Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

August 2000
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How People Adopt Change

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

People in an organization do not embrace change at the same time. According to Everett Rogers’ classic book, “Diffusion of Innovations,” people adopt “innovations” according to the various stages of a normal, bell-shaped curve (see chart).


The “innovators” are the first 2.5% of the people in the organization to adopt an innovation. The next 13.5% to adopt the new idea are the “early adopters.” The next 34% of the adopters are called the “early majority.” The “late majority” are the next 34% to embrace the innovation, and the last 16% to adopt are called “laggards.” It is very important that leaders, in bringing organizational change, focus their time and energy appropriately with each particular group of people.

The Five Categories

Innovators: These people have a great, almost obsessive, interest in new ideas. They desire the rash, the daring and the risky. Their thirst for new ideas leads them to form networks beyond the confines of the local circles. They can cope with a high degree of uncertainty regarding the success of a new idea, and are willing to accept occasional setbacks. Many times, they will not bother to perfect the innovation, before moving on to the next one. Innovators may not be respected by the other members of the organization, but they are important to watch since they are frequently the gatekeepers in the flow of new ideas into the organization from outside its paradigmatic boundaries.

Early Adopters: These are the opinion leaders in the organization, and they represent the main people that the leader should enlist in the change process. The early adopters are the role models for others who respect them for their judicious “innovation-decisions.” Potential adopters look up to them for advice and information about the change. They are not too far ahead of the other members of the organization, in contrast with the innovators who are seen as being too far out ahead. Early adopters decrease uncertainty about a new idea by adopting it, and then sharing their evaluation of the idea with their peers through personal relationships. This assists leaders in bringing organizational change.

Early Majority: Comprising about one-third of the people, the early majority adopt new ideas just before the average member of the organization. They are not opinion leaders, but they do interact frequently with their peers. They make decisions slowly and carefully analyze the pros and cons of a new idea before adopting it. They follow with deliberate willingness in embracing change, but seldom lead.

Late Majority: The late majority adopt innovations just after the average member of the organization. Skeptical and cautious, they do not adopt until most others have done so, and only then in response to the pressure of their peers and the new organizational norms.

Laggards: The last in the organization to embrace change, laggards possess almost no opinion leadership. Typically, they are somewhat isolated in their relationship networks, interacting primarily with others who have relatively traditional values. They usually make decisions in terms of what has been done previously, and are typically suspicious of change and change agents.

The next Leadership Letter will consider the relationship between change and stress.

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