web analytics
How can we reach you?
Send along your info and we'll contact you.

Encore: Where Are You on the Engagement Adoption Curve?



paul hebert[Encore: Where Are You on the Engagement Adoption Curve?  – from Paul Hebert-Vice President Solution Design. You can read more about him on our Leadership page.]

One of the problems with having written over 1,200 posts in the last few years (7 to be exact) is that you forget some of the stuff you wrote and repeat yourself.  Another problem is that you can write some wicked awesome stuff that may not get any real traction because it was written back when the blog may only have had 10 followers and 20 page views each month.  Luckily – we don’t have the problem today (btw – click the “subscribe by email” button in the right sidebar to get updates as they happen.)

But I”m guessing there is still a ton of wonderful, wonderful stuff that you may not have seen.

Case in point…

The post you are about to read was written in over two years ago.  The blog then only had about 700 subscribers and we hadn’t hit 10,000 page views per  month yet – so I’m sure that this will be new reading for the vast majority of you.  You can see the original here – but what follows is pretty darn close with some very minor updates.

What bothers me the most as I got this ready to repost – how little has changed in two years.  I’m still pretty sure my guess on the spread of adoption of new program ideas and engagement efforts is still spot on.  Le sigh.


The Adoption Curve

In 1962 Everett Rogers came out with a book called Diffusion of Innovations.  In that book he outlined the process he thought governed how new ideas are adopted by a population – specifically consumers.  He also categorized people based on their “adoption” timing.  Geoffrey Moore built on this concept and applied it to businesses in his books Crossing the Chasm and Dealing with Darwin (and others – highly recommend them all!)

Rogers outlined five different adoption categories as follows:


Innovators are the first individuals to adopt an innovation,  take risks, are the youngest, have the highest social class, are very social, have closest contact to scientific sources and interaction with other innovators.

Early Adopters

This is the second fastest category of individuals who adopt an innovation and they have the ighest degree of opinion leadership among the other adopter categories, typically younger in age, have advanced education, and are more socially forward than late adopters. They also are more picky with their choice of adoption than the early adopters.

Early Majority

Individuals in this category adopt an innovation after a varying degree of time. This time of adoption is significantly longer than the innovators and early adopters.  They are waiting to see what the early adopters are doing.

Late Majority

Individuals in this category will adopt an innovation after the average member of the society. These individuals approach an innovation with a high degree of skepticism and after the majority of society has adopted the innovation.


The last to adopt an innovation, show little to no opinion leadership, have an aversion to change-agent. Laggards typically tend to be focused on “tradition.”

For whatever reason, the whole idea of adoption popped into my head and I started thinking about reward and recognition strategies and how we engage our employees (and channel partners for that matter.)  I realized that companies also fall into an “adoption” curve when it comes to engaging and rewarding/recognizing their employees.  Unfortunately, it’s a skewed curve – and that can be a problem not only for the employee – but for the company as well.

Let’s take a walk…

Technology Adoption Curve

The curve Rogers designed included what he thought was the percentage of the population that fell into each category.  He used a “normal distribution” and the curve looks like this:

technology adoption curve

I looked at that curve and asked myself – what strategies and techniques currently being used by companies to engage and drive employee performance would fall into each of the categories?  In other words – which of the techniques being applied are innovative and which are old and tired.  The chart below shows what I quickly came up with (feel free to argue/add to this list in the comments.)

engagement adoption curve1

But when I looked at the curve it just didn’t seem right.  When I think about the companies I talk to and the conversations I have with industry folks – I don’t think companies are following a normal distribution when it comes to adoption of engagement ideas.

In fact, based on my decidedly unscientific take on the industry, I would suggest that the curve for adoption skews heavily into the late stage adoption groups like the curve below.  The red boxes show the percentage of companies I believe are in each of the categories.

Again – argue/comment below – love to get your feedback.

engagement adoption curve 2a


Now the big question – why do you think the curve skews so far to late adoption?

My take:

Too much to lose if they are wrong. 

In the consumer world, trying a bad idea rarely breaks the bank (unless you’re talking about a house or a car, but in the business world a company that invests a lot in untried and new ideas runs the risk of going out of business.  Especially in the HR world where either you can’t (or won’t) do some sort of pilot testing to see if the new idea has merit.

No Focus on Employees

Part of me thinks that too many companies just don’t get the idea that people are the new competitive advantage.  They still think great marketing, great products, opaque pricing and asymmetric information is the path to success.  Unfortunately, they forget there is no great product, great marketing, great conversations without people.  And technology has eliminated the whole asymmetric info thing… just google it.

They Aren’t Desperate Yet

Desperation makes people do amazing, scary, unbelievable things (can you say 127 Hours?)  While I don’t think any of the ideas that are “new” are scary – they are amazing – but many companies won’t change ANYTHING until they absolutely have too… and then it will be too late IMHO.

Find Yourself on the Curve

Check out the curve – check out the definitions.  Are you a laggard, early adopter, or a late majority?  Then go ask someone else.  They will tell you the truth.

Remember – 90% of the people surveyed think they are above average – so does your company – so do you.  But I’m suggesting being average is being behind.

Look at the left side of the graph – those are the things you should be talking about – not whether you should give Mary Employee of the Month because she hit the time-clock 19 out of 20 days on time.

Comments, ideas, thoughts?

2 Responses to “Encore: Where Are You on the Engagement Adoption Curve?”

  1. […] the whole post over at Paul’s home Symbolist (an FOT contributor […]

  2. Thanks paul for this well researched, exceptionally articulated piece of information.
    40% engagement on laggards to convert – isn’t it bit unrealistic?

Leave a Reply