If you haven’t come across the term laggard, it is most often used in the context of the Innovation Adoption Curve, or the diffusion of innovations to give it its more formal title. The theory seeks to explain how new stuff, like ideas and technology, spreads through societies and culture, and organisations too.
It goes a little like this. When some new stuff comes out, there are folks that get to it first. These are the innovators. They are followed by the early adopters. Slowly, the new stuff spreads and eventually reaches a critical mass and nearly everyone has it. Others continue to catch up. But those who catch up last of all, are the laggards. Often when the innovators have already moved on to something else. Different factors impact upon the speed at which all of this takes place.
Take the Apple Watch. Right now, it is still at the early adopter phase, and you will find it sported only on a few wrists. But if the theory holds true, it is only a matter of time before almost everyone has a smart watch. Don’t believe me? Once upon a time only a few people had a TV. Then only a few people had a colour one. Then only a few people had a Sky dish. And so on. The question is not if, but how long. Each innovation is different in the time that it takes to complete the cycle.
Every culture, every organisation, has its share of laggards – those late to the stuff. I’ve met my share; I am sure you have too. The reasons behind it are many. Sometimes it is just being unable to see the need for the new stuff; identify what problem it is solving or what value it adds When something works and has served you well, then why do something differently? I was reminded by this recently when watching a drama based upon the first criminal conviction secured by the use of DNA in the UK. While there was a senior policeman who believed in the science, there were others around him who doubted and favoured the old ways of crime detection. Now, it is simply routine.
So here, with my tongue firmly in my cheek, is a guide to spotting a laggard, at your place.
- They still have a 90’s Nokia and are not in the least bit interested in an upgrade.
- They say that don’t see the point of Twitter because it is all about people sharing what they had for breakfast.
- They think that all social media should be banned on the corporate network as it is nothing to do with work.
- They have a PA who prints out their emails for them.
- They know the number for the fax machine.
- They have used the fax machine. In the last week.
- They have a LinkedIn profile, because someone told them they should have one, but it is almost completely blank. Definitely, no photo.
- They start many of their sentences with ‘yes, but that will never work here…’
- You once sent them an Instant Message, but they didn’t reply as they had no idea what made that funny noise.
- There is a persistent rumour that they still have a Betamax video recorder.
I’m joking. A little. It is not my purpose in this post to be insulting or belittle anyone, but to wonder instead how we can help people to move on and to learn how. We live in a world in which traditional stuff is being disrupted, and new norms arise on a regular basis. Those without digital skills in the workplace will find themselves increasingly excluded. It is 2015. It is no longer okay to say that you ‘aren’t very technical’ or you ‘don’t get social media’. Because this is the world in which we live.
The term laggard does have a trace of something slightly demeaning. That someone with such tendencies is perhaps a slacker, a throwback, a luddite. That they will resist all progress or they just don’t get it. But that ain’t necessarily so. Maybe they need some help with figuring out what is in it for them. Maybe the myths or concern about risks have held them back. Maybe it is a training issue. Maybe we should take the time to find out.
Whatever someone’s reason for their continued reliance upon traditional ways of working, HR need to help them adapt. Contrary to the cliché, you can teach an old dog new tweets. And it is the role of HR to lead it.