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What is the ADKAR Model

The Prosci ADKAR Model is a goal-oriented change management model to guide individual and organizational change.

Created by Prosci founder Jeff Hiatt, ADKAR is an acronym that represents the five outcomes an individual must achieve for change to be successful: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, reinforcement®.

The Prosci ADKAR Model Arrow

When applied to organizational change, this model allows leaders and change management teams to focus their activities on what will drive individual change and therefore achieve organizational results. ADKAR provides clear goals and outcomes for change management activities. It also provides a simple, easy-to-use framework for everyone in the organization to think about change. Employees, managers and senior leaders alike can all use ADKAR to describe and discuss change together.

Why Use the ADKAR Model

Change is often a complex and difficult process, and - what's more - it is inevitable. Managing change on the personal and organizational level requires new thinking, new models for change and new frameworks and tools to enable the smooth implementation of the desired change. ADKAR can be applied to a wide variety of changes to drive change success.

Understanding Change at an Individual Level

Change happens at the individual level; in order for a group or organization to change, all the individuals within that group must change. The best project management, vision or solution will not result in successful change. The secret to successful change is rooted in something much simpler: how to facilitate change with one person.

To affect change in our organizations, businesses and communities, we must first understand how to affect individual change. Oftentimes helping an individual change can be ambiguous, and ADKAR provides direction and structure.

Using ADKAR with Traditional Change Management Activities

ADKAR outlines the individual’s successful journey through change. Each step of the model also naturally fits into the typical activities associated with change management.

For example:

Awareness of the business reasons for change. Awareness is the goal/outcome of early communications related to an organizational change

Desire to engage and participate in the change. Desire is the goal/outcome of sponsorship and resistance management

Knowledge about how to change. Knowledge is the goal/outcome of training and coaching

Ability to realize or implement the change at the required performance level. Ability is the goal/outcome of additional coaching, practice and time

Reinforcement to ensure change sticks. Reinforcement is the goal/outcome of adoption measurement, corrective action and recognition of successful change

The goals and outcomes defined by ADKAR are sequential and cumulative, they must be achieved in order for effective and sustainable change to take place.

Change Dimensions

To use the ADKAR model effectively, it is important to understand all of the factors at play during a change initiative and their effect on change success. Change happens on two dimensions: there is the business side of change and the people side of change. Successful change is a result of both dimensions of change maturing simultaneously (see below).

ADKAR phases of change

The Business Dimension of Change

Listed below are the standard business elements of a typical change project. Most managers will feel comfortable managing these phases:

  • Identify a business need or opportunity
  • Define the project (scope and objectives)
  • Design the business solution (new processes, systems and organizational structure)
  • Develop the new processes and systems
  • Implement the solution into the organization

These are the tangible, concrete aspects of projects and are usually the default steps when implementing a new solution. Much less frequently, however, are managers comfortable with the other side of the change: the people side.

The People Side of Change - Prosci

The People Dimension of Change

The most commonly cited reason for project failure is problems with the people side of change.

"Effective change management with employees" is consistently listed as one of the top five project success factors in Prosci's benchmarking studies. To effectively manage the people side of change, a plan must be developed that includes similarly tangible and concrete steps to achieve the five key goals of ADKAR in the people who are required to change as a result of the project. This cannot be left to chance or assumed it will happen naturally.

The ADKAR Model in a Personal Change

Prosci ADKAR Blocks

To help build a clearer understanding of the model and how to apply it, think about a change you want to make in your personal life. A good example is adding a regular exercise regimen; a change many people attempt but struggle to sustain over time. Now let’s apply the ADKAR model:

Awareness: are you aware of the need to exercise? Articles or TV reports that describe the health benefits of regular exercise may build awareness.

Desire: do you have the personal motivation to start exercising? Awareness will not be enough to make the change. You will need to make a personal decision to engage in this change based on your own unique motivations.

Knowledge: do you know how to effectively and safely exercise? To gain knowledge, you might hire a personal trainer, attend an exercise class or order a workout video. In order to effectively change, you need to know how.
Change Management Reinforcement Buddy
Ability: can you put your knowledge into practice? Knowing how to do something and being able to it are very different. You may need to rearrange other commitments to make time for new behaviors, and you might consider working one-on-one with a coach or personal trainer to develop your new skills.

Reinforcement: do you have reinforcements in place to prevent you from reverting to your old habits? Perhaps you have a reward system for yourself when you hit certain exercise milestones. Or you might have a workout buddy who holds you accountable for showing up to the gym.

Using exercise as our example, it is easy to see how change occurs on a personal level. Now let’s consider how this framework applies to employees during a change process.

