When your leader is a laggard
In the Diffusion of Innovation Theory, there is an audience segment at the far end called Laggards.
Laggards are individuals and groups who are the last to adopt a new idea or behavior and, in some cases, they may never adopt it.
Their lack of behavior adoption is sometimes due to inaccessibility or infrastructure issues that make it impossible to do the behavior. Other times, it happens because the audience members simply don’t want to do the new behavior.
Typically, I recommend focusing on audience segments who are likely to take action if provided the right motivation, such as those in the early and late majority categories, and ignoring (for the meantime) the laggards.
This is a better use of resources to achieve results, rather than spending time and energy on a segment that is unlikely, unable, or unwilling to change.
But…what happens if there’s an individual who plays an important role in the project sitting in that laggard category???
This important person could be someone your target audience admires and looks up to.
It could be someone responsible for making critical decisions or enacting policies.
Or, it could be the leader of a team, department, or organization.
And this person isn’t interested in joining the movement. Or worse, they are actively resisting it and possibly working against it.
This is a frustrating predicament.
Friends and colleagues who have encountered this issue ask me:
Should we still move forward without them and focus on other segments first?
If a key influencer, decision-maker, policy-maker, or power-holder is not on board, then we need to shift our approach to focus on individual change versus collective action.
(Or, if capacity and resources permit, you can pursue this individual approach in conjunction with efforts to grow a collective movement.)
Focusing on individual change requires understanding them in more detail as an audience of one to identify ways to engage them, reduce their personal barriers, and motivate action.
We should explore:
» Who they trust
While we can certainly be the messengers of change ourselves, it’s worth considering if the decision-maker should also hear the information from someone they trust even more.
If so, then that would be a great stakeholder to engage in the effort – especially if they are not laggards themselves.
» Who they admire and compare themselves with
Knowing what others are doing can be a very powerful motivator. But those “others” need to be someone your decision-maker cares about.
See if there are others in their peer group or industry leaders already making the change that you can point to, in hopes of inducing a sense of FOMO.
» How they want to be seen
Individuals in high-profile positions want to be seen by others in a certain way (think about the archetypes featured in this post).
By understanding the personal “brand” they’re going for, you can explore opportunities to align the desired change with their own aspirations.
» Their personal barriers to making the change
We know they’re resistant to the change, but why? Understanding their specific barriers and deterrents can help us develop solutions for overcoming them.
For example, supporting or making a change may present a personal or professional risk to them. If so, then we can explore ways of making it safer to do by providing direct support or highlighting success stories of others who made similar changes.
» If they are persuaded by their constituents
For many influencers and leaders, it can be helpful to know if their constituents (staff, voters, followers, etc.) are on-board with the change.
In many cases, this lowers the risk to them and can bolster their desired brand image by supporting the growing movement.
In general, I don’t recommend sacrificing efforts to grow a movement to focus on an individual.
My preference would be to do both in parallel.
But if this influencer is a deal-breaker, then it’s absolutely worth exploring how they individually can be moved to make a difference.