Get certified - Transform your world of work today

Change Management Models

03/21/2014 by Srinath Ramakrishnan

John Kotter, in his book Leading Change, defines change management as an approach to transitioning individuals, teams, and organizations to a desired future state. The main focus of the change management processes is to address the people and organizational factors that provide a catalyst to change in the organization. The ultimate aim of a change management initiative is to ensure that every individual in the organization is ready and willing to transition to a new role in the proposed environment.

This post takes a quick look at the various change management models. The following models are covered: ADKAR Model, Virginia Satir Change Process Model, Kotter's 8-Step Model, Bridge's Transition Model, and the Switch Framework by Chip Heath and Dan Heath.


Jeff Hiatt of Prosci Change Management proposed the ADKAR Model of change, which focused on five actions and outcomes necessary for individual and organizational change. Hiatt and his team conducted research in more than 900 organizations before he came out with this model. According to him, successful organizational change occurs only when each individual is able to transition successfully.

The ADKAR Model consists of five sequential steps or actions:

A Awareness of the need for change
D Desire to participate in and support the change
K Knowledge of how to change and what the change looks like
A Ability to implement the change on a day-to-day basis

A = Awareness of the need for change
This step lays stress on the need to understand why change is necessary before effecting any change. It explains the reasoning and thought that underlies a required change. This awareness is done through planned communication.

D = Desire to participate in and support the change
Once the individual is convinced about the need for change, he or she makes a personal decision to support the change and participate in it. One of the ways to build desire is through addressing incentives for the individual to motivate him to participate in the change process.

K = Knowledge of how to change and what the change looks like
Now the individual is provided with knowledge about the change through a series of training and education sessions. Other avenues of disseminating knowledge, such as coaching, mentoring, and use of forums to exchange information, are also used. Typically these sessions focus on the knowledge of how to change (what to do during the transition) and how to perform once the change is implemented.

A = Ability to implement the change on a day-to-day basis
Once the individual is aware of the knowledge of how to change, implementing the changes, perhaps including changes in behavior, is the next step. This process could take some time and can only be achieved through practice, coaching, and feedback.

R = Reinforcement to sustain the change
In the last stage, the efforts to sustain the change are emphasized. This is to ensure that the changes "stick" and that individuals do not revert to former ways of working. This is reinforced through positive feedback, rewards and recognition, measuring performance, and taking corrective actions.

Virginia Satir Change Process

Virginia Satir, often called the "Mother of Family Therapy," developed a psychological model through clinical studies of how individuals experience change. According to Satir, we move through four stages as we cope with unexpected or significant change: late status quo, chaos, practice and integration, and new status quo. Here are the four stages, plus two critical factors that interact with them:

Late status quo
Late status quo is a fairly stable system where occurrences are predictable, familiar, and comfortable. In this stage, things work reasonably well and there are familiar solutions for common problems. In organizations, people know what to do and how to do it, and they understand where they fit. Depending on the circumstances, their attitudes may range from general acceptance to boredom to frustration and complaining, as people find ways to get things done in a dysfunctional system.

The foreign element
With the desire to improve, a foreign element(s) threatens the status quo in an organization. People may try various strategies to neutralize the impact of the alien element. The system may reject and expel it, people may ignore it or use delaying tactics, people may try to encapsulate the foreign element within the "normal" ways of handling things, or they may try to find a scapegoat to attack and blame.
If the foreign element is powerful enough to create a critical mass of discomfort, it shakes up the organization and the organization enters into chaos. People react to chaos in different ways, ranging from engaging in random behavior; seeking stability at any cost; trying to revert to the status quo or earlier behavior patterns; or searching for magical, sweeping silver-bullet solutions -- anything to get back to normal.

Transforming idea
In this stage, someone comes up with an inspirational, transformational idea that brings the system out of chaos. This "out of the box" idea is a stimulus that brings out a sudden awareness of new possibilities.

