ADKAR Change Model

An evaluation of its strengths and weaknesses

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The ADKAR change model was first published by Prosci in 1998.

Prosci describe themselves as the recognised leader in business process design and change management research, and as the world's largest provider of change management and reengineering toolkits and benchmarking information.

Their model reflects the necessary building blocks for individual change and was developed based on analysis of research data from over 900 organizations over a 10-year period.

In 2006, Prosci released the first complete text on the ADKAR model in Jeff Hiatt's book ADKAR: a model for change in business, government and our community.

Prosci’s own research shows that problems with the people dimension of change is the most commonly cited reason for project failures.

In a Prosci study with 248 companies, effective change management with employees was listed as one of the top-three overall success factors for the project. Helping managers be effective sponsors of change was considered the most critical success factor overall.

Summary of the ADKAR model

The model is founded on 2 basic ideas:

(1) It is people who change, not organisations.

(2) Successful change occurs when individual change matches the stages of organisational change.

For successful change to occur at the individual level people need to move through each of these stages:

  1. Awareness of the need for change.
  2. Desire to make the change happen.
  3. Knowledge about how to change.
  4. Ability to implement new skills and behaviors.
  5. Reinforcement to retain the change once it has been made.

For organisational change to be successful, these individual changes need to progress at or close to the same rate of progress through the business dimension of change.

Prosci define the business dimension of change as including these typical project elements:

  • Business need or opportunity is identified

  • Project is defined (scope and objectives)

  • Business solution is designed (new processes, systems and organizational structure)

  • New processes and systems are developed

  • Solution is implemented into the organization

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Prosci describe their process as follows:

    “ADKAR is a goal-oriented change management model that allows change management teams to focus their activities on specific business results.

    The ADKAR change model was initially used as a tool for determining if change management activities like communications and training were having the desired results during organizational change.

    By identifying the required outcomes or goals of change management, ADKAR becomes a useful framework for change management teams in the planning and execution of their work.

    The goals or outcomes defined by ADKAR are sequential and cumulative. An individual must obtain each element in sequence in order for a change to be implemented and sustained.

    As a manager, you can use this model to identify gaps in your change management process and to provide effective coaching for your employees.

    The ADKAR model can be used to:

    - Diagnose employee resistance to change
    - Help employees transition through the change process
    - Create a successful action plan for personal and professional advancement during change
    - Develop a change management plan for your employees

    The ADKAR model has the ability to identify why changes are not working and help you take the necessary steps to make the change successful.

    You will be able to break down the change into parts, understand where the change is failing and address that impact point.”

Evaluation of the ADKAR model

There are 2 quite different streams of thought that have shaped the practise of change management.

(1) The engineer's approach to business improvement with the focus on business process.

(2) The psychologist's approach to understanding human responses to change with the focus on people.

In my view the model reflects the BPR background of Prosci and the engineers approach to business improvement, this is quite apparent in the language and tone of their description of the model and with their emphasis on management and process alone.

The clear strength of the model is that provides a useful management checklist of the phases of the transition.

    The weaknesses, in my view, are as follows, the ADKAR model:

    (1) Fails to distinguish between "incremental change" and "step change"

    (2) Fails to distinguish between the roles and functions of leadership as well as management

    (3) Ignores the need for leadership to address the emotional dimension

    (4) Fails to see the macro level of programme management

(1) The ADKAR model fails to distinguish between "incremental change" and "step change"

I often get asked the question: "In your experience, what is the single biggest issue affecting directors who are considering or embarking on a change initiative?"

This is good question and hard to answer because there are several key things that need to be addressed. But the single biggest early decision is to decide whether the change can be handled within the context of business as usual or not.

In other words is it incremental change or step change? The determining factors are:

  • Complexity

  • Size

  • Scope

  • Priority

The ADKAR model is, in my view, suited to incremental change and is an effective management checklist.

But it misses out too much to be fully effective in a incremental change step change initiative. My reasons are outlined below.

(2) The ADKAR model fails to distinguish between the roles and functions of leadership as well as management

Is change just about the management or, does it involve leadership? If so, what's the difference?

