is a powerful factor in how we – individually or as an organization – show up in the world, and it’s key to how, and even if, we adapt and change. And again, that applies to us as individuals as well as organizations.

There’s a lot of advice out there about how to communicate change. Most of it is about emphasizing the benefits, the positive outcomes, the ways in which everyone’s life will be better, the company will be more successful, customers will be happier, the culture will be delightful, and so on.

In other words, a lot of cheerleading and “rah-rah” enthusiasm.

It is, of course, important to make sure everyone understands the good things that the change is intended to bring about. Understanding the goal of the change and the reasons why it’s important helps get people on board and participating.

But especially in today’s work environment, where employees want to believe in the company they work for and want to feel a sense of purpose in the work they do, if you don’t let them know how the underlying identity of the company will stay consistent, will continue, they are very likely to resist.

Present the change as an enhancement of an existing identity, an evolutionary step forward, whilst retaining that basic sense of who we are at the core, and you’ll reassure your people that the change isn’t going to tear that away from them.

Well-known author, speaker, and organizational psychologist Adam Grant put it this way:

“Research shows that when people are resistant to change, it helps to reinforce what will stay the same. Visions for change are more compelling when they include visions of continuity. Although our strategy might evolve, our identity will endure.”

This question of identity isn’t as simple as all this might imply. There are other considerations, including an unhelpful commitment to a fixed or unrealistic identity, that can create resistance and frustration. But if we start here, with this sense of a need for continuity in the midst of change and transformation, we’ve gone further than many in helping our people move through the challenges of change.

Identity and change goes further than I can outline in these brief articles. In fact, identity is just one of the three imperatives of change, along with neuroscience and environment. Want to learn more? Contact me and we’ll set a time to talk about it.