Diffusion: L&D Innovations

What makes a change slow or fast in some organizations?

By change, I’m referring to adopting a new strategy, working model, software, and best practices in learning and development. My focus here is on the role of L&D in these changes.

Recently, I read Everett Rogers’ book, Diffusion of Innovations, and it occurred to me that diffusion of innovations requires some principles that apply not only to marketers, but also to learning and development professionals. After all, learning professionals have to, at some point in their career, convince their stakeholders of doing things differently to achieve better results.

The rule of thumb, repeatedly stressed in the book , is learning about the culture and customs of a place before promoting a new idea there. No matter what something seems a brilliant idea to us, it might seem completely pointless to others somewhere else. That’s what L&D professionals who play the role of change agents in companies should consider as well.

Two important principles that we should consider are: communication channels and time of adoption.

Communication Channels

In any environment (in our context, workplace), there is the source (e.g., an L&D professional) and the receiver (e.g., the client). They can be either similar in their mindsets or different. Rogers calls them homophilous and heterophilous. Here are his definitions:

“Homophily The degree to which pairs of individuals who interact are similar with respect to certain attributes, such as beliefs, values, social status, education.” (p.18)

“Heterophily is the degree to which pairs of individuals who interact are different with respect to certain attributes.” (p.18)

While we are all aware of the fact that there are similarities and differences between two people, channeling the communication with those who are different than us is the key to diffusion of innovative ideas. In an ideal situation, when you and your client are homophilous, things will work out easily. But, when you are heterophilous, you need to know how to communicate the need for a change without getting frustrated. According to Rogers, this is one the most distinctive problems in the communication of innovations. However, he also points out (and this is the best part that we’d all like) tht the very nature of diffusion demands at least some degree of heterophily between the two parties. And, this can be handled through empathy (i.e., projecting yourself into the role of another). This, in turn, leads to effective communication.

Time

Time is another important variable in diffusion. Simply put, the earliness or lateness of the adoption of an innovation affects the clients’ decision in accepting or rejecting it. That is what we need to be aware of and try to find out. Another point is the period that it takes an innovation to be adopted. We need to ensure the time involved before it’s too late.

I found Rogers’ book, though old, still relevant to any L&D professional who aims for an optimal change in an organization. So, don’t be discouraged with pushbacks! Try to know your client first, how they think, and what their culture in the working environment is, before pushing for any change!

 

Rogers, E. (1983). Diffusion of Innovations(3rded.). New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing.

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