The ADKAR® Change Management Model
Is A Simple, Powerful, Action Oriented Model To Consider For Your Next Change

By Mark Connelly       Updated: 21 April 2023

The ADKAR® change management model is a practical answer to effective change management for individuals and organizations. Developed from research conducted in more than 700 organizations, this model is easy to learn, makes sense, and focuses on what really matters.

In five stages, this change management model provides a solid framework for change. In this article, we explore the ADKAR® model and provide tips to use it to lead change in your organization.

The emphasis on individual change is what gives this model the edge.

Many change management models focus on the steps necessary for organizational change. ADKAR® focuses on the individual's journey through change. This makes it easier to identify where people may be struggling and to provide the support they need. ADKAR® emphasizes that effective change occurs only when each person is able to adopt the change.

It makes sense then that this model, developed by Jeff Hiatt, CEO of Prosci® Change Management (, and first published in 2003, focuses on 5 actions and outcomes necessary for individual change, and therefore successful organizational change.

The five steps of the ADKAR change management model

The ADKAR® change management model

Jeff Hiatt refers to these five actions as building blocks for successful individual change, and therefore successful organizational change. The process is sequential - each step must be completed before moving on to the next. Hiatt emphasises that it is not possible to achieve success in one area unless the previous action has been addressed.

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The ADKAR® change management model consists of five sequential objectives:

Objective 1. Awareness of the need for change.

The Awareness stage of the ADKAR® change management model is the first step toward successful change. In the Awareness stage, people become aware of the need for change, why it's needed, and the benefits it can bring. At the end of this stage, people will understand why change is necessary. They'll also know what will happen if there is no change.

Planned communication is essential, but you need to do more than communicate to build awareness. If you tell people that you plan to move the coffee station, some may agree, but others will not. Some may feel victimized, while others may believe that it's another cost-cutting exercise.

People don't respond in the same way, and you may face resistance. Plan your message, but realize that the message itself is not enough. How each person receives and understands the information matters more. Some may disagree about the need for change or the change required. Some people will be more affected than others.

Building awareness can happen over a period of time. You will need to consider who is best to deliver the message and what channels to use. You'll need to plan to deal with rumors and fake information that may spread.

Pro Tips: Objective 1     Awareness

  • Plan your communication strategy carefully.

  • Building awareness about change usually needs many messages or events. Don't assume one message is enough.

  • It's not about the message itself; what really matters is how each individual receives and understands it.

  • Meet with employees to explain why change is needed. What benefit will the new software / system / product / process bring?

  • Explain the limits of the current situation. What will happen if we don't make the change?

  • How will the new software / system / product / process help the company work better?

  • Make it personal. Show employees how it makes their jobs easier.

  • Create graphics or visual aids to help people visualize the change. Or, set up a demonstration of the new product or software in action.
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Objective 2. Desire to take part in and support the change.

The Desire stage of the ADKAR® change management model aims to create a willingness and eagerness to engage in the change. This stage should not be a strategy to manipulate people to accept something new. Aim to make the time to understand what people need and to help them commit to the change.

Awareness of the need for change is not enough on its own. Ideally, people will look forward to the personal benefits brought by change. Creating desire is an essential step in overcoming resistance to change. It also helps people commit to the change process.

There are many ways that a company can create a desire to engage in change. One way is to focus on the positive outcomes for the individual. Using "What's In It For Me?" to guide your thinking about what people want is valuable in this stage. You can help people see personal benefits that will make their work easier or more enjoyable.

Another way to create desire is to involve people in the change process from the start. Ask people for feedback and ideas. Include employees in the planning and implementation of the change. When people have a stake in the change process and feel part of it, they are more likely to invest in its success.

Pro Tips: Objective 2    Desire

  • Involve employees in the change process from the start.
  • Ask for their ideas, input, and feedback.
  • Schedule regular 'brown bag' lunch sessions to hear concerns and address them.
  • Continue speaking about the potential benefits of the change.
  • Ask people to find and tell stories from other companies that have adopted the change successfully.
  • Use "What's In It For Me?" (WIIFM) to guide your thinking about what people need to know.
  • Identify individuals who have not answered this for themselves. Spend time with them to help them find "What's In It For Me?".
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Objective 3. Knowledge on how to change.

The Knowledge stage is a critical part of the change process. It provides the information and resources people need to manage the change. You should address two types of knowledge:

  • knowledge of how to change (the knowledge people need to make the change) and,
  • knowledge of how to perform after the change is in place.

This stage ensures that people have the knowledge and skills they need. It also makes sure they can apply that knowledge in practice.

The Knowledge stage requires a clear and concise communication plan. Training and workshops focused on learning about a new product, process, or sales method will be needed. Don't limit this process to formal training. Coaching, forums, and mentoring are valuable at this stage.

