How to use ADKAR, the change model for a changing world

August 5, 2021 - 15 min read

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What is ADKAR change management?

How the ADKAR model can be used for organizational change

Other change management models

Embrace change. Embrace ADKAR.

“It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change”

 Charles Darwin

 

The fact is, we live in a fast-paced environment where the rate of change is outpacing our ability to manage change. Throughout the change process, leaders need to be coaches.

To successfully coach your team through change, you first have to understand the process.

There’s a fairly simple solution, though.

The ADKAR change model provides a simple, agile formula for stacking the cards in your favor so that your initiative is more likely to succeed.

Let’s discuss what the ADKAR model is and how you can use it to better manage change in your organization.

What is ADKAR change management?

ADKAR is a people-centric model for change management that consists of five steps:

  1. Awareness
  2. Desire
  3. Knowledge
  4. Ability
  5. Reinforcement

Superficially, this model might look like simple common sense. But, in its simplicity, lies the genius! Let’s take a closer look at the components:

Awareness

This isn’t simply the awareness that change is happening — but awareness that the transformation needs to happen. It’s critically important to invest a significant amount of time clearly articulating the ‘why’ of the change. 

Many a change has been stopped before it even began simply because the leader failed to clearly communicate why there was a need for change.

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Desire

Knowing that there is a need for individual change isn’t always enough to make someone want to change.

Change managers can use coaching and motivational interviewing techniques to listen and address individual concerns. A desire to support and participate in the change is a personal choice that each individual stakeholder must make.

As a leader, you may have significant influence over this decision, but, ultimately, it must be an act of free will.

Knowledge

What exactly is going to happen during and after the change?

Clearly mapping this out for all those involved can help build each participant's desire for change.

The more detail you can give, the more comfortable people will be with the change. If we can see it, the ‘Change-Monster’ is not as scary!

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Ability

If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve created a team of enthusiastic participants who are ready to change.

But do they have the capability to do their job differently after the successful change takes place? What resources, training, and support does each person need in order to successfully follow the new process or use the new tool?

Reinforcement

It can take anywhere from 18–254 days to create a new habit and an average of 66 days for that habit to become automatic. While people are in this transitional period, there can be a tendency to go back to doing things the old way.

What will you do to intentionally make the change stick?

The steps of the ADKAR change management framework are sequential but non-linear. You might find people moving backward and forward between the steps.

However, people can’t fully transition to the next stage until the preceding steps are complete, so don’t skip ahead.

How the ADKAR model can be used for organizational change

ADKAR gives leaders a step-by-step path through change. It can also be used as a diagnostic tool — helping identify where people are getting stuck in the transition.

The following stories illustrate how the ADKAR model can be applied to create successful and lasting change.

AVNET

In the early 2000s, AVNET was an electronics distribution company.

A combination of the tech bubble bursting and downward price pressures forced Avnet to change its business model. They realized they needed to diversify their offerings if they were going to survive.

Steve Church (CEO of AVNET at the time) applied the ADKAR model. He attributes this model as the key to their change management success. Here’s how the company applied each step:

Awareness

Church was able to get broad executive sponsorship for the program.

Together they created awareness about why they were making the change, what would be changing, and what would be staying the same.

Desire

Leaders took a two-step approach to getting buy-in:

  1. Painting a picture of what it would be like if they didn’t change (the company might not survive)
  2. Investing time to address individual concerns

Knowledge

By focusing on ‘awareness’ and ‘desire’ first, everyone understood how critical the change was.

The result was that employees wanted to take part and were willing to do much of the heavy lifting. The company fanned the flames of their enthusiasm by building out systems to support them in their learning.

Ability

Next, Avnet focused on building systems to support new skill development.

Reinforcement

Avnet addressed the ‘what’s in it for me?’ question by changing the pay and benefits structure to support the new strategy. They took an individual approach to ongoing training.

They supported their employee’s growth by providing coaching and mentoring.

Finally, they provided positive reinforcement through customer success stories. These stories showcased the positive impact of changes on ROI for themselves and their customers.

Avnet took the long view to effective change management and applied a systemized approach with both patience and persistence. Another key component of their success was the involvement of employees from all levels, each step along the way.

Colorado Department of Transportation

By 2050, the state of Colorado expects a 92% increase in population. The Department of Transportation needs to expand infrastructure without a significant budget increase.

In 2010, CDOT decided to make a significant strategic shift and focus on lean process management principles. They decided to apply the ADKAR model.

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Leaders were selected to sponsor the change.

They received training and ongoing coaching on how to support their teams through incremental change. A Change Agent Network was established that reached into every part of the organization.

The results were impressive:

  • They lowered the error rate of the oversize and overweight permit division by up to 55%.
  • They streamlined the contract review process and reduced processing times from five days to three days.
  • CDOT was recognized by the American Society for Quality as a finalist for the 2013 International Team Excellence Award.
  • CDOT was recognized with a 2015 Harvard Ash Center Bright Idea in Government.

Other change management models

Peter Diamandis captured it perfectly when he said: “The only constant is change, and the rate of change is increasing.”

Since "change" itself is accelerating, it can be helpful to have a number of tools in your change-management tool-belt.

Some alternatives to ADKAR include:

Lewin’s Change Management Model

This model is based on the metaphor of ice melting and refreezing it in a different form. The ‘unfreeze, change, refreeze’ model can be applied to organizational change management.

Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

This framework focuses on the people going through the change more than the actual changes themselves. The eight steps are:

  1. Create a sense of urgency
  2. Build a strong coalition
  3. Form a strategic vision
  4. Get everyone’s buy-in
  5. Enable action by removing barriers
  6. Generate short-term wins
  7. Sustain acceleration
  8. Institute change

Kubler-Ross Change Curve

This change curve is based on Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s ‘5 stages of grief.’ The model explains the impact of change on individuals and organizations.

In 2019, David Kessler (co-author with Elisabeth Kubler-Ross) added a sixth stage to the model called “finding meaning.” The sixth stage gives extra context for integrating change.

McKinsey 7-S Framework

This model breaks each organization into seven interconnected components: strategy, structure, system, shared values, staff, style, and skills.

The premise is that change in one element creates a ripple of impact that can be seen in other elements. This model can be particularly useful when trying to implement change cross-functionally within the organization.

PDCA

Developed in the 1950s by William Deming, PDCA (Plan-Do-Check-Act) is a cyclical model. It provides an iterative approach to systematic change.

This model can be applied when change is necessary, but the end goal isn’t fully envisioned. The iterative approach to testing and re-evaluating success allows the roadmap to evolve as it goes.

Bridges Transition Model

Similar to the Kubler-Ross Change Curve, the Bridges Transition Model focuses on people’s experience of change. The Bridges Transition Model has three steps:

  1. Endings (letting go of what was)
  2. Neutral zone (a period of uncertainty)
  3. New beginnings (acceptance of a new model)

Each step comes with its own unique gifts and challenges. By understanding these steps, a change leader can help people transition faster.

Embrace change. Embrace ADKAR.

Whichever models you work with, a necessary component of success is a manager’s ability to coach their team through the process — right through to the desired outcome.

Change brings uncertainty and strong emotions. Managers need to show up authentically, listen with genuine empathy, and help individuals be comfortable with discomfort.

Your BetterUp coach can guide you through the ADKAR framework and support your journey towards success.

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Published August 5, 2021

Kelly Labrecque

BetterUp Fellow Coach

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