Applicability of diffusion of innovations framework to best practice applications of human performance technology

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Teaching and Leadership


Nick L. Smith


Innovation diffusion, Performance consulting, Business process improvement, Best practice, Human performance

Subject Categories

Business | Education | Industrial and Organizational Psychology | Psychology | Social and Behavioral Sciences


For over half a century, research has been conducted on how innovations spread within social or organizational environments. Diffusion of Innovations (DoI) research contributes to fields as varied as agriculture, marketing, sociology, education, and anthropology. The field of Human Performance Technology (HPT) is by definition the identification and implementation of positive change. HPT practitioners identify causes for poor individual or organizational performance, identify appropriate interventions to address that poor performance, and then develop, implement, and measure the impact the intervention has on organizational outcomes. Recent research suggests environmental factors may influence the success of HPT practice, and that DoI theory may provide some answers to HPT practitioners on which environmental factors are most influential in that regard.

This is a multi-case study of award winning examples of successful HPT implementation in global, for-profit organizations. Cases were selected from recent winners of the International Society for Performance Improvement annual award for Outstanding Human Performance Intervention. Data were collected primarily through interviews with members of the award winning teams.

The primary analytical framework consisted of the application of a meta-matrix to view a number of DoI factors as they applied to the HPT implementation in each case. Five DoI characteristics of organizational innovativeness were explored: centralization, complexity, formalization, interconnectedness, and organizational slack. Five DoI innovation attributes were also explored: relative advantage, compatibility, observability, complexity, and trialability. Additionally, analysis investigated the possibility of other factors or influencers of the success of HPT implementation in each case.

Study results indicate that even without explicit knowledge of DoI factors and attributes, HPT practitioners addressed them in the course of the project work. In most cases, factors and attributes were found as DoI theory would predict to support diffusion of an innovation. In every applicable instance where circumstances differed from DoI theoretical prediction, actions by HPT practitioners countered the negative influence of the factor or attribute on project success. Additional findings support the importance of management support and good teamwork. Surprisingly, reduced timeframes for project inception and completion facilitated project success.


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