Driving Change Based on the Diffusion of Innovators

“We are chameleons, and our partialities and prejudices change place with an easy and blesses facility, and we are soon wonted to the change and happy in it.”  ~Mark Twain

For as long as I’ve been working, and I know much longer than that, there has been talk of how to change and evolve the workplace.  I guess it is human nature to find flaws in things and think we can make it better.  How then is the actual act of changing something so challenging?  In the face of change, why do many of us balk and cling to the less-than-perfect current state?

In order to be creative and drive change, we need to re-examine some of the same industry topics that have been discussed previously.  It’s about taking the truisms of our every day workplace existence and rethink how to better design them in order to have ideal future functionality.  We also need to think FAR beyond our comfort zone to push for new ideas that will revolutionize organizations. We also need to think about how change comes about and how our actions can help drive greater adaptation and acceptance.  It truly is an EVOLUTION where change is adopted slowly and it adapts to the needs of the individual, the organization, the economy, the barriers, and the technology.

One model I’ve come across throughout my sociological studies and in my career is Everett Rogers‘ theory on the Diffusion of Innovators.  Rogers was a sociologist who, at the age of thirty, wrote that diffusion is, “the process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system.”   Rogers basically demonstrated that  change agents can be broken down into their rate of adoption.  Here’s a common model of how that looks.

fig112

 

A Real-life Example

Having just completed another HRevolution, we receive questions about how the event fits into the Human Resource landscape.  I have a few observations that can help illustrate the user adoption of an event that is disruptive to the norm.

  1. There is a strong feeling that the excitement that comes with a less structured event will be able to drive the momentum for faster change in the industry.  While I personally wish this were the case, it is not.  As you can see on the curve, only 2.5% of people are truly innovators followed by the 13.5% of early adopters.  I look at people in these two categories who seek out learning in a non-traditional format as the risk takers.  These are the people who are helping create the pressure for change and they are the ones who can personally respond well to change.   So in my opinion, people in the top 16% should really be seen as the people  who are going to take new, innovative looks at old facts and come up with ideas to drive business efforts forward.
  2. The “early majority” need more facts.  It’s not that they are adverse to change, they just need that little extra push in order to support and embrace the change.  This group will need to either be persuaded to experience the change or they will need to see concrete examples of how a new approach can benefit them.
  3. What he labels “late majority” are really the group that needs to be shown WHY they need to get on board.  They have numerous objections and will need many discussions to vet all the possible negative outcomes of the process.  In my opinion, this is where many leaders fall.  It’s not that they won’t change, you just have to provide a compelling case to nudge them in that direction.  They may have more to lose when it comes to their credibility.  However, get them in your corner and people will definitely notice.
  4. The last group is  the “Over My Dead Body” group.  If you need a barrier, here it is.

Regardless of what type of change you think is valuable to your organization, come at the problem with:

  • A plan- Like any skilled business person knows, you have to have a well thought out plan and a business case to even get your toe in the door to start the discussion.
  • Facts- Case studies, research and statistics to support the change initiative.
  • Ability, influence, or power to articulate and persuade- If you don’t have any of these, you need to find someone in the organization who can help you fill this role.  Look to the people you know who tend to be early adopters and convince them.  Then, sell the idea to the powers that be.
  • A backup strategy- What if it doesn’t work?  What is the plan you can come back with that says you’ve already thought through several scenarios in which the change does not take hold?

What are other ways you can convince others to adopt innovative ideas you, or your team have?  Please share them in the comments.

*Adapted from the dusty archives