  • Leaders drive change where as managers deliver it
  • Leaders define culture whereas managers are defined by it
  • Leaders innovate whereas managers administrate

Whilst the very definitions change management and project and programme management emphasise the management aspect [and of course this is important] much of the cause of the 70% failure rate in change initiatives is directly attributable to a lack of leadership.

(3) The ADKAR model ignores the need for leadership to address the emotional dimension

The transition between stage one of the ADKAR model - an awareness of the need for change and stage two - the desire to participate and support the change can be massive - especially in a step change.

William Bridges says that transition is not the same as change. Change is what happens to you. Transition is what you experience.

And transition involves loss and letting go - typically of old familiar routines and ways of doing things, social identity, role identity, status, money and relationships.

"To cross over the line into the transition, you need to ask yourself what inner relinquishments you'll need to make because of the change. What needs will you have to find other ways to get met? Because of your change, what parts of yourself are now out of date?"

Other thought leaders also stress the importance of the human dimension of change:

The Kubler Ross grief-cycle - otherwise known as the "change roller coaster" which maps the emotional stages that people pass through in their transition through change.

- Daniel Goleman and others have stressed the importance of the leader's ability to articulate a message that resonates with their followers' emotional reality and their sense of purpose, and thus motivate them to move in a specific direction.

- John Kotter says that the single biggest challenge facing leadership in a change process is just getting people to change their behaviour - and that happens... "When they are motivated to do so, and that happens when you speak to their feelings."

- Jon Katzenbach highlights the value of personalising the workplace and getting involved and truly understanding what your staff are doing on a daily basis.

- Andy Pearson emphasises how people will respond to their leaders efforts to connect with their emotional side: "Great leaders find a balance between getting results and how they get them."

So to summarise, in Bridges' own words:

"A change can work only if the people affected by it can get through the transition it causes successfully."

Learn how to apply William Bridges' transition model in practise - FREE Lessons

(4) The ADKAR model fails to see the macro level of programme management

Steps three to five of the ADKAR model are about knowledge of how to change, ability to implement change and reinforcement - making change stick, and these all relate to one of the biggest issues re implementing change - which boils down to: translating vision and strategy into actionable steps.

In this current environment the restructuring, refocusing and re-engineering is only the start. Business leaders face the equally if not more difficult challenge of getting the staff to deliver their new vision and achieve the revenue forecasts.

The traditional project approach referred to by the ADKAR model - sees it as a set of tasks which if executed successfully get a result. In other words the typical process led approach which has failed so consistently and so spectacularly over the last 20 years.

There is an important distinction between the micro level and the macro level perspectives of change management - and which the AKBAR fails to recognise.

At the macro level the root cause of this is lack of clarity and lack of communication about the people aspects of how to manage change - and even more fundamentally - the lack of a language and contextual framework to articulate and manage the necessary processes of change that will work for people.

At the micro level, delivering a strategy and changing a culture requires hands-on detailed management - micro management on occasions - in the specifics of how to do it - especially during the early stages.

So at this operational level people need to be enabled and supported to develop the capabilities to deliver your strategy and become what you want them to become [or as close to that as is realistically possible].

Here are 3 very good places to start:

(1) Clarifying decision-making around return - this includes factoring in risk assessment and mitigation [as well as opportunity] to quantify outcomes and the likelihood of outcomes.

(2) "Grinding out" in practical, manageable detail exactly what the high level strategy/vision/values things actually mean for the "troops" in action - the specific actionable steps.

(3) Establishing the clear linkages and connections between vision -> senior management decisions->task-level implementation -> and results: in the delivery of the strategy.

Additional recommended resources

For a start, check out:

Kurt Lewin's "Force Field Analysis"

Change management models - How do they help?

Kotter - 8 guiding principles for change management

Beckhard - the change equation

Bridges - navigating the transitions of change

Longaker - the 4 major phases of change

Conner - the do's and dont's of ongoing turbulence

Then check out:

Leadership Styles - What is most effective in leading change?

Inspirational Motivation - How to inspire your people in tough times

And if you really fancy a challenge...

The Tao of Change - Zen and the Art of Change Management

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