By: Liz Sheffield
A Myriad of Change Management Models
Change management models are methodologies that provide a structured and intentional approach to organizational change. They serve as guides about how to make changes, navigate the complex process, and ensure that changes are implemented and embraced.
As a practice, change management models exist to make the changes easier to implement and to help an organization, department, or team transition to a new normal. Today, increasing globalization and rapid innovation of technology make it a requirement that organizations successfully address change in this ever-changing business environment.
Each change management model uses a unique approach to change that hopefully makes any given transformation stick. A variety of change management models exist, and one may fit a particular organization’s business structure better than another. Using a change management model is a key part of your employee engagement solutions and approach.
4 Top Approaches to Change Management
There are at least a dozen change management models, and this article will explore four popular models:
- Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model: Developed by Harvard Business School professor John Kotter, this model is designed around eight steps to change and is based on the research of 100 organizations that were experiencing change.
- Lewin’s Change Model: Developed by Kurt Lewin, this model focuses first on the perception that a change is needed, then moves toward the desired behavior, and finally works to establish that behavior as the new norm.
- ADKAR Model: This model, developed by Jeff Hiatt, the founder of Prosci, is based on five essential blocks that enable successful change. ADKAR stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement.
- Kübler-Ross’ Change Curve: Psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed this model as a way of handling the emotional responses to grief. In change management approaches, this Change Curve is used to address the emotional response of people affected by the change.
Each of these change management models has value and can be used separately or in conjunction, depending on the scope and desired outcome of the change an organization is seeking.
When intentional change management techniques are in place, the change process may not be perfect, but it’s more likely that you’ll keep your employees engaged and empower them to help you achieve the desired business transformation that’s driving the need for change.
Most models were created by business experts and academics. Typically they are based on a mix of research and experience. As you consider the many methods available, start by examining these four change management models and let them inform your approach.
Kotter 8-Step Process
In the 1990s, Kotter identified the success factors for change and combined them into a methodology, the 8-Step Process for Leading Change. The eight steps include:
- Create a sense of urgency
- Build the change team
- Form a strategic vision
- Communicate the vision
- Remove barriers to change
- Focus on short-term wins
- Maintain momentum
- Institute change
This eight-step process helps organizations understand the need for change with a step-by-step approach that serves as a guide. Unlike other models, it doesn’t incorporate employee feedback, so it is perhaps better suited for larger organizations that must drive change through a top-down approach.
Pros of Kotter’s Model
Kotter’s method can help an organization set a strong foundation for change by establishing a sense of urgency and demonstrating why change is necessary. In turn, this helps drive action, which helps with acceptance, implementation, and execution.
Cons of Kotter’s Model
Due to the top-down nature of this model, it can create issues with employees in smaller or more collaborative environments. Rather than identifying a need for change as a group, this method relies heavily on leadership identifying and then directing the change.
Lewin’s Change Management Model
Lewin’s change management model was developed in the 1940s and is most helpful around the implementation and execution of change. Lewin, who was a scientist, likened the change process to changing the shape of a block of ice—by unfreezing, changing, and refreezing it. The model is helpful for innovation in a way that doesn’t entirely disrupt the organization but still allows for the adoption of a drastic change.
The idea is that first, an organization must “unfreeze” the current process to analyze for improvement and to ensure everyone accepts the need for change. The change is then made and employees are supported during the transition. Finally, the organization must “refreeze” and adopt the new status quo.
Pros of the Lewin Change Model
If you’re looking to make some big, dramatic changes, this model can help you think outside the box as well as identify what’s not working. Everything comes under scrutiny in this model, so if you’re willing to do the work, the results can have a huge impact in driving new, innovative ways to approach your business. Even though this was developed 80 years ago, it’s more relevant than ever for organizations that need to adopt large changes to remain relevant in a rapidly changing business environment.
