In addition to the change agent and the culture, the third influence is the people. As you set off on your journey, you might remind yourself that the entity you want to influence is not a thing but a collection of individuals. To change the thing means changing the individuals in it. Even when a culture is open to new ideas, the people within it will accept the change at different rates. You may think that if the benefits of an innovation are clearly and widely presented, everyone will eventually see the light and adopt it. As rational human beings, we like to think that logic drives most of our decisions, but the reality is, in most persuasive situations, research in influence strategies and social psychology shows that people base their decisions on emotions and then justify them with facts. Nationally syndicated business writer Dale Dauten observed, Facts are useful; they give the conscious mind something to do while the emotions decide what's true.
Some people may pass through the innovation-decision process quickly, but most will move more slowly, and some may adopt an idea only when they are pressured to do so. Understanding how different people acceptor don't acceptchange will help you to appreciate each persons style and adjust your strategies accordingly.
Look for the positive side in each person you are talking to. As Bill O'Brien, former president of Hanover Insurance Company, noted:
If you have a deterministic view of peoplethat they come programmed by their genes, there's only a 10% margin of improvement and 20% of them will screw you if they get a chancethen that belief in itself will severely limit your ability to lead profound change.*
On the other hand, if you genuinely like people and if you believe that in each person contains a vast reservoir just waiting to be tapped, then you will want to help them be all they can be. If you can bring that attitude to your work, along with the courage and compassion to act upon it, then you can be effective.
E. M. Rogers, in his landmark publication Diffusion of Innovations, noticed that new ideas tend to originate in a small group he calls the Innovators, then move to a second group, the Early Adopters, and then become accepted by the Early Majority and the Late Majority. Eventually, the Laggards may adopt it. Lets have a closer look at each of these groups.
The Innovators make up a very small percentage of a normal populationabout 2.5%. They accept new ideas quickly. They need little persuasion. They're intrigued with something just because it is new. You know people like this: These are the folks who like something even better if it doesn't work right! Their early interest in new ideas enables them to spark and help test new ideas. But they may not stay interested for long, and because their venturesome nature makes them open to risks, others usually don't accept their opinions. Thus, Innovators are excellent gatekeepers but generally not good opinion leaders.
The Early Adopters represent a larger part of a normal populationabout 13.5%. They are also open to new ideas but will accept them only after serious consideration. They tend to look for the strategic opportunity an innovation can provide and can be persuaded if they see that the new approach provides a fundamental breakthrough. As highly motivated visionaries who are respected by their peers, they can serve as opinion leaders once they have accepted the new idea. However, the Innovators and the Early Adopters are small groups. To have impact, you must convince the majority.
The Early Majority is the first significant group (about a third of a normal population) to accept a new idea. The Early Majority interact with their peers but are seldom leaders. They tend to follow, and they want to know that others have been successful with a new idea before they consider accepting it themselves. As pragmatists, they are persuaded if the innovation can provide incremental, measurable, and predictable improvement. Once this large group is convinced, a grassroots foundation is established for the innovation. The Early Majority provides a vital link between the Early and the Late Adopters. The Early Majority is your bridge between the old and the new.
The Late Majority is the second significant group (about a third of a normal population) to accept a new idea. The Late Majority is composed of people who approach new ideas with skepticism and caution. They are conservative in nature and are persuaded only after most of the uncertainty is removed. They need some kind of pressure before they accept a new idea. This pressure can take many forms: seeing people all around them using it, a boss strongly suggesting that they use it, or their team adopting it so they must follow suit in order to work efficiently in the team.
The Laggards are the people who are last to adopt new ideaswhen they accept ideas at all. Their view is typically we've always done it this way. Their friends tend to be other Laggards, and because they are suspicious of innovation and change, their acceptance of a new idea usually comes through extreme pressure from others coupled with the certainty that the innovation cannot fail.
Notice that we keep referring to a normal population. We've never seen a normal organization! Each has its own character. Some very innovative companies have a larger than normal population of Innovators, while other companies are more conservative. The numbers that E. M. Rogers and other researchers have observed are only statistical guidelines. You are the best judge of what will work well for you.
Our philosophy is well described by quality management consultant David Hutton in The Change Agents Handbook.
You do not have to spend a lot of time and effort on those who strongly resist change. You only have to help and protect those who want to change, so that they are able to succeed. Put another way, your job is not to plant the entire forest, row by rowit is to plant clumps of seedlings in hospitable places and to nurture them. As they mature, these trees will spread their seeds, and the forest will eventually cover the fertile land. The rocks will, of course, remain barren regardless. This is a logical, effective, and responsible way of using your limited resources. This does not mean that you can afford to ignore the existence of committed and influential opponents of change. You may have to find ways to prevent these individuals from sabotaging the process. However, once you have figured out who cannot be converted, you should not waste more time trying to persuade them.*
Because our strategies focus on introducing new ideas, they do not target the more skeptical individuals (the Late Majority and Laggards), but we don't ignore them either. Skeptics may provide valuable opportunities to discover problems with the innovation. Even though many people may consider conflict unpleasant, counter-productive, and time-consuming, we recommend that you see conflict as an opportunity. Conflict doesn't have to be destructive; you can use that energy to help solve problems and make improvements. In some cases, people simply need information about why the change is necessary, about the desired future state, and what needs to happen to get there.
Much of the resistance to change stems from the need for control of our environment and destiny. You've probably enjoyed rearranging your office at times, but it would be a different matter if corporate cubicle police unexpectedly arrived one day to reorganize your office in a style dictated by some authorized master planstraight out of a Dilbert cartoon! As many students of organizational change have observed, people do not resist change so much as they resist being changed. People are better at coping with change if they have a hand in creating it. Therefore, our philosophy in documenting the strategies in this book is to engage people at all levels, so they can participate in planning what should be done and can help to make change happen.
We've outlined one explanation for how individuals accept new ideas. Malcolm Gladwell, author of The Tipping Point, describes three roles that are critical for introducing change: Maven, Salesman, and Connector. Mavens are information specialists. They supply knowledge about the innovation. However, to spread the innovation, you must have Salesmen who promote the idea, and Connectors who know many different kinds of people. You must take on the roles of Maven, Salesman, and Connector to the greatest extent possible and engage others who can help. Even if you are a Maven, you will still need people who can help you keep up with the latest information. You may find Early Adopters who are good Salesmen, and the more Connectors you enlist the better.
Introducing a new idea is a gradual, learn-as-you-go process that will have setbacks and small successes along the way. We recommend that you start slowly and expect that your efforts will require time and patience. The journey cannot be successfully undertaken without some understanding of yourself, your culture, and the people within it. This understanding will enable you to make the most effective use of our guidebook. Above all, enjoy the process. As Steve Jobs of Apple Computer said, The journey is the reward! Bon voyage!
*Senge, P. et al., The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization, Doubleday, 1994.
*Covey, S.R., The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Simon & Schuster, 1989.
*Senge, P., A. Kleiner, C. Roberts, R. Ross, G. Roth, B. Smith, The Dance of Change: The Challenges to Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations, Doubleday, 1999.
*Hutton, D. The Change Agents Handbook: A Survival Guide for Quality Improvement Champions, ASQ Quality Press, 1994.