Demystifying the Technology Adoption Process

July 17, 2015
By Camille Johnston

People inherently reject change. However, it’s people that determine the success – or failure – of your initiatives.

Research and theories regarding the adoption of technology, innovations, and change have their origins as early as the late 19th century with the concept of diffusion, or the spread of ideas. Later in the early 20th century, this concept further developed into Everett Rogers’ theory of the diffusion of innovations. Rogers attempted to explain how, why, and what rate new technology spread and was adopted by individuals.

Almost a century later, and we are still looking for the answers that Rogers set out to define. With the increasing speed at which new technology is released and made available to the public, this issue seems more relevant than ever before. For companies large and small, the rate and ease of implementing changes in the workplace has a huge impact on the bottom line, and in the long run, the organization’s success or failure.

So how can we use existing knowledge to guide our methods of rolling out new technology and sway the odds of success in our favor? Before we can understand and utilize those methods, we first need to understand our people, our employees, co-workers, and team members.

The technology adoption lifecycle, inspired by Rogers’ (and others’) work, groups individuals in one of five categories:

Innovators (Computer Geeks) – This group is ahead of the pack when it comes to adopting new technology. They tend to be familiar with how to use it before the majority even know it exists. This group typically is more educated, more risk-orientated, and have larger, more successful companies.

Early Adopters (Visionaries) – While not quite to the extreme degree as the innovators, these individuals are willing to take risks by betting on what technology will take hold. They seek to break away from the pack. In general, early adopters are younger, community leaders, and willing to invest time and energy to figure out how to use a new technology.

Early Majority (Pragmatists) – People that fall under this category take very calculated risks. They want to see solutions in production and how it will benefit them before they buy in. While more conservative, they are still open to new ideas. They also tend to be active and influential in the community.

Late Majority (Conservatives) – Individuals in this group are generally older, less educated, and not as socially active as those in the first three groups. They wait to buy-in to a new technology once they are able to confirm it will simplify their life and the support is readily available to make learning and utilizing the technology easy for them.

Laggards (Skeptics) – On the other extreme end of the scale, the laggards are ultra-conservative and generally the oldest and least educated. They are resistant to change and exhibit stubborn-like qualities when it comes to implementing new technology or adopting change in general. They will typically only do so when they have no other choice. Because of this, laggards tend to have less capital and smaller businesses.

Adoption is an individual process. Using the above generalizations, we can look at an individual’s traits, history, and social activity (or that of the majority of your team) to help determine the likelihood they will adopt an innovation. We can also leverage factors like their peer influence, communication channels, perceived risk (costs vs benefits), and time to sway the odds of successful adoption of the technology we intend to implement.

The first step is aligning the organization to accept the intended change through active engagement. Whether you are looking to purchase new technology or roll out a major change in your organization by choice, or are being required to do so for legal or compliance reasons, a participatory approach will make the transition easier for everyone.  

Communicate the details with employees in a timely manner and explain the reasons why it’s important to the organization and how it affects their roles. Giving everyone involved time to understand what is happening, when, why it’s necessary, and how you plan to implement it will give them an opportunity to ask questions and feel like they are part of the process. If you are considering a technology purchase, send a survey out beforehand to get feedback from the entire group. Showing your employees that you value their input will go a long way in their final acceptance and the practicality of the product. Sharing the results (anonymously) and demonstrating that you have used the information to select the solution fosters a feeling of ownership. Keep the team updated on changes to the plan along the way and invite open discussion for their suggestions, concerns, and challenges and address them as soon as possible.

Example and word of mouth amongst peers have been shown to be more effective than broadcast messages. Make a positive example of a highly respected individual within the organization using the new technology effectively. Deliver praise and consider additional benefits or incentives for early adopters. A little friendly competition is always a good motivator and will facilitate conversations and interaction amongst colleagues.

Seek out esteemed opinion leaders on your team and be sure that they are on-board and positive about the changes. These individuals have wide-reaching influence and can also work as champions for the project. These champions will stand behind the technology and help break through any opposition.

Education is a key component to successful adoption. Provide your staff with ample training, support, and mentoring to give them the resources and skills necessary. Allow a reasonable amount of time for this part of the process. This important element should not be rushed. Frequently check-in with members to make sure no one is left behind and ensure proper attention is given to those that may need additional support. Ultimately, all employees need to accept the new technology for it to be successful.

Every organization and the people that make it are unique. Take some time to develop your plan and utilize the insight of your collective genius (your team members) at every opportunity along the way.  If you are successful, your business is more likely to remain competitive, relevant, and increase productivity and profits.