Practice and integration
The organization begins to try out the new situation. It appears as if all the problems have been resolved and everyone is excited about the changes. In course of time, with the organization practicing these new changes, one can see their effects take shape. This is the time when people are learning to use a new tool or work according to a new process within a new structure. This is usually a period of reduced productivity; performance and outcomes may actually be worse than they were prior to the change.

New status quo
During the previous integration stage, the benefits of the new changes become apparent and are experienced as useful. Gradually, a new status quo forms. What initially began as an idea eventually becomes a normal state of affairs.

Kotter's Eight-Step Model

According to John Kotter, 70 percent of all major change efforts in organizations fail because organizations do not take the holistic approach required to effect that change. Organizations can increase their chances of success in transformational change by following the Eight-Step Model.

Step 1: Create a sense of urgency
First one needs to develop a sense of urgency around the need for change. This provides the spark to get things moving. It means trying to identify potential threats, develop scenarios about what could happen in the future, and examine possible opportunities; and then holding open, honest, and convincing dialogue about what's happening in the marketplace and with the competition.

Step 2: Form a guiding coalition
It is often important to convince people that change is necessary. This requires strong leadership and support from key people within the organization. To lead change, according to Kotter, one needs to bring together a coalition, or team of influential people, whose power comes from a variety of sources (job title, status, expertise, political importance, etc.). This "change coalition" needs to work as a team to continue to build urgency and momentum around the need for change.

Step 3: Create a vision for change
People need a clear vision to understand why they are being asked to do something new. When the leadership "paints" the new vision of change, people see for themselves what you're trying to achieve, and then the directives they're given tend to make more sense. One the vision is understood, create a well-defined strategy to execute that vision.

Step 4: Communicate the vision
It is necessary to communicate the vision to the organization frequently and powerfully. Embed the vision into everything the leader does. The leadership needs to "walk the talk" and demonstrate the kind of behavior that's expected of others.

Step 5: Empowering broad-based action
The structure for change needs to in place; continually check for any barriers to it. This means changing systems or structures that undermine that vision and structure for change. Get rid of obstacles and empower the people who execute the vision and help the change move forward.

Step 6: Create short-term wins
It is critical to have some quick wins. This will motivate employees in pursuit of the larger goal of change in the organization. Without this, critics and negative thinkers can slow down and hurt the change process.

Step 7: Build on the change
As Kotter notes, many change initiatives fail because victory is declared too early. An early win is not enough. To build on new initiatives, you need to change the systems, structures, and processes that don't fit into the overall new scheme. This can mean bringing "new blood" into the coalition. "Continuous improvement" must be the mantra, and each success or failure presents an opportunity to analyze what worked, what did not, and what can be improved.

Step 8: Anchor the changes in the corporate culture
For any change to be sustained, it needs to become embedded in the organization's culture. The leadership should clearly articulate the connections between new behaviors and organizational success. The coalition team should talk about progress at every opportunity, telling success stories about the change process and how it can be repeatable across the organization.

William Bridges's Transition Model

The Transition Model was created by William Bridges and was published in his book Managing Transitions. This model focuses mainly on transition, not change. There is a subtle difference between the two: Change happens to us (like it or not). Transition is usually internal, happening to our thoughts as we go through change. Change can happen quickly and radically, while transition usually occurs more slowly.

Figure 3: Transition Model

The model highlights three stages of transition that people go through when they experience change.

1. Ending, losing, and letting go
In the first stage, when people are presented with change, there is often resistance and emotional upheaval because they are being forced to let go of something that they are comfortable with. Emotions may include anger, sadness, fear, denial, frustration, and/or uncertainty. It's important to accept people's resistance and understand their emotions. People need to be given time to accept the change. Try to get everyone to talk about what they're feeling, and listen empathetically. Also be sure to be clear to everyone about what's going to happen.

People often fear and resist what they don't understand. Educating them about a positive future and communicating how their knowledge and skills are an essential part of getting there will improve the chances of their moving to the next stage.

