News Leadership 3.0

September 02, 2008

Let the early birds soar

Culture change is requires
early-adopter strategy
Are you fostering a more adaptive news organization? How?

I am working on a presentation about workforce culture change for the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association.  We know that newspaper culture is one of the most defensive and change-resistant ever studied. Fear, economic uncertainty, buyouts and the excitement of the Web, have combined to force change in newsrooms in the past few years. But for those who want to press ahead with positive change, one of the most important lessons is that the people in an organization don’t all move at once or at the same pace.

Waving a magic wand or issuing booming proclamations will not result in the organization changing en masse. Instead identify people who create new things (innovators) and the people who are eager to try them out (early adopters). Make them successful and then build on their successes.

Here is a chart I found on Mindy McAdams blog that illustrates this very well. Check out the Rogers Adoption/Innovation Curve here.

This shows how few people in a given organization are ready initially to initiate or embrace change (perhaps 15 percent). The sweet spot is when the “early majority” joins in, bringing adoption to about half. Following that, about a third are labeled “late majority.” They’re skeptical but will eventually follow along. (I happen to think this cohort is larger than one-third in many newsrooms.)

It’s important to remember that a certain number of people - about 15 percent - may never adapt. Unfortunately, intensive and well-meaning efforts to bring them along may be a waste of time, effort and training dollars. Instead put some of that effort into managing these people into new careers. They will be happier and your organization will be better off in the long term.

But first and foremost, the key to culture change is to identify innovators and early adopters, the ones who will try new things on their own. Encourage them, especially when their peers inevitably start sniping about their new-fangled notions. Tout their work. Ask them to teach others. That’s how you build culture change brick by brick.

How have you empowered innovators and early adopters in your newsroom? What are your strategies for culture change? Please share your thoughts in the comments.


Differentiation refers to customer’s perception that a solution does not have a perfect competitive substitute. Therefore Differentiation suggests some dimension of unique capability; that the solution is better for certain uses or in certain circumstances than competitive alternatives. The purpose of Differentiation is to justify a price premium versus alternative solutions. Successful Differentiation is based on Market Segmentation, and is achieved only when customers actually perceive a difference based on technology, support, distribution, or other solution attributes (see Positioning).
Early Adopters


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Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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