Cons of the Lewin Change Model
Because this model is designed for large-scale changes, it often creates shifts in workflow, processes, and operations. When this occurs, employees may disengage. Lewin addresses the need to support employees during the process; however, not much detail about how to do that is provided. To address employee change management needs, look to the ADKAR model for specifics about how to gain employee buy-in and keep them engaged.
The ADKAR model focuses on change by addressing five goals
- Awareness of the need for change
- Desire to support and participate in the change
- Knowledge regarding how to change
- Ability to implement necessary skills and behaviors
- Reinforcement to maintain the change
The model can be used to plan out change at both the individual and organizational levels. ADKAR was developed by Hiatt in 2003. The intent behind it is to help coach and assist employees through the change management processes within organizations.
Pros of ADKAR
There’s a strong focus on employees in this model, which is helpful as employees are a key element in whether or not change will stick. Because this model is based on goals or outcomes that will help achieve change, rather than on a set of specific steps, it’s more flexible and can be applied to many situations. This model can lead to easy, short-term wins.
Cons of ADKAR
The ADKAR model doesn’t include how to identify a high-level plan. Therefore, if you don’t have a specific change or outcome in mind, it’s best to use another change management method to first determine what the best change is, and then refer to the ADKAR model for insights around engaging everyone in the change.
Kübler-Ross’ Change Curve
While the Kubler-Ross Change Curve does not provide steps for change management, the curve—which was originally designed to illustrate the stages bereavement—provides five stages of grief that people experience related to change. These stages are useful to understand as organizations work with employees to make transitions required by change. The curve highlights five stages:
Of course, change management in an organization is not the same as dying or losing a loved one. However, given the amount of time and energy employees invest in work, it’s understandable that when things change, they grieve what’s lost.
Pros of the Change Curve
Similarities between bereavement and grief over change are what make this model useful for employers who want to carefully consider the impact change will have on their workforce. The Change Curve can help organizations anticipate and plan for employees’ emotional responses. It helps identify the biggest challenges so you can proactively respond.
Cons of the Change Curve
Some skeptics caution that this theory is only a hypothesis and not empirically proven. It also doesn’t provide insight regarding how to address each stage of the curve. Moreover, each individual is unique, and everyone’s response to change differs. So while the model raises awareness around the emotions people experience related to change, there’s not a one-size-fits-all method for tackling the emotional side of change.
How to pick the model that’s right for your organization
Knowing that various models and approaches exist, how do you determine which one is right for your organization, or what you need to address the current challenge?
- Assess the level of change required: Is the change large-scale, and focused on innovating something new? Or, is it a smaller change such as deployment of a new software system for one team’s use? Is the change curve drastic? Depending on the scale of the change, you can choose a model that provides lots of structure or one that is more focused on employee engagement.
- Evaluate existing support around your change goals: How much buy-in already exists for this change? If you anticipate push back or resistance, you’ll want to be sure your change management model includes a plan for how to gain support and how to socialize the change to earn the support you need for it to move forward successfully.
- Consider your organizational structure: If yours is a large organization, you probably want a model that relies less on collaboration and uses a top-down approach for decisions and direction regarding change. But if you’re a smaller organization, you’ll want to choose a model that can be incorporated into existing methods for how work gets done and be sure to actively engage with your employee base to ensure they’re engaged from the start.
- Analyze your systems and tools: What tools exist to help you navigate and implement this change? Everything from your intranet to social channels to internal systems should be considered as you draft your change management plan. Regardless of the model or the change you’re planning, you’ll want to use your employee communication software to distribute consistent messaging that keeps the entire organization informed.
Change always has its challenges, but a thoughtful approach and deployment of the right change management model can minimize the pain and improve positive outcomes. Choose a change management model that guides you to your desired outcome and that helps employees navigate new territory in a way that drives results.
When you’re facing an organizational change–big or small–it can feel overwhelming. But having a framework to guide your change will let you design, implement, and deploy the change in a way that engages employees and lets your business grow.