Monday, March 3, 2008

Understanding acceptance of change

John Dorner, at a time of frustration, talked about people's unwillingness to learn something new, particularly when the new technology serves as a benefit for the greater organization. His main question is "How do we get people to 'want' to learn?"

John makes the obvious observation that using technology is necessary in "today's world." We simply cannot ignore technology.

How do we get people to embrace new technologies? There are no easy answers. Focusing on the individual decision is one way to affect change.

One theory, the Transtheoretical Model, describes how people go through stages when changing their behavior. This model has been demonstrated mostly in health behaviors (smoking, eating habits, drug use, etc.), but has also been used to explain other behaviors, such as organizational changes and changes of acceptance of technologies.

Stages of change and weighing the importance of advantages and disadvantages.

The theory posits that individuals go through stages of change in the adoption of new behaviors. Levels of confidence are stronger in the later stages. Also in later stages, individuals weigh the importance of the benefits (also known as pros) over the importance of the disadvantages (also known as cons).  

house 23
Originally uploaded by
only alice

In the earlier stages, individuals weigh the importance of disadvantages over the importance of benefits. This seems very theoretical and maybe obvious.

However, we often don't change our message even though our target audience has varying degrees of acceptance of the technologies (changes). We also often discuss benefits as we see them as important--not considering what potential adopters find important. The practical piece of the Transtheoretical Model is that change efforts should adjust according to the stage of the potential adopters and to what is important to them, individually. 

John hears "I'm not tech savvy". Individuals are not confident in their ability to learn or understand the technology. This lack of confidence may come from many sources, even if they are quite capable of learning. Individuals:

  • May feel uncomfortable learning something new because they don't want to fail.
  • May truly feel they are incapable of learning and understanding something beyond their normal work and life environment.
  • May feel that the technology is not compatible with the way they operate and think (for example, some people really like Algebra and others just don't get).
  • May not understand the benefits. The technology brings such a different phenomenon that they just doesn't see the benefits.
  • Doesn't want their work environment to change and use the lack of ability as an excuse.

Disadvantages, Costs, Cons.

The lack of confidence contributes heavily to the weight of the disadvantages. Some individuals place a lot on the importance of not wanting to fail and on the belief that they are not capable. Other disadvantages include not wanting to take the time and effort to learn, nor spend resources. In adopting new technologies, some new technologies don't last so there is risk in taking the time and effort only to have to change again.

Understanding how individuals weigh the importance of each disadvantage is a step to targeting those perceptions when communicating with the potential adopters. If they are not confident that they can change, then we should develop ways to improve their self-efficacy. Training is an obvious solution. Another is demonstrating how others in their peer groups are using the technology. Also, in early stages of change, it is important to provide support to keep building self-efficacy.

Advantages, Benefits, Pros.

In making decisions to adopt a change, potential adopters also weigh the importance of the benefits to them. While some will consider the benefits for the greater good, most people will look at the direct benefits for themselves, then the benefit to the organization, and then the benefits to outside the organization. As change agents, we often fail at convincing potential adopters because we don't target our communications that punctuate the benefits that are important to the individuals.

Targeting communications and support.

While John is absolutely correct in that the "greater good" benefits are reasons for using these technologies.

It wouldn't be so bad if their ignorance only affected them. In today's world, their ignorance affects everyone around them. Their co-workers waste a lot of time because they are working on projects with them. The organization loses because countless hours and dollars are wasted, knowledge is not being shared and work is being duplicated to name a few ways their ignorance affects others.

For the potential adopters, the importance of the costs of change outweighs the importance benefits. What are the benefits to the individual for using the technology? What are the costs (time, effort, risk of failure) to the individual to adopting these technologies? How important does the individual view these advantages and disadvantages?

John's question and rant are familiar to all of us who are involved in changing our environment, organization, and technology. Simply, there are no easy answers to changing behavior because the change must come from the individual.

Effective change behavior works best when we focus on individuals. The most important time to focus on the individual is during the early stages of diffusion and in the early stages of change.


Greg said...

I think credibility plays an enormous role in our ability to affect change in an individual. We gain credibility by being consistent. Technology is one of the most inconsistent things in our world. One of the best things we can do to promote change is to not suggest too much of it! Flittering from one "latest and greatest" tool, gadget, or technology to another is perhaps the quickest possible way to lose our credibility as IT professionals.

Unknown said...


You are absolutely credibility is a very big motivator for change. And, we do have to be careful in singing the praises of the newest and "greatest" technology.

I think that communications that are honest assessment help as well.

For instance, if we are implementing wikis into the organization than we want to communication, not only the benefits, but it's warts. For instance wiki editing is not intuitive to most users because it is so different than current word processors.

Greg, Thanks for your comment.