Why Won’t Cross-Sectional Teams Adopt Change? The Technology Adoption Lifecycle.

By starting a fire and carefully kindling it, you can roll out a change at your firm with much less effort.

Let’s say you have a change coming up for your users. It could be something practical, like an update to your billing system. You’ve already decided that this change is worth it: decreasing missed revenue and speeding up accurate billing reports. But the update will require your users to work in a different way. Do you dread holding everyone’s hand through the roll-out? Why can’t your users just follow your instructions? Will this take more effort than it has to? How can you make this easier on everyone, not the least you?

Take a moment aside to think of your most troublesome user. How do they react when posed with a change? Now think about the user who picks up changes faster than you think is prudent. How are they different? Who else resists change or eagerly pounces on it? More than likely, your users’ perspectives on change reflect deep personality traits. Do you consider these traits when you roll out a change?

This gets at an idea called the technology adoption life-cycle. In the late 1950’s, Joe Bolen, George Beal, and Everett Rogers at Iowa State University researched how farmers adopt new ideas. They called it the diffusion process. If you think farmers are nothing like you, think again–they cultivate an investment today or go hungry tomorrow. Later, researchers identified five distinct personality profiles shared by major groups and determined that members look most strongly within their group for ideas to adopt:

  1. Innovators: Enthusiasts
  2. Early Adopters: Visionaries
  3. Early Majority: Pragmatists
  4. Late Majority: Conservatives
  5. Laggards: Skeptics

Think of a bell curve across these groups to grasp the portions. In the early 1990’s, Geoffrey A. Moore developed this idea further within startups in a book called Crossing the Chasm. It remains a useful text, even if you can’t recall the examples. He focused on discontinuous changes – those that cause people to alter their behavior, like your billing system update.

Technology-Adoption-Lifecycle

I believe that you can apply this model to shorten the time it takes to get your firm on board with changes being implemented. How? By speaking differently to the concerns of each group.

If you don’t answer my questions first, I’m not receptive to the rest of your ideas. But if you address my needs, I’ll listen further.

Imagine being each of the people below:

  • Innovators: Tech Enthusiasts
    • Volunteers to try out new tools; gives detailed feedback even if the tools aren’t ready
    • Wants: the truth with no tricks, to be the first, affirmation that their feedback is used, and support from a tech expert
    • Usually lacks buying power; price should be someone else’s concern
    • Let them play
  • Early Adopters: Visionaries
    • Driven by a dream of change: a business goal, not a tech goal
    • Driven by personal recognition; will move to the next project quickly
    • Willing to act as a visible reference on first-time projects
    • Least concerned with price, since this is just the tip of the iceberg
    • Hard to please since they’re buying a dream; manage their expectations
    • Overlooked as a source of seed funding
    • Paint a picture
  • Early Majority: Pragmatists
    • Values productivity: incremental, measurable, predictable business progress
    • In it for the long haul
    • “Pioneers are people with arrows in their back”, “let somebody else fix your change”
    • Will pay for service, quality, support, integration, standards, and reliability
    • Show how you can improve their day
  • Late Majority: Conservatives
    • Prefers tradition to progress; stick with things that work
    • Change should be simple, cheap, and not an interruption
    • Point out pragmatists who didn’t get stung
  • Laggards: Skeptics
    • Only blocks change; isolate them
    • Doubts that the change will bring the promised returns
    • Neutralize them with the big picture gain for your whole firm, not just this change
    • Fortunately, few in number

Go at them one at a time. Some groups influence others and you can use this influence to build a beachhead, getting strong adoption among innovators and then moving on to the next group, early adopters. Word of mouth from pragmatists may amplify your message to conservatives. You can build momentum and get more for your scarce time.

If it works for the person I respect, it will work for me.

So, where do you begin? Show your change to innovators at your firm, first. Let them work it out in practice. Avoid teams made of cross-sections of your entire firm, since the negative comments from laggards will sink your idea. Go in phases–form a pilot group of innovators and perfect your idea then, paint a picture of your vision to early adopters. They’re thirsty for change.

There will come a point when you’re ready to jump to the mainstream with pragmatists, but remember, they won’t value change for its own sake like the early adopters. Instead, they’ll invest in productivity gains. So focus on the early majority one small team at a time with overwhelming service. Their positive reviews will mean something to the late majority too. And just let go of the laggards, like the wisdom of the old serenity prayer. Provided you’ve done your work with the innovators, early adopters, and conservatives, the laggards will no longer have the power or influence to derail the changes you’re implementing.

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2 thoughts on “Why Won’t Cross-Sectional Teams Adopt Change? The Technology Adoption Lifecycle.

  1. Pingback: Keeping Projects on Budget | Algonquin Studios Blog

  2. Pingback: Are Smartphones Becoming Stale? The Rise of Wearable Technology | Algonquin Studios Blog

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