How new changes get adopted

Rogers’ adoption curve model, a model for understanding how new ideas and practices are adopted, helps us create a realistic approach to bringing about any new change.

How adoption happens

Roger’s adoption curve tells us to expect that for any new change, the number of people adopting that change is different throughout the lifecycle of that change. A few people will adopt change early, more as the change becomes generally accepted and there will be a small number who take longer.

Roger's Adoption Curve
Blue line shows the breakdown of types of adopters by percentage. Orange line shows the total percentage of adoption over time.

We can take this knowledge and use it to help us make change adoption easier. Rather than think that everyone will accept a new change at the same time, we can identify the early adopters and work with them first to get the change embedded. Once these few have accepted the change, it’s easier to move onto larger groups of people.

For example, suppose we want people across an organisation to change how they manage projects:

  • Innovators – Start with a small number of projects managed by people who are confident in using and accepting new ideas and techniques.
  • Early adopters – Projects managed by people who have worked with the innovators and have seen the new approach in action. 
  • Early majority – Projects managed by people who are aware of the projects managed in the new way but haven’t been involved in them, and are proactive in adopting new practices. 
  • Late majority – Projects managed by people who aren’t aware of the new project management approach but are open to adopting practices.
  • Laggards – Projects managed by people who aren’t aware of the new project management approach and are not open to adopting practices. 

How to make adopting change easier

With all groups of people, there are things that can make it easier to accept the change. Successful adoption has five key characteristics:

  • Compatibility – The more it fits with existing behaviour and tools, the more easily people can make it part of their working process. 
  • Trialability – The easier it is to try before having to commit to using it, the more people will start using it. 
  • Relative advantage – If it is better than the alternatives, then people will see the value of using it. 
  • Observability – The more people see others using, the more they will want to use it.  
  • Simplicity – The easier it is to learn, the faster it will be adopted. 

For any kind of change in an organisation, trying to get everyone to adopt something new at the same time is much harder than using proven knowledge and techniques to bring about change over time.