8 Laggard Freaks

8 Laggard Freaks: Are 16% of Your Workforce Taking the Legs Out from Under You?

That Chill Crawling up Your Trousers…

If you work for an organisation with aspirations of success, you’ve got a problem. LAGGARDS!


If you’re not familiar with the term, let me explain…with help from the plot of the ‘popular’ (5.4/10 IMDB) rampant-mutant-spider horror, 8 Legged Freaks…

Scenario: begin with one loosed barrel of toxic chemicals [or fear of the unknown]. Drop it in a lake [your office]. Diffuse until afflicting a local spider population [your workplace traditionalists]. Attempt to deal with monster spiders [unbending technology sceptics], killing and creeping-out everyone [inadvertently dragging your company back to the 1990s].

And there you have it. Laggards!

Laggard Theory Explained

In 1962, Everett Rogers – a Communications Studies professor – popularised the Diffusion of Innovations Theory. It describes the way people adopt to new ideas.

At the butt-end of this theory is the ‘Laggards’ group. A faintly derogatory term which describes the last people in a population to adopt new products, systems or ways of working.

According to the study, Laggards make up a startling 16% of people in society. Which is a lot.

Here’s an overview of the full five categories of people that form the innovation adoption cycle:

Innovators (2.5%) Innovators statistically make up 2.5% of society. They push wide-scale, leading-edge ideas or systems; willing to take risks and potentially fail in their pursuit of breakthroughs.

Early Adopters (13.5%) Early Adopters are equally keen to get on-board with new tools or systems, but on more local scales. They demonstrate high opinion leadership and make informed adoption choices.

Early Majority (34%) The Early Majority adopt new ideas not long before the average person. They recognise the need or desire to change, but rest in the reassurance and success of Early Adopters around them.

Late Majority (34%) More sceptical than most, the Late Majority need clear incentives or ultimatums to adopt new ideas or ways of working. They are happy with previous, tested methods, and are reluctant to move away from them unless pushed.

Laggards (16%) Laggards fear change, are sceptical of new ideas, or are unwilling to learn. People in this group often cement their views by interacting with like-minded traditionalists.

What’s the Problem?

My grandfather was called Bob and he never went on the internet.

He had a computer, a modem (dial-up, naturally), he probably had good use for the web, and could afford 1p per minute off-peak. But in all his years, he was determined to stay offline.

My grandfather was undeniably a laggard. Or ‘traditionalist’, for want of a kinder term. But as a retired man in his 70s – facing only pressures from part-time hobbies and the wide choice of Alpine holidays – he was free to be as Laggardy as he liked.

But for anyone still upholding a paid place in society, this resolve can be less cute!

Your business needs to move; your Laggards won’t

The expectation on business is to move. Because the world moves. Nowadays, faster than ever. So your workforce needs to keep up.

For most businesses, using new digital technology isn’t a luxury but a necessity in our massively digitised world.

If your workforce resists, and you fail to meet these challenges, your organisation with become more unskilled, lag behind the times, become uncompetitive, and eventually fail to do business.

So, unfortunately, that makes Laggards a problem.


Why So Laggardy?

Statistically speaking, if you have 50 people working at your company, eight could be laggards.

Eight of your talented, committed and very-pleasant-to-work-with employees – even the guy you went to Silverstone with last year – will be doing everything they can to put the brakes on your progress.

Not because they’re malicious, but because they’re wired that way.

Here’s what makes a Laggard tick.

Characteristics of a Laggard:

  • They have a major distrust of new technology.
  • They use the past as an unbending reference point.
  • They rely heavily on things they’ve experienced, understand and feel comfortable with.
  • They think their jobs, your company, the world is fine the way it is. So why change!

Average profile:

  • Older in age.
  • Less financial freedom.
  • Occupy close social circles.
  • No opinion in leadership.

What does this mean?

Well, the clear picture emerging is that your average Laggard will be older and less sociable, in a lower-paid role.

But remember not to assume someone is a fixed traditionalist just because they fit these criteria.

Before Joining the Laggard Hunt…

If you look around the internet, you’ll see enough examples of Laggards being treated with the derision of an unwashed fox. Which is a bit unfair.

It’s easy to point the finger, but everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. And while your 16% might not be digital innovators, they’re probably still good at their jobs.

So focus needs to be fixed on support in the right areas to help your staff change, as well as robust strategies that don’t allow the resistant few to hinder your organisation’s progress.

Do: give support

Not everyone who struggles to change is beyond hope. Some just need a little more convincing.

Try these 5 proven ways of encouraging adoption:

  1. Create clear strategies that everyone can access when introducing new ways of working.
  2. Only choose new things which add value to your business. Don’t change something just because society / the industry / the internet says to.
  3. Don’t keep jumping from new thing to new thing. People will become complacent.
  4. Prioritise communication. Explain to your staff what’s expected of them and the benefits they’ll see.
  5. Give training where needed. Don’t underestimate how challenging it can be for some people to learn new skills.

Don’t: sacrifice your strategy

Back your business plan over your staff’s reluctance to it. The attitudes of your staff can change; but your business won’t survive if it doesn’t.

Remember these 5 approaches:

  1. Don’t allow resistance from staff to slow your business development.
  2. Create robust organisational strategies that require progression from everyone (i.e. remove the option).
  3. Instead of cutting back on development, think about more supportive ways to deliver it (e.g. small peer groups / deskside training / communication workshops).
  4. Spend more time thinking about HOW to develop people, and less about IF you can or not.
  5. Focus on the way you run your business rather than simply re-staffing. (A Laggard isn’t exclusively contained to a job role, area or age group. You can’t solve your problems by simply swapping your workforce out for a group of 20-somethings.)

The Final Leg

By now, you hopefully understand what Laggards are, what makes them tick, and a few ways to reduce the population in your workforce.

Dealing with user adoption issues is similar to most areas of digital leadership. It’s all about getting people uncomfortable, while giving them excellent support. Make them uncomfortable, but in the most comfortable way you can.

I’m fairly sure that, if he needed to, my grandfather could have been persuaded to start booking his holidays on the internet. Despite the initial effort and scariness.

Because it's truthful to say that our digital world is a scary place for many people. Scattered with deep, dark holes – full of seemingly creepy things.

For some people, that means trying to get their heads around Office 365. For others, it’ll be swapping their Nokia 108 for a smartphone.

But whatever the challenges, don’t turn your back on them: do what you can to illuminate the scariness; give a comforting hand when it’s needed; and keep a tightly rolled-up newspaper in your back pocket.


escalla has developed a range of solutions to enable you to get the best out of Office 365: from quick video tutorials to major software implementation training and consultancy. Contact us to find out more.

Twitter @escallaDigital

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