The ADKAR Model in an Organization

The ADKAR model helps us understand an individual’s needs during a change at work and directs what kind of support we can provide to help them successfully transition. Let’s apply ADKAR to the implementation of a new software tool:

1. Awareness

Is your employee aware of the need for change? If the change is implemented and the employee is not aware that any changes are needed, their reaction might be: “This is a waste of time, it was fine before.” Awareness of the business or organizational need for the change is critical. Awareness may include explaining to the employee that the old software will no longer be supported by the vendor, and that new software is necessary to meet customer needs and improve efficiency. Organizational awareness messages are most effective when delivered from the most senior leaders in the organization. Based on this awareness, the reaction will likely be very different: “How soon will this happen and how will this impact me?”

2. Desire

Does your employee have the desire to participate in the change? If an employee has no desire to change, you may hear: “I’m not interested in changing. What’s in it for me?” In this case, the resistant employee’s direct manager or supervisor is in the best position to help. They are closest to employees and understand their day-to-day work best. Through one-on-one conversations, managers can uncover their employee’s personal reasons for resisting and can remove any barriers to the employee buying in to the change. The manager can also help to create desire by translating the change into meaningful terms and helping to answer “What’s in it for me?” While the manager plays a key role here, ultimately the employee must make a personal decision to participate in this change based on their own unique motivations.   

3. Knowledge

Does your employee have the knowledge to make the change? In order to effectively change, you need to know how. Knowledge-building should only be provided after the milestones of awareness and desire have been achieved. If training is provided before this, employees will not connect the training to the change and will not engage in knowledge-building. To make the most of a training investment, also ensure that training is specific to the employee’s role in the change.

4. Ability

Can your employee put their knowledge into practice? Knowing how to perform in the future changed state and having the ability to actually perform in the future changed state are very different. If an employee has knowledge but not ability, you might hear: "I’m not getting these new steps right" or "I get there, but it takes me twice as long." To bridge the knowledge to ability gap, employees benefit from hands-on coaching and practice in an environment where they can make mistakes and ask questions. To realize a change, employees also need time. When ability is achieved, the change takes place, and you will see the new demonstrated behaviors.

5. Reinforcement

Do you have reinforcements in place to prevent your employee from reverting to old habits? When reinforcement is not in place, employees may use work-arounds or rely on their old spreadsheets instead of the new system. You may hear things like: "The new way takes too long; I’m going to keep doing it my way" or "I keep forgetting to include the new department." The human brain is wired for habit, and physiologically we are programed to revert to old habits. We must have reinforcements in place to sustain the change. Monitor whether the change is being sustained or not, and where the change has taken hold, celebrate and recognize it. Positive recognition is a great way to reward employees for making the change and to demonstrate that participation is important. If some employees are reverting to old processes or habits, check to see if they need more training or coaching and reinforce that they are expected to continue working in the new way.

ADKAR Exercise

This exercise will help to separate and clarify the key elements of the ADKAR model, in a real life or work setting.

Identify a friend, family member, work associate or employee, who despite your best efforts to support them through a change, is not having success.

Answer the questions below with this person in mind, assigning a score for each question. For a printed version of the table below please download the ADKAR eBook.

ADKAR Assessment Exercise


Applying the ADKAR Assessment Results

Identify the first area that scored 3 or below. This is your “barrier point” and what needs to be addressed first. By addressing the first area with a low score, you will positively impact all the goals that follow.

Actionable Steps

If awareness is needed: discuss and explore the reasons and benefits for this change. Discuss the risks of not changing and why the change needs to happen now.

If more desire is needed: to move this person forward you must understand and address their inherent desire to change (which may stem from negative or positive consequences). These motivating factors have to be great enough to overcome the individual’s personal threshold to resisting the change.

If more knowledge is needed: avoid dwelling on reasons for change and motivating factors, as this is unnecessary and could be discouraging. Focus now on education and training for the skills and behaviors necessary to move forward.

If more ability is needed: first, time is needed to develop new abilities and behaviors, and this person simply may need more time to develop new skills with proficiency. Second, ongoing coaching and support could be required - consider outside intervention, continued support and mentoring.

If more reinforcement is needed: investigate if the necessary elements are present to keep the person from reverting to old behaviors. Address the incentives or consequences for not continuing to act in the new way and re-visit the knowledge and ability milestones. It may be that more training and education is needed as processes develop and evolve.

To Conclude

The ADKAR Model is an essential tool for leaders and change professionals. It is effective, easy to grasp and can be applied in a wide variety of organizational settings.

Using the ADKAR model will help you to plan effectively for a new change and also help diagnose where a current change is failing, so that you can take corrective action. Each step of the model outlines the individual’s successful journey through change and provides an outcome orientation for your change management activities. For example, you will no longer develop a communications plan for the sake of having a communications plan; now you will develop a communications plan to specifically drive awareness of the need for the change. If you are ready to change, either personally or professionally, this results-oriented approach will increase your change success.  

For a more in-depth study of the ADKAR Model, we highly recommend the ADKAR eBook below, where all examples, applications and explanations are explored in more detail. The ADKAR exercise and table are also included.

The Prosci ADKAR Model - eBook bundle