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A simple but powerful model to help drive successful change, the ADKAR® Model is one of the most widely-requested and sought after models for change management.

ADKAR is an acronym that stands for:

While helpful in understanding how individuals experience and can be influenced in times of change, there are several applications of the ADKAR Model.

Making Sense of Change

Change is difficult and complex to understand. However, many in the field of change management have provided techniques for breaking change down into phases. In the early 20th century, the anthropologist Arnold Van Gennep first broke change down into three distinct phases while studying groups around the world and the rites of passage in those cultures, published in his 1909 work The Rites of Passage. Kurt Lewin (Resolving Social Conflicts, 1948) and William Bridges (Transitions, 1980) both developed the idea of three distinct phases of change, placing considerable focus on the difficulty individuals face in stepping out of the current state.

Prosci uses this framework by defining the current state, the transition state and the future state, along with the implications of each of the states. By separating a change out into how things are done today (the current state), how things will be done (the future state) and how to move from the current state to the future state (the transition state), change can be more effectively managed with specific tactics for each of the states of change.

states of change

Prosci's ADKAR Model takes the next step. It moves beyond states of change as a context (current, transition, future) and provides more definition about how one person moves through the change process individually. To move out of the current state, an individual needs awareness of the need for change and desire to participate and support the change. Successfully moving through the transition state requires knowledge on how to change and the ability to implement the required skills and behaviors. In the future state, they need ability and reinforcement to sustain the change.

 States of change with ADKAR

Once exposed to the ADKAR Model, it becomes very easy to break down changes going on around you into the five building blocks and then examine each of the blocks in more detail. ADKAR gives more detail at the individual level and lets you make sense of change at that level.

Guiding Change Management Plans

In Prosci's organizational change management methodology, the Prosci 3-Phase Process, ADKAR guides change management plans. Change management plans are used in conjunction with project plans to manage and influence the people side of projects. Based on Prosci's research, there are five key plans that must be part of an effective change management approach:

  • Communication plan
  • Sponsorship roadmap
  • Coaching plan
  • Training plan
  • Resistance management plan

These five plans outline what we do from a change management professional's perspective. You can learn more about these five plans here.

ADKAR is an outcome-oriented model, describing the milestones an individual must hit to make a change successfully. These milestones are the goals a change management professional is trying to achieve when developing a change management plan. For example, think about how these three change management plans relate to ADKAR:

  • Communication builds awareness of the need for change and provides reinforcement to sustain the change
  • Executive sponsorship contributes to awareness of the need for change and builds desire to participate in the change
  • Training gives individuals knowledge on how to change and ability to implement the required skills and behaviors

The tools of change management are the customized plans developed when applying a structured organizational change management process. The goal of change management is the successful individual transitions made by each employee whose day-to-day work is impacted by the change. Any change management activity should have a goal of influencing individual transitions, and ADKAR provides helpful targets.

Measuring Progress

How do you measure the effectiveness of your change management approach? You can certainly measure change management activities, such as:

  • How many times you have communicated
  • How many times senior leaders have shared why the change is happening
  • What percentage of employees have had small group meeting with their managers about the change
  • How many employees have been trained

But simply measuring activities does not tell you if your change management activities are achieving intended effects.

This is where ADKAR can come into play as a measurement instrument. Since ADKAR describes the required elements of a successful change, it can be a powerful measuring stick to evaluate change management activities. For instance, after a major communication effort focused on sharing the need for the change and the individual and organizational reasons to support the change, you could conduct an assessment to evaluate the levels of awareness and desire in the people who received the communication. This type of assessment indicates how well employees are receiving change management activities.

Periodically throughout the lifecycle of a change, you can use ADKAR to gauge how well employees are making their own personal transitions.

Diagnosing Gaps

Since ADKAR describes the essential building blocks of successful change, ADKAR can also be used to understand why a change is not happening. Is the change failing because of a lack of awareness of the need for change? Is an individual not adopting the change because there is no desire to participate? Is lack of knowledge, ability or reinforcement stopping the change process?

