The Technology Adoption Curve: How to Benchmark Adoption

The Technology Adoption Curve: How to Benchmark Adoption

The Technology Adoption Curve: How to Benchmark Adoption

Last updated on May 20, 2024 at 09:37 am

Have you ever rolled out a new internal communication channel or tool that you think is going to be a hit, but then the initial adoption numbers feel disappointing? Maybe you weren’t expecting 100% right out of the gate, but surely a great new solution should hit 80% after a month, right? Well, actually, the technology adoption curve says that’s wrong.

The truth is, people are complex. There are people who are highly engaged and on board for every change. And then there are people who like the way things are and resist change. Your workforce is made up of both extremes and everything in between. And because of human nature, that 50% adoption rate after a month is actually about right. Let’s talk about why that is.

What is the Technology Adoption Curve?

technology adoption curve starts with innovators, then early adopters, early and late majority, and laggards

The Technology Adoption Curve is a framework of human behavior that estimates the rate at which people will accept and use a new technology. This model uses psychology and sociology to break down the adoption of any new technology into a curve with five stages.

This widely used benchmark can be referenced when rolling out any digital tool. It’s especially useful when you’re trying to set goals for what your adoption rate of a new tool or channel should be over time. 

The reality is, you might never gain one hundred percent adoption or even ninety percent. But that might be hard to convey to leadership. They might want 100%. And that’s where this model comes in. This gives you a science-backed model to show leadership what’s realistic.

What are the 5 Stages of Technology Adoption?

There are five stages in the tech adoption curve: 

  1. Innovators (2.5%) are the most engaged employees at your company. They’re always on the cutting edge of technology and are eager to be in the pilot group. 
  2. Early Adopters (13.5%) are also excited about new tools and are open to change. Whenever you suggest a new tool and ask who wants to participate, their hands go up.
  3. Early Majority (34%) are those who are still engaged and involved but are a little more change resistant. They want to wait a little bit to see a new tool be successful before diving in. Usually, this comes in the form of their leader telling them about the technology, why it matters, why it’s working, and how they will benefit. 
  4. Late Majority (34%) are more resistant to change. It’s a fear of missing out that eventually gets them on board. It’s less about liking the tool or change as it is about social acceptance and not being left behind. So, although it can take some time, you’re likely to eventually get most of this group to adopt your tool.
  5. Laggards (16%) are completely change adverse and probably disengaged. You may never get this 16% to adopt your new technology, but that’s okay. It’s the influencers at your company who will move the needle on culture, benchmarks, and KPIs. So, don’t lose sleep over this last group!

data improving over time

How to Use the Tech Adoption Curve

Our workforces are divided into five groups. So what? How can you use the technology adoption curve to your advantage? 

We recommend using the adoption curve to:

1. Set realistic adoption benchmarks.

Usually, we have big dreams for our new internal comms channels, but we still have to set SMART goals. And that means they have to be realistic. 

The technology adoption curve gives us a science-based model for adoption over time. Although the model doesn’t come with set timelines, you can combine it with what you know about your workforce to come up with more realistic benchmarks.

Saying you’ll hit 80% adoption after two months isn’t based on anything other than what you hope will happen. 

With the curve, you can set multiple, realistic adoption goals over time. Here’s an example of what that might look like:

Timeframe Adoption Goal
After 2 weeks 15%
After 1 month 50%
After 6 months 70%
After 1 year 80%

Watch this video to learn more about setting benchmarks and how to use them effectively. 


2. Prove your success to senior leadership.

This curve is a great benchmark to take to leadership. When you report to them on how the new tool or channel launch is going, you can show them where you’re at and where you’d expect to be based on the technology adoption curve. So, if they say, “why are we only at 15% adoption,” you can explain the psychology behind it and that you’re actually on track.

Even after several months, it might be frustrating to still be at that 50% mark. You might feel like you’ve hit a plateau. And your leadership team might be a bit worried. But remember, 50% is a really strong place to be. It’s on track for how people adopt technology worldwide. And perhaps more importantly, the first 50% are the most important because they are highly engaged and more likely to be influential to their peers. 

If you measure what that 50% of the population is doing now that they have better access to the communication you’re putting out there and if you can tie it back to KPIs, you’re going to see change happening within your organization. You don’t need to get to 100% adoption to start making a huge impact.

3. Create change management campaigns.

Lastly, it’s important to remember that rolling out new technology is a type of change management. And any good change management strategy requires multiple phases of communication to get it to stick.

The principles that guide The Prosci ADKAR Change Management approach run parallel to the tech adoption curve. ADKAR states that you need to communicate the following to get a change to stick: 

  1. Start by building awareness of the change. For your innovators, all they need is the knowledge that you have a new tool and they’ll be on board.
  2. Tell employees why the tool is great to create desire for it. Your early adopters are going to hear this and start signing up.
  3. Train employees on the knowledge they’ll need to be successful. As training sessions help build confidence and show the tool in action, your early majority are going to start adopting the technology.
  4. Build ability over time by letting employees actually use the tool. This is when your late majority are going to start seeing their peers using the tool and having success with it. The longer this goes on, the more this group will start participating.
  5. Reinforce the change over time. Technology adoption is like any change. It takes reinforcement over time to really get anything to stick—and to get more participation.

mobile app communication

How Do You Increase Technology Adoption?

You need a rollout strategy and plan to gain adoption. Let’s go through a few dos and don’ts when crafting that strategy and tracking towards your adoption goals.

App Adoption Strategy Don’ts:

  • One and done communication. The “Spray and Pray” approach where you just put it out there for everyone and hope it catches on! 
  • Not considering training. Even for what seems like a super easy and intuitive tool, one reason for resistance and people lagging behind is a feeling like they don’t understand how the tool works and how to use it.
  • Sharing the “how” but not the “why.” Sharing download instructions is important, but you have to create the need for the tool to entice people to take that download step and then actually use it.


App Adoption Strategy Dos:

  • Include need-to-know information in the tool. If employees don’t need the app, they won’t use it (or they won’t use it often).
  • Communicate the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?). Employees need to know why they’ll find value in the app, and focusing your messaging around this will drive a sense of urgency.
  • Make exclusive app content. FOMO is a shockingly effective tactic when rolling out a new channel. If there are fun contests, content, or discounts that are only available in the app, your adoption rates are likely to go up over time. 
  • Integrate downloading the app into an event. Examples: 
    • Virtual or in-person Town Halls where you share instructions and ask everyone to download
    • A roadshow where you go to each field location
    • All manager or employee conferences (if we ever get back to those!) where the new app is spotlighted and even incorporated into the event itself.
  • Find app champions. These are the people in the Innovators and Early Adopters category who are well-liked and respected. They often have influence. Get them onto the channel and ask them to help be employee advocates of the tool.

What’s Next?

Are you ready for a new communication channel that will help you reach your teams? We’re here to help. Get in touch today to learn more about theEMPLOYEEapp and our consultation services.



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