How Long Will This Change Take?

By the time a major change effort is approved, it is usually because the changing business environment has become impossible to ignore. Upon formation of the change team, the champions and sponsors immediately ask, “how long will it take before we will see results?” The honest answer is, “It depends….”

Once you have created a measurable definition of success you can determine if you are making progress, how much, how quickly, and if it is in the right direction. We now need to address the fact that if your change affects people in any way–which we would argue all changes have people impact–it will take time.

People adapt to change at different rates and with varying degrees of ease.

Early Adopters

Early Adopters

Early adopters are your first followers. These people are hungry for change and are eager to join the movement. If I were to play music, a few of you would get up and dance–you might be tired of sitting, you might like my music choice… There are always people who can’t help themselves and want to be first.



At the other end of the spectrum are the resisters. When asked to think or behave differently, there will naturally be hesitation and fear. Back to my music example: there is a percentage of people who will NEVER get up and dance. They might even bring in a doctor’s note excusing them from public attempts at rhythm. Their excuse: “I just don’t dance!”

Majority of the Followers

Majority of the People Impacted

The majority of the people will pause to see what happens to the early adopters. When those individuals are not publicly shamed and don’t die of embarrassment, the majority become more willing to follow. As more people decide that they like the music and have had enough coffee, they will get up and join the first followers. That is how a change starts to take hold.

According to behavioral biologist Karen Pryor, the absorb and utilize stages (#5 and #6 out of her 8 stages of change) illustrated by the yellow change adoption phase can take a year or more.

Change Adoption End-to-End

Change Adoption End-to-End

People adapt to change at different rates and with varying degrees of ease. Because people follow people, you need to create a public, visible way to demonstrate that the change works and is easy, and that the followers are doing well, or at least they are not worse off after adopting the change. A solid, multidirectional communication plan is key to the success of change.

When your employees see increased momentum and examples of true successes, they begin to overcome their reluctance to adopt the change. Publicize that the first followers are surviving the change–the world didn’t end, no one was publicly humiliated–and that the change team is willing to receive continuous improvement suggestions (and adjust, as needed, if something is not working). For those who were on the fence about dancing, but see they are welcome and can add their style to the movement, they will become more comfortable about joining in.

As more people participate, you start to realize the business benefits that drove the need for change in the first place. Just be prepared to persist through the full change adoption curve until you have achieved full success!

About Michelle Smeby

Michelle Smeby is CEO of wHolistic Change, Inc. with more than 10 years of experience implementing enterprise solutions at Fortune 100 companies. Michelle specializes in helping corporations deliver transformational change.
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