Are Our Expectations Too High?

expectations too high - person pointing to a range of arrows pointing at them

By Inge Woudstra

This month, we’ve been talking about humility and vulnerability, in leadership and as part of our own self-reflection. Humility & Vulnerability is the 5th of our 8 Inclusive Behaviours.

There’s another area where we could be humbler so we can be more inclusive: our expectations with regards to change.

The pace of D&I change. Is it glacial? 

When we get involved in leading the change towards a more diverse and inclusive organisation, we are asking people to change attitudes and behaviours. We expect them to join our events, training programmes and initiatives, to soak up the learning and implement it immediately.

But, of course, this is not what happens. Usually, this takes longer than we anticipate. This is when we need to be more humble with our own expectations.

This isn’t easy.

Because we’re so passionate about D&I, we often (secretly) believe that change needs to happen NOW, or rather, should have happened yesterday.  So when the change doesn’t come fast enough, or when people question or challenge us, we are quick to dismiss them or even label them as dinosaurs, racists, sexists or bigots – or a number of other unfavourable terms.

This is, of course, counter-productive. We need to realise that people (and this includes us) need time to change.

Some people take more time than others to commit
Introducing the Change Adoption Curve from Rogers. This model helps manage expectations and see progress, and gives guidance on where to focus efforts.  Most importantly perhaps, it helps reduce levels of frustration.

The Adoption Curves classifies groups of people by their willingness to adopt new ideas, technologies, or trends.

  • The Innovators – These are the people who are willing to try anything to get better and to test new ideas even without proof.  These are the people in your organisation starting a network, or asking you if they can put up a rainbow flag before you have even thought about D&I. Typically they form about 2.5% of a group.
  • The Early Adopters – These are people who are willing to try things, but not without proof. They use the experiences of the innovators as proof.  They are the ones attending your events, putting themselves forward to be champions, or are happy to accept when asked. They are the senior leaders who experiment with best practices, or give you a D&I budget. They tend to represent 13.6% of the group.
  • The Early and Late Majority – The early and late majority need proof, so they look to the early adopters to see whether the change is working for others, and are recording their successes (and failures) as well. The early and late majorities represent 68% of the population.
  • The Laggards – The laggards are those who require a substantial amount of proof. They are the last ones to come along and some of them never do. These are the people you may hear a lot from. The ones who flood your mailbox with difficult questions. Together, they form 16% of the population.

How to use the Adoption Curve 
This model helps us understand that some people need more proof than others.  It helps us see that some people need more time to gather their proof. Knowing this, we know what can be done to expedite change: we need to show proof.  We can, for instance, share best practices and early wins.

The Adoption Curve also lets us realise that we tend to spend a lot of time and effort on those who aren’t on board yet, missing out on the supermajority that we could more realistically win over. Instead of focusing on the Laggards, we should be focusing our early efforts on the innovators, then on the early adopters. Indeed, once 30% of people are on board, the rest tend to follow.

Most importantly, however, we ought to accept that some people will take much longer (or may never quite fully) come on board, and that’s okay too. We are all different, and inclusion is all about valuing difference. Allow people to have different views, and to change at their own pace. That is inclusion. And that requires you to be humble with your expectations.