A lot of people in the Change world throw around the term “buy in” as way to describe if people affected by a change are willing to adopt the change. But there is a more accurate way to describe the “adoptability” of people… my new catchy term.

People affected by a change will have a combination of commitment and compliance. For your project to succeed you need to find the right balance of these two factors of adoptability.

But, what does that really mean? Let’s start with definitions.

Commitment means that I genuinely believe that a change will benefit me, my team, my customers and/or the organization and I am self-motivated to adopt the change.

Compliance means adopting a change because it was what I was told to do and/or I had no other choice.

As a leader, you need to identify where your team members need to be on this compliant-commitment scale in order to get the level of adoption (adoptability) necessary not just for success but for sustainability. In other words…


Adoptability = Sustainability


Here are 4 things to consider that will determine the level of adoptability you need...

1. Impact on the people effected by the change

How big, broad and deep will the change impact be on individuals in the organization? Think of rating the impact the change will make to processes and systems people use. Will their physical surroundings, location or workstation be different? Will there be changes to titles, roles or reporting relationships? Even consider how much the business strategy, markets, customers will be impacted! The greater the impact on individuals the more commitment is required.

2. Impact on the business/ organization

There are changes and then there are changes. Some are thrust upon us. For example, “We just lost our biggest customer and need to restructure our sales teams.” While others are more pro-active such as “We are revamping our entire ordering system to support our 5 year growth strategy.” The first is an example of a change that will determine the short-term viability of the organization. The second is preparing for long term success. The greater the change determines the short-term viability of the organization the more you should mandate (compliance) the change.

3. The speed of the change

How fast is it necessary to achieve the critical level of adoption? Note there is a difference between necessary and desired. The faster the speed of adoption required the more you should lean towards compliance. An example of a compliance driven change because of short time lines might be a new financial reporting process must be in place in six weeks when we present the new consolidated results of our merged companies to the board. That’s fast and there is no choice.

4. “Alternatives” employees have

To what degree is the change mandatory versus optional? Some changes offer different degrees of “wiggle room” or work arounds than others. Shifting to a new team selling approach provides more choice for adoption than a new warehouse management system being implemented.


The degree of commitment and compliance is a mix of the above factors. Here’s an illustration of how this works.

Considering these 4 factors will determine the level of compliance and commitment you need to ensure your change gets adopted and sustained.