You can use an ADKAR assessment to identify the barrier point of each individual impacted by a change. A simple way to assess ADKAR is to have an individual rank their levels of awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement on a scale from one to five by asking things like, “on a scale of one to five, how aware am I of the reasons this change is happening?”

A barrier point is identified as the first element with a score below three. Below is a graph illustrating the identification of a barrier point:

ADKAR barrier point

Once you understand the ADKAR barrier point, or the root cause of the person’s inability to change, you can then develop the right corrective actions to help the individual.

Developing Corrective Actions

Trying to develop corrective actions without understanding the root cause for change failure is a problem. First, it is difficult to pick the right corrective actions if you do not understand why the change is not succeeding. Second, it can be discouraging to employees if you pick corrective actions that are not focused on the right ADKAR building block.

For example, if an employee is not making a change due to missing reinforcement (for instance, they feel that there is no benefit to staying with the new way of doing their job), and the change management team provides more training (a knowledge intervention), the employee will become discouraged. If an employee is concerned about whether or not they have the skills to be successful (knowledge is the barrier point), but the team focuses on more communication about the need for change (an awareness tactic), the employee will get frustrated and might become even more resistant.

Since ADKAR describes the goal of change management, it also helps us to select the correct action if a change is not working. ADKAR provides guidance on how to help an individual move forward in the change process once we understand which of the ADKAR elements is missing. The actions we take could be things that help the person understand the reasons for the change, develop personal buy-in for the change, learn how to change and demonstrate the new required behaviors, and establish reinforcement mechanisms to help the person continue to implement the change.  

 Enabling Leaders to Coach Through Change

This application of ADKAR moves beyond the work of the change management resource or team. Benchmarking research tells us that an employee's manager or supervisor is a critical component of the change process. Employees look to their immediate supervisor for direction and information relating to a change. Additionally, managers and supervisors are the preferred sender of change messages. Their relationship with direct reports means that they have a considerable amount of influence on an employee's decision regarding a change. However, many great managers and supervisors have a hard time when it comes to leading their employees through change. Leading change is, in many ways, a new and unique competency that these leaders have not had a chance to develop.

One of the most effective tools organizations can provide to their managers is an understanding of how employees experience the change process and how to identify their own employee’s gaps in the change process. One employee of a manager may have a barrier point around awareness, whereas another employee may have a barrier around knowledge. Giving leaders the ADKAR Model as a framework allows them to pinpoint where their employees are at in a change process and where their barrier points are. That way, managers can coach each employee based on their unique change process and barrier points. Teaching managers the Prosci ADKAR Model helps them bridge the gap between being a great leader and a great leader of change.

Creating a Common Language for Change

Teaching ADKAR to the people across the organization as a common language for change will:

  • Open up lines of communication
  • Create a unified approach for change management
  • Foster an organization of change-ready people

ADKAR provides a helpful framework for discussing change. Rather than struggling with the often emotional realities of change without guidance, leaders can use ADKAR to direct conversations in a productive way. Similarly, employees can use the model to safely identify why they may be struggling with a particular change. Having a common language for discussing changes makes these difficult conversations more productive and outcome-oriented.

Using ADKAR also creates a unified approach for addressing the people side of change. Senior leaders, project managers, change managers, people leaders and employees all benefit from approaching change with a common framework and expectation. Senior leaders who are well versed in the ADKAR model start to ask questions like “how are we building awareness of the need for this strategic initiative?” and hold their people accountable for considering the individual milestones of the ADKAR Model. Having this simple framework provides the benefits for consistency, efficiency and a standard expectation.

Finally, giving employees across the organization the ADKAR Model empowers them to embrace change readily and proactively. Employees who have internalized the ADKAR Model can use the model to pinpoint their own sources of resistance and ask for what they need in order to change successfully. Rather than getting hung up on their own resistance, employees can use ADKAR as a framework to proactively understand, process, and move through change. 

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