For effective organisational change initiatives to be realised within a company, the success of the intended intervention requires a select group of people representative of all levels in the company who model the expected new behaviours, advocate the change benefits and campaign others to get on board. Changing behaviours and relinquishing old habits for new is tough for most – as such, a number of positive stimuli need to be injected into the environment to accelerate the process. Notice board announcements, circulars, newsletters, e-mails, roadshows and posters are, in and of themselves, inadequate stimuli to give birth to sustainable change. During change initiatives, mostly because change is an emotional, if not threatening, experience, hand-holding and emotional support need to be offered to all employees to “carry” them into the new reality.
The usual expectation is that leaders should fulfil the role of change champions – of course, all in leadership should model the expected new behaviours, but not all in leadership are equipped to act as champions of the way ahead. Some of them will also be battling with the new expectations, a few even digging in their heels to resist the pending transformation. Effective change champions, selected carefully from all levels in the organisation, are usually found amongst the “early adopters” group within the company. Research (the diffusion of innovation theory) suggests that early adopters comprise about 14% of the employee complement – they are the first to try out new ideas, processes, goods and services. Early adopters generally rely on their intuition and vision, choose carefully and usually have above-average educational levels. They have a passion for innovation, quickly recognise and comprehend the potential value and benefit of the change and how its functionality relates to their need of usability and sociability. Curious about the “what if” and the challenges of the introduction of the change, early adopters are more willing to take a risk so that they can be associated with cutting edge technology.
Appointing early adopters as change champions helps the organisation with managing the inevitable ambiguity and uncertainty associated with implementing change. Additional benefits include:
- Lessening the pressure on the leadership team to deliver change
- Identifying issues and concerns and bringing them swiftly to the attention of the project team
- Collecting feedback on the communications campaign and conveying this information to the change team
- Identifying major resistors of the change
- Helping with managing resistance to the change efforts amongst colleagues
- Becoming “super-users” and assisting, therefore, in coaching other users
Appoint early adopters as change champions of your change projects. Bettina Pickering notes:
“Often projects are started enthusiastically, but fail at implementation or post-implementation stage. The role of the change champion can be invaluable in involving the right people, getting commitment to the change and embedding it”. I suggest that these “right people” are the early adopters.