Published on 2019/05/31

Effective Change Management: The Five Stages of the Innovation-Decision Process

The EvoLLLution | Effective Change Management: The Five Stages of the Innovation-Decision Process
Process improvement is a fact of life in modern postsecondary organizations. The process of implementing those improvements, however, is as important as the change itself.

Within the Diffusion of Innovations framework, Everett Rogers examines organizational processes and dynamics that occur when a change is to be implemented. He defines five stages in the change adoption process, the completion of which is instrumental to the success of the implementation.

The five stages are:

  1. Knowledge
  2. Persuasion
  3. Decision
  4. Implementation
  5. Confirmation

It’s important to be conscious about the adoption of change, and to ensure that all stages are followed in sequence. This way, when it comes to the final confirmation stage, the innovation is not questioned by stakeholders who were not properly consulted on its value and implications. Failing to do so can trigger undercurrent behavior that limits the ability of an organization to go forward in adopting the innovation.

Framing Change

When considering implementing change, the context of the individuals involved will significantly impact their perception of the innovation. In a large-scale technological implementation, the deciding individuals in the upper levels of the organization will differ from individual contributors in the way they perceive the benefits of a given tool. For instance, when implementing a new call center software, the leadership team will put emphasis on having a CRM type information system that better reflects customer trends. Meanwhile the frontline workers, who may be lacking exposure to the immediate value of the software, can perceive it as a monitoring tool to assess the quality of their work.

To minimize the impact of change, the process can be broken up in stages—as long as the individuals making the change get to gradually see the increase in the usefulness for them. On the other hand, when the individual needs to wait months to years before seeing a value, momentum will be lost and the innovation will likely stall out.

Travelling the Five Stages of Innovation Adoption

1. Knowledge

The knowledge stage is where an individual becomes aware of the innovation’s existence and becomes interested in understanding its functions. This knowledge can come from colleagues and peers or conferences and advertisements. The individual could be getting exposed to an idea while reading a blog or a promotional email. Those involved in this stage are often existing users or providers of the innovation.

Missing the knowledge stage can cause difficulties within the change management process, as key stakeholders may feel that they have not been appropriately informed or consulted. This can lead to emotional dissonance in the persuasion stage and affect the implementation stage down the road.

2. Persuasion

The persuasion stage is where the individual is ascertaining the potential value of adopting a new innovation, and further exploring its capabilities. In this stage, it is critical that the innovation is perceived to be useful by a potential user or beneficiary. This can be done by educating them on how the given innovation can save them time, reduce costs or improve performance. Testimonials are a great way to support such statements and alter their perceptions in a positive manner.

This stage is sometimes skipped in a top down decision-making model, when a senior leader is content with the innovation while others have not been convinced of its usefulness. When left out of the persuasion stage, however, people often find workarounds to maintain their existing practices instead of adopting new ones.

3. Decision

The decision stage determines whether an innovation will be adopted or rejected following. This stage will sometimes require a referendum or the participation/input of a senior leader. Although the final decision making is held by a small group or a single individual, facilitating collaboration helps others feel included in the decision. Once the innovation is adopted, each individual will still decide whether they will actually use it, so it is important to bring all stakeholders into the decision-making process—at least via a discussion—to make sure they feel included.

4. Implementation

The implementation stage is the process of putting the innovation into practice. There can still be a degree of uncertainty surrounding the outcomes of the innovation and whether to keep it as opposed to reverting backward to old practices. Typically, this stage involves a team with a project manager or a dedicated change management board to oversee the process. The implementation team needs to consider ways to reduce the cost of change, both financially and in terms of energy and mental effort. Facilitating training workshops can significantly help the implementation and reduce switching costs. Ease of use is paramount in the implementation phase. Another way to motivate and encourage people through this stage is sharing testimonials on how the innovation has been incorporated into their activities effectively and without undue challenge.

5. Confirmation

The final stage in the process of change-innovation is the confirmation stage, where the individual seeks supportive confirmation on their decision. In a formal project management methodology, the confirmation stage is simply an evaluation based on whether the criteria initially set up for the project has been met. Success in the confirmation stage becomes evident when people are no longer creating work arounds and resorting to old processes.

Advice to Leaders 

When considering implementing a new innovation, leaders need to be aware of the pro-innovation bias of the person championing the innovation. Champions will look for every opportunity to tell others about the usefulness and benefits of the innovation. Their role is to help sustain the energy and the momentum throughout the change implementation process. Leaders also need to be aware that if the change is only happening because of mandates, they are much more likely to get partial results. In order to sustain change, thorough steps need to be taken without going through shortcuts.

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