Navigating Change with Late Majority and Laggards: Strategies for Success

Perhaps you have been asked to help coaches, teams, and people in your organization to evolve beyond the basic level of “blind” adoption of rules and frameworks. You highlighted principles, suggested options, and showed trade-offs. However, you’ve encountered responses such as “Interesting, but it can’t be done here,” “I don’t have those skills,” and “I don’t even think about it until there’s an app I can download.”

If you’ve encountered a situation like this, it might be because you’ve employed a strategy best suited for innovators rather than the late majority and laggards.

Innovators and late adopters in the lean-agile transformation

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The Rogers’ curve on the adoption of innovation is a well-known qualitative model. The model can be applied to any context in which a new idea needs to establish itself, such as the concept of continuous learning in lean-agile transformation.


Image courtesy of Wikipedia

Lean thinking originated at Toyota after WWII, and only in the 1980s it began to be studied and understood in Western countries, as well as its principles being incorporated into the early agile approaches of the late century. Agile manifesto is 23 years old. In today’s context, many of those who approach agile at the team or enterprise level are often shifted towards the right side of the curve.
It’s not inherently wrong to find individuals shifted towards the right side of the curve after 23 years. However, what is misleading is expecting the same reactions from people with profoundly different attitudes. Those on the left of the curve are comfortable with messy contexts, experimentation, and trial and error, while those on the right seek standards and certainties to apply.

Dealing with innovators and late adopters

So, you need different strategies fordifferent attitudes.

When you are dealing with the left side of the curve, innovators and early adopters, you should provide new challenges, and freedom to explore. When dealing with the right side of the curve, (late majority and laggards, let’s call them late adopters) you should instead be crystal clear about the reason for the change, provide guidance and show practical benefits. Innovators love novelty for its own sake, they embrace speed and doing, but they get easily bored. Late adopters need a good reason for change, and evidence that their peers are already working the new way, and the new way is effective.

Attitude

First, recognize the varying attitudes toward risk-taking, innovation, and failure.

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Adapt

Second, be aware that involving the late majority and laggards in change and innovation requires more patience and persistence. That being said, here are some suggestions.

  1. Be transparent. Have a candid and transparent discussion on what is expected from them
  2. Experiment daily. Encourage teams, coaches, and communities to create a routine to visualize and assess the daily progress of experiments at all levels. Your routine should foster systems thinking and scientific thinking, build the habit of experimenting for continuous improvement, and align experiments with the organization’s objectives. See KATA-School Italia for ideas.
  3. Sponsorship. For those who do not have a strong inclination towards innovation, it is important to see that there is clear sponsorship and that their line manager is aligned in this direction
  4. Evangelists/Volunteers. When possible, start with volunteers instead of those who are obligated to work on the new staff. This means engaging the late majority and laggards later in the transformation process.
  5. Principles. Be clear on principles that are core reasons for the change
  6. Learning Path. Innovators will independently seek a path of growth and self-learning. What matters to them is having room for maneuver and freedom for exploration. Late adopters will need a clear benefit, and a path of growth and learning with well-defined content and milestones.
  7. Use a different coaching stance. For innovators and early adopters, a more empowering and innovation-focused approach may be suitable. In contrast, late adopters and laggards may require a more informative, motivational, and patient coaching style to help them embrace change. The efforts of both groups need to be channeled into the organizational vision.


Empathy and patience. Patience is needed as you navigate through the sometimes chaotic and unpredictable journey of those who thrive on novelty.
Similarly, when engaging with late adopters who seek stability and well-defined structures, empathy is the bridge to comprehend their need for a clear path forward and to help them embrace change.