Approach change at the individual level

Mar 31, 2024

This approach ensures the foundation of change is built on a solid understanding of human behavior, enabling more sustainable firm-wide implementation.

Change management within architecture, engineering, and construction companies is crucial in today’s fast-evolving marketplace. These firms are navigating through a sea of emerging technologies, shifting customer demands, and intensifying competition. Effectively managing and adapting to changes is paramount. A pivotal aspect of successful change management in AEC companies lies in understanding and leveraging the change adoption curve at the individual level, emphasizing a people-first approach.

Often, AEC firms strategize changes at the leadership level, anticipating seamless adaptation by all employees. This approach, mirroring the governance of countries, appears logical at first glance. However, this overlooks the significant variance in individual readiness for change, a critical oversight given the smaller scale of companies compared to national populations.

Everett Rogers’ 1962 seminal work, Diffusion of Innovations, introduces the change adoption curve, illustrating the spectrum of organizational members from “innovators” to “laggards.” This model not only delineates the categories of adopters but also suggests that the acceptance of innovations follows a pattern where market share (adoption level) grows gradually before skyrocketing as adoption becomes widespread. 

This curve subtly indicates that effective change management strategies should engage with the left side of the curve – focusing on “innovators,” “early adopters,” and the “early majority.” These groups are naturally inclined toward change, driven by a readiness to explore new opportunities and lead movements. Their intrinsic motivation to push boundaries makes them ideal starting points for implementing change.

Furthermore, the conventional mistake many companies make is to concentrate their efforts on a singular team or project, hoping to incubate change in a controlled environment. While this approach might seem efficient, it inadvertently limits the scope of feedback and learning, potentially skewing outcomes with a narrow set of data, especially if we’re trying to implement change in a larger organization.

A more effective strategy involves spreading the initiative across multiple small teams. By identifying and empowering change champions (from the left side of the aforementioned change adoption curve) within various teams, locations, or projects, firms can harvest a rich diversity of feedback and insights. This method not only fosters a more inclusive environment for change but also allows for a broader understanding of what strategies resonate across different segments of the organization.

The implications of this approach are profound. By engaging with change at the individual level and recognizing the unique paths different employees take along the adoption curve, AEC companies can foster a more resilient and adaptable organizational culture. This culture not only embraces change but thrives on it, leveraging the collective strengths and perspectives of its workforce.

Moreover, having our initiative decentralized with multiple teams or projects offers us a wide range of learning opportunities and ways in which to adapt to the implementation process. This point is especially important when we’re considering technological change, as having more experts ultimately make it easier for them to work (and not be overwhelmed by support requests), and it means a faster adoption of technology in the firm, as there’ll be more in-house experts. From the perspective of these change champions, they’ll be more inclined to stay in the company and lead the change in their environment.

Ultimately, the journey of change management is a testament to the power of individual agency within the collective framework of an organization. It highlights the critical role of empathy, understanding, and strategic planning in navigating the complexities of change. As AEC companies continue to evolve in this dynamic landscape, their success will be increasingly dependent on their ability to foster an environment where change is not just managed but embraced at every level. This people-first approach ensures that the foundation of change is built on a solid understanding of human behavior, enabling a more effective and sustainable implementation of change across the organization. 

Stjepan Mikulić is founder and CEO of AI in AEC. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Zweig Group, three times on the Inc. 500/5000 list, is the industry leader and premiere authority in AEC firm management and marketing, the go-to source for data and research, and the leading provider of customized learning and training. Zweig Group exists to help AEC firms succeed in a complicated and challenging marketplace through services that include: Mergers & Acquisitions, Strategic Planning, Valuation, Executive Search, Board of Director Services, Ownership Transition, Marketing & Branding, and Business Development Training. The firm has offices in Dallas and Fayetteville, Arkansas.