The primary underlying assumption of the ADKAR® Model for change management is that the process of change is highly personal and individualized. The author of this model, Jeffery Hiatt, described the issue as “Successful change, at its core, is rooted in something much simpler: How to facilitate change with one person” (Hiatt, 2006, p. 1).
Most change processes address communication and planning as key elements, and project plans can be complex even if well executed. Hiatt posited that the individual connection with the change, if not addressed well, will bring any great process plan to its knees. In developing the model, he designed methods and tools that follow a particular framework of considerations. The five-step process incorporates individual commitment at multiple levels and in multiple ways.
The ADKAR acronym stands for the steps in the process: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement. Each step is sequential and describes the personal reaction and engagement aspects of change.
The need to communicate change is obvious, so the awareness step may seem apparent and mundane. However, the interesting and important aspects of this step lie in a five-factor analysis of awareness. This step considers a person's view of the current state as “how the person perceives problems, the credibility of the sender, the circulation of misinformation and the contestability of the reasons for change” (Hiatt, 2006, p. 9). This five-factor analysis exemplifies the personal and individual nature that is unique to this change model, offering more of a bottoms-up than top-down perspective to guide planning. For individuals who are dissatisfied with the current state, change may be welcome and embraced but any group of people affected by change will be composed of many diverse points of view. Some will openly embrace the change and others will resist. Understanding the diversity of points of view and perspectives on the change is the first step in crafting communication and timing plans. Messages will need to address multiple points of view that target each unique audience. Using a specific and segmented messaging and delivery strategy goes directly to the core of the ADKAR philosophy by speaking to the individual. This segmentation is not only about how individuals are considering the change but what timing would be most relevant to each user group and how each group has responded to similar messages in the past.
Executive sponsorship is another crucial aspect of creating awareness. This means the change leader must be willing to demonstrate regular presence and advocacy to demonstrate their support, commitment, and availability to engage with others, related to the change. This may include development of a coalition of change agents at various levels of the organization who become “sponsor representatives,” and while this is an effective strategy for extending capacity, it does not replace the need for the executive sponsor to demonstrate a commitment early and often. Open meetings, video messages, newsletters, and other forms of communication ensure there is diversity in mode and uptake of messaging.
Personal coaching and active listening by managers are tactics for personalization that extend the personal touch and provide an essential feedback loop. During regular coaching and dialogue sessions, managers can measure the effectiveness of messaging and identify potential misses and opportunities for improved awareness building.
One underestimated resource for creating awareness is creating more transparency and access for employees to external data and drivers for change. Whether the change is being driven by competitive factors, policy changes, research data, quality initiatives, or a variety of other reasons, associated data help to provide context for the change. Creating a culture of communication where employees feel engaged and informed about the environment the organization is operating within facilitates greater awareness and understanding.
What's a Professional Development Leader to Do?
By unpacking the first step of ADKAR described in this article, awareness, it is easy to see how this change model takes a deeply personal approach to change planning and preparation. This thread is consistent across each of the four remaining aspects of the model and is the differentiator of this model. Each aspect provides detailed tools for analysis, planning, and implementing that specific aspect.
As with any detailed methodology, understanding the model well is the first step. The failure rate of change is an expensive and troubling statistic, but change management seems stuck in old mental models. It may be that the traditional models for change management that most leaders learn in graduate school are still too firmly embedded, and the level of requirement to learn a new, detailed methodology is not compelling enough to engage leaders. Although the ADKAR model is a relatively simple framework to use, it is commitment-heavy and unequivocal in the demands it makes on executives and managers. There are documented successes across industry, government, and community organizations that offer confidence for succeeding in facilitating complex changes. ADKAR offers a model with impressive outcome statistics, and in his book ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government and Our Community, Hiatt (2006) provided not just a description of the model and key tactics but also a variety of examples of successes from a wide range of industries. These success stories provide illustrations and step-by-step examples of specific tactics with proven results.
Perhaps the only way to influence leaders to take on new and more effective change models is to undertake an awareness campaign about the costs associated with failure and the success rates of specific new models. The professional development leader is a key change agent in every organization. Recommending a model for the organization to embrace is often a part of the role. Understanding what makes a model effective can enable leaders to choose an effective model and creating awareness at all levels about the impact of failed change is a place to begin to create awareness.
- Hiatt, J. (2006). ADKAR: A model for change in business, government and our community. Fort Collins, CO: Prosci Learning Center.