ADKAR Model for Effective Change Management

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Guiding people through the process of change within their organizations can take many routes — some more effective than others.

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Executives can send out emails with attachments that spell out the new organizational structure, expecting people to understand their hidden meaning. Members of HR can sit down with employees and warn that pink slips are about to be issued so they’ll want to “toe the line” and “get with the program.” And the business can just let staff stumble around mystified, wondering who’s in charge today and what they should really be doing.

Most of us have had experience with one or another of those approaches, none of which is optimal. A grey layer of bad morale can settle in, leading to a plummet in productivity. Workers who are highly valued will start looking elsewhere for employment. And the project that was going to revolutionize operations becomes an also-ran, one more failure in a company history perhaps littered with them.

Leading firms have come to understand that a methodical approach to change management can help the people within an organization quickly adapt to changes in order to achieve the required outcome. According to research by Prosci®, projects that encompass the tenets of change management are six times more likely to meet their objectives than projects that don’t.

Using research from 2,600 companies, Prosci has identified the guiding principles for successfully managing change. These it used to design the ADKAR® Model, a framework for managing change, whether on a personal or organizational level. The overall idea is to carefully take a group of stakeholders on their own individual change journeys, culminating in the end project goal. ADKAR is an acronym for the key concepts of change management: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement.

The overall process is shown in this figure:


The ADKAR Model works by assessing individuals and organisations on each of five building blocks in consecutive order for readiness to deliver successful change. By rating each phase of change “element” with a score between “1” (the lowest) and “5” (the highest), you create an ADKAR “profile.” The first element to score three or less is defined as a “barrier point.”

Let’s examine each building block to understand what it means and how to respond when it becomes a barrier to achieving successful change in the organisation.

1. Raise AWARENESS of the Need for Change

Answering the “why” question behind the change is the starting point for any initiative, be that a personal goal to lose weight or install a new business operating model. To encourage awareness, various types of communication can be used, ranging from senior management interventions to virtual “forums” such as emails, newsletters and social media. Direct coaching from line managers and supervisors has proven to be more effective than messaging from anonymous human resources. The number one factor in making or breaking change initiatives, according to Prosci research, is active and visible participation from project leadership.

2. Create DESIRE to Participate in the Change

Simply knowing about change is not enough; we must reach an internal commitment to engage in the change. Desire is different from adoption, which comes later in the change journey and relates to the subject of the change. At this stage, we want participants to decide based on evaluating the question, “What’s in it for me?

During the roll-out of a manufacturing programme, I was required to embed a new reporting and meeting cadence to an already stretched team sitting in multiple locations. Our central project management office obviously required these tools to enable leadership to manage and govern the programme. However, it was only when I repositioned this as a tool to alleviate painful local challenges with help from senior decision makers (and demonstrated follow through) that participation became effortless — so much so that teams that were once never on time started joining calls before they even started.

In summary, consider the intrinsic motivations that create the desire for change. Use employee coaching and leader guidance to interact with people on a personal level to inspire participation and manage resistance.

3. KNOWLEDGE: Establish a Foundation for Core Capabilities

Once we realise that this new software (or any change initiative) may actually improve our lives dramatically; such as removing many hours of burdensome manual entry, the next step is to figure out HOW to use it! How many times have you purchased (desire) something after seeing it (awareness) and then never actually used it? The chances are it was not made clear how you could best use it to improve your life! Knowledge is about training and educating users on how to operate and use the new solution. Given the growing complexity of teams and variety in stakeholders, your training needs will vary dramatically, and will have to be flexible to manage different cultures and skill levels — simplicity and clarity are the golden benchmarks here. Typically, many traditional project teams jump to training without paying sufficient attention to awareness or desire, a common trap and cause of many new implementation failures.

4. ABILITY: Shift from Knowing the Change to Living the Change

Did you just read the vehicle manual when you learned to drive? No, you had practical experience after which it eventually became autonomous. Similarly, a mistake many leaders make is assuming that giving someone a guidebook will magically lead to the ability to use that tool. Think back to your driving lessons: There were regular interactions with a subject matter expert, with lots of small tests and performance monitoring. In a similar fashion, to build ability, you must foster an environment of hands-on learning and role models to facilitate new ways of working.

5. REINFORCEMENT: Making Change Stick!

Reflect upon your own life and think about the new changes you’ve adopted at some point and continue to do so. Chances are you have received recognition or encouragement, perhaps even financial rewards. You have been given ownership and have been made to feel integrated within the larger vision. Celebrating and measuring performance are simple ways to ensure the change you have worked so hard to create is sustained. On a wider programme level, it’s important to provide mechanisms for feedback and evolution. It’s also vital to undertake audits to ensure adoption is maintained and to make course corrections. Project managers often expect to walk away once a new solution is in place; however, without a well understood handover back to business leaders and accountability mechanisms in place, many project benefits fall by the wayside.

Working through these simple, evidence-based steps, will ensure your change initiatives deliver the lasting results you wish for, maximising financial and resource investments.

This article was written by Pramal Lad

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