2. The neutral zone
This stage is a period of chaos when those affected by the change are often confused, uncertain, and impatient. People may experience a higher workload as they get used to new systems and new ways of working. This phase acts as the bridge between the old and the new system -- people clinging to the old system while trying to adapt to the new. They might experience resentment and skepticism about the change initiative. They may have low morale and exhibit low productivity and anxiety about their roles and status.

It is important to give a sense of direction, encouragement, and feedback. A few quick wins will boost morale greatly.

3. The new beginning
In this stage, people embrace the new change initiatives and build the necessary skills to cope with the new way of working. This is a time of acceptance and energy, and people get to see visible proof of the effect of the changes.

The 4Ps comes into play during this stage: Purpose, Picture, Plan, and Part.
  • Purpose answers "Why we are doing this?"
  • Picture is the shared vision of what it will look like, feel like, or even sound like.
  • Plan is the detailed plan for getting there using good project management.
  • Part is all about giving people a part to play in the change through having a role that builds ownership and buy-in.
It is important to help the group sustain the change by regularly highlighting success stories that the change has brought about. This will help prevent occurrences of slipping back to the previous ways of working.

Switch Framework

Our minds are typically ruled by two different systems: the rational mind and the emotional mind.  The rational mind might want to change a process at work; the emotional mind focuses on the comfort of the status quo. If the tension between the rational mind and the emotional mind can be overcome, change is easier.

Chip Heath and Dan Heath, in their book Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard, talk about change by asking us to imagine an elephant and its rider (the mahout). The rider represents the rational and logical. If the rider hears a good argument about what he's told to do, he will do it. The elephant, on the other hand, represents our emotions and our intuitive response. If the rider can direct the elephant down a well-laid path, there is a good chance for change. Otherwise, invariably, the elephant is bound to win.
Figure 4: Switch Framework

This framework has three primary parts: direct the rider, motivate the elephant, and shape the path.

1. Direct the rider
The rider is logical and needs to be persuaded rationally.
  • Bright spots: In the existing setup, there could be certain pockets that are working well. These are the "bright spots," and it is important to build on their successes. These bright spots can be replicated elsewhere -- in other departments or groups.
  • Script the critical moves: People shouldn't be thinking too much about the big picture, the end result of the changes. Instead, they would do well to think in terms of small, specific behavioral changes, which could bring in small wins.
  • Point to the destination: This is the "destination postcard," what life could look like once the change is completed. Having a clear vision of the goals helps people visualize what they are working toward.
2. Motivate the elephant
The elephant, significantly larger than the rider, represents the emotional side of each person. This emotional side needs to be motivated, or else change will never happen.
  • Find the feeling: People don't change because they think about it -- they change because they feel the need for it. Feelings and emotions are more powerful for creating change than just a logical understanding.
  • Shrink the change: This is breaking down the change into smaller components and working toward completing them. This enables one to feel a step closer to the end goal. People get a sense of accomplishment once they experience these small wins.
  • Grow your people: This is to build a sense of identity and encourage the group with a "growth" mind-set. The leaders must motivate people to see the big picture and inspire them about what they can achieve. This will enable them accept the change.
3. Shape the path
It is important for the environment to be conducive for change. Without shaping the path, the rider and elephant could find themselves walking in circles, distracted and lost.
  • Tweak the environment: Set up an environment that is conducive to achieving your goals: a pleasant workspace, distractions removed, frequent reminders of your goals. It is about making the achievement of your goals inevitable through structuring.
  • Build habits: Once these changes are made over and over again, they become habits. It will be easier, even easy, for people to continue doing them. Set up triggers that remind them to do certain things, or give them scripts and checklists as guides. This will help reinforce the new habits.
  • Rally the herd: Behavior is contagious. Once a leader who wants the change is surrounded by a set of people who support and advocate the change, the rest of the group will follow.


Organizations implement changes to increase the effectiveness of their businesses. Change can be complex and often painful and chaotic; coping with change can be difficult for an organization, both as a group and as individuals. These models offer a step-by-step approach to help leadership navigate the maze of transformation and lead change in organizations.