People Won’t Change. Embrace it in Your Business.

Years ago I learned a management lesson that carries over nicely into marketing.

Don’t count on people to change.

It’s not cynicism, I promise. This is an eye-opening a-ha that will change how you work with your clients, your coworkers, and your audience.

Yes, people do adopt new habits and find tools to help them in their productivity. There are even those that have life-changing breakthroughs. You can make arguments to counter me, and you’ll be right. People do change. They just won’t do it on your schedule.

In the workplace, this can be a frustrating truth. No matter how much they’ve gotten warnings (usually through a well-crafted raised eyebrow) Chris won’t show up on time for meetings. Jordan hums while working. Stash barks at every person who walks through the door.


Sorry, this is Stash. In all fairness, he does work at SpyFu.

Stash the office dog


Embrace it.

Assume that people are not going to change on your schedule. Instead, control what you can. Turn your perspective into a confident view that “I know that Chris is not going to change.”

Unclench your jaw. Say it again. “Huh. Chris is not going to change.” That’s the start. Your frustration won’t burn such a big hole any longer because trying to solve the showing-up-late habit is not your burden to bear.

It’s not on you to change Chris. Instead, change how you react. Start the meeting anyway. Chris is required for that meeting to start? Start with what you think you need to cover–list out what you hope to accomplish–and save questions.


A designer I work with does not take notes on revisions we ask for. She just doesn’t have that habit–good or bad–and instead relies on memory. Occasionally things get missed. She isn’t happy when that happens, but that doesn’t mean she’s going to magically start taking notes. I have to be OK with that.

The outcome I do care about is having a well-done project that includes every revision we asked for.

I started sending her my notes from the project review adding “I thought you might find this recap helpful.” I was hesitant the first time, wondering if she’d be offended. She told me instead that she appreciates the help. Not only do all of my edits make it into the project in one iteration, but it relieves any personal tension I might have had, worrying that things weren’t going to get done.

Some of you might cringe at the idea of rewarding behavior that drives you nuts. The point here is to let it go. These actions are for you. Accepting this “no change” status turns a point of constant struggle into a non-issue.


Carry this into your business

Make this part of your marketing and business practices, too. All that work you put your long landing page copy doesn’t change the fact that your customers won’t read it. They won’t change just because you worked hard. Give them other options. Break up important points into more digestible segments or different formats (like video).

Customers don’t always speak marketing language, and they won’t adopt flowery language no matter how hard to try to train them.

When the city of Phoenix first offered residents a chance to pay their water and sewer bill online, the link was on the city’s home page, but few could find it. That’s because the link read “pay your municipal services,” and those skimming the buttons never clicked with that odd language. People weren’t going to change. They considered it “water and sewer,” not “municipal services.”

Contrast that with the city of Dallas who not only have a simple “pay” button on their homepage, but the options are in clear customer speak.


Way to go, Big D!
Way to go, Big D!


Look at what people are searching on your site, and take note of what your customers call your products or services. Embrace those terms in your ads and on your page links instead of asking visitors to change. Forcing them to fit your mold is going to be time wasted.


Patterns tell the truth

You are always going to have that one customer who asked you about your cancellation policy even though you put it clearly on your site. It happens. However, when many customers ask about something that you think is clear, look at that pattern as a truth-teller: they aren’t reading it.

No matter how right you are, no matter how much you think they should find your policy–your customers aren’t doing what you want them to do, and it’s not their job to change.

Let the patterns convince you. If your customers continue to ask the same questions, find a new way to answer them. Offer visuals. Place the answer in more than one place. Change where you put it in the process. I heard once that a site shouldn’t need an FAQ. I don’t know if I agree, but the reasoning stuck with me: if those questions truly are being asked so frequently, then you’ve got a content and navigation issue. In other words, make the answers available before people ask.


Make it a guiding rule in your marketing

Make note of what your customers already do and don’t do: (they don’t scroll past a certain point on your site, they miss the main entrance, they push the wrong option on the automated phone system, etc.). Turn those into rules that guide you.

When it’s time to make decisions about the new onboarding system or creating the layout of your landing page, rely on these truths to keep you focused.


Your clients won’t change either

Your clients will not send you the approved revisions before your deadline. They will continue to answer the first 2 questions in your list of 3 that you emailed to them and leave the 3rd one just dangling with no reply. You can try reminders, follow-ups, and incentives. Those are great practices. Adopt the outlook that these habits are part of working with that client. Don’t expect them to change, but instead look for ways to work with these habits–not against them.


Fighting it gets you nowhere

One of my favorite management books “First Break All the Rules” urges you to reject the idea  that people can be fixed. Manage to their strengths instead, and work around their weaknesses. Getting angsty about something that you want to change in someone else (when they don’t) is non-productive and weighs you down with unnecessary stress.

This is part of a bigger story of human nature and spinning your wheels. It’s a valuable lesson in life that grounds us when we’re making decisions in business, too.

As a recovering control freak, this was a really difficult thing for me to embrace. I felt like I’d be rewarding someone’s “bad habits” and being a doormat. But what would you do differently?

Threaten them? Incentivize them?

Bobs Burgers Complain the Whole Time

In most cases, neither of those paths would have had a long-term effect on someone’s natural wiring.

Telling yourself “I can’t count on them to change” is liberating. It takes away that question of whether *this* will be the time they finally do what I want. Even if it wasn’t weighing on you all the time, that small lift can only help your energy. Focus on what you can change for the better.

Oh, and if you visit SpyFu in person, don’t mind the barking. He’s not gonna change.


  • Ryan Cunningham


    Fantastic blog post and one that all should pay attention to, sometimes re-inventing the wheel is not needed. A different approach and knowing the signs, and how to qualify those makes life easier. Your post was a breath of fresh air. Very good read. Thank you.

    • AgentSidra

      Thanks, Ryan! You’re right that it’s fairly simple in concept, just tough to try for the first time.

  • albinocombino

    Hey. Interesting post, and as most good post it gives more questions than answers 🙂
    in my company the team leader always try something new, e.g. read a book, and the whole team has to try the new approach, went to a conference and heard something ‘amazing’ … I know she just want to make us better, but can we be better? I mean some people are lazy as f… some people dont like to talk with customers, some are shy etc.

    in your opinion, should she try to force people to change? (sometimes its not radical change, just new methods)

    • AgentSidra

      Yep, I’ve been in your shoes. It’s tough to be the guinea pig for improvement-technique-of-the-month. Your team leader isn’t going to get any traction trying to get people to change–a huge reason she’s probably grasping at a string of new approaches since nothing else is working. It sounds like some people are in a job that isn’t the right fit for them. For those that are in the right job and can use a jolt of energy from new perspectives, I’d ask “why not?”

  • Donna

    Awesome post. I only learned this recently at 54 years old. I am exhausted. Wish I had my a ha moment at 25.

    • AgentSidra

      Thanks, Donna. At least you had that moment, right? I’ll take an a-ha at 54 over a lifetime of struggling to change people. 🙂