Ensure that the information is relevant, up-to-date, and easy to understand. Use clear and concise language. Provide visual aids or examples, and encourage feedback and questions. When people have the knowledge they need, they feel confident in the change and can apply their knowledge in practice.

Ongoing support and resources give employees the knowledge they need regarding how to change.

Pro Tips: Objective 3    Knowledge

  • Determine the knowledge levels that already exist. Then build on that knowledge.
  • Focus on building knowledge of new skills and behaviors that are needed.
  • Provide training. Show people how to use the new software / system / product / process.
  • Provide opportunities for people to engage with the new software / system / product / process. Training sessions and workshops are good, but informal opportunities are also valuable.
  • Provide videos and FAQ's that people can access online to supplement the training.
  • Understand that people learn at different speeds. Reassure them that they have time to learn.
  • Offer one-on-one coaching and support.
  • Encourage people to ask questions and get help whenever they need it.
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Objective 4. Ability to implement required skills and behaviors.

The Ability stage of the ADKAR® model refers to being able to apply the knowledge received in the Knowledge stage. In other words, it is the ability to transform newly acquired information into action. This stage is achieved when you see someone working at the desired level or you can measure the impact of their work.

This stage highlights the difference between knowing what to do and actually doing it. Knowing how to ride a bicycle, in theory, doesn't mean you'll ride it well. You need to practice, make mistakes and learn to balance before you feel confident riding it. This is the shift that the Ability stage requires.

While knowledge is essential, it is not always enough by itself.  People must be able to perform the tasks required to make the change.

Ability is achievable if organizations provide the necessary resources, tools, and support. These will help people develop the skills and ability to do the job. Training, coaching, and ongoing feedback will help people feel confident in their ability to perform new tasks.

Pro Tips: Objective 4    Ability

  • Don’t assume that knowledge equals ability. If they’ve attended training, it doesn’t mean they know how to perform the task effectively.
  • Use one on one coaching to identify gaps in ability.
  • Give people enough time to master the skills needed.
  • Create a safe environment to practice. Allow people to make mistakes. Provide support, not criticism.
  • Track performance. Assess if the ability to perform new tasks is present. Ideally, make this a supportive experience rather than micro-managing.
  • Help people solve unexpected problems. Let them ask an expert rather than default to the old behavior.
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Objective 5. Reinforcement to sustain the change.

This final stage of the ADKAR® change management model is an essential component in order to sustain change initiatives. It involves putting mechanisms in place to support and maintain the change, so that people don't revert to past ways of doing things.

Reinforcement is as important as all the previous stages of this model. If it is not present people may perceive that their efforts are not valued within the organization or team.

Ensuring that changes stay in place and that individuals do not revert to old ways can be achieved through positive feedback, rewards, recognition, measuring performance and taking corrective actions.

This is often the part of change management that is most difficult as there may be a level of change fatigue. It's also easy to assume that change has been achieved because people are performing the task.

However, for successful change, reinforcement is essential to ensure that changes are maintained and new outcomes can be measured.

Pro Tips: Objective 5   Reinforcement

  • Don’t let your guard down when people are performing the task. Continue to support the change.

  • Search for, and reward, success. Do this on an individual and team level.

  • Keep sponsors and senior management motivated to continue supporting the changes. Make sure top executives send positive messages about the change and are seen to support it.

  • Find ways to integrate the changes into the culture and values of the organization.

  • Update performance evaluation systems to include recognition of performance related to the change.
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Why use the ADKAR® change management model?

The primary reason I favor this change management model is the focus on individual change and ensuring each person makes the transition. This is more than a 'soft' approach - it has practical applications.

Most importantly, when you're focusing on the individual you're able to measure where they are in the change process and what is required to assist them. You are not simply relying on providing  training, or communicating a particular message, and expecting everyone to follow.

  • The model directs change management activities. It's focused on outcomes, not tasks to be performed. Many change models describe what needs to be done - this model describes the outcomes (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement).

  • Communication strategies can be focused.

  • The ADKAR® change management model helps to measure the effectiveness of the change process. Progress can be measured down to the individual level, gaps diagnosed, and corrective action is directed.

  • Managers have a tool they can use. Each part of the model gives manager's a specific role. For example, an individual struggling with change may need knowledge on how to change or may lack the ability to implement necessary skills or behaviors. The manager is able to discern between the two and can provide training (knowledge and information) or work closely with the individual, coaching them to give them the confidence (and ability) to perform effectively.
  • Employees are engaged and energized when each of the steps are completed. Change is likely to be accepted faster.

  • This change management model can be used for both project and non-project change, and is effective as a model of individual change outside of the organizational setting as well.

To really understand the ADKAR® change management model I recommend you read Jeff Hiatt's "ADKAR®: A Model for Change in Business, Government and our Community", published in 2006.

The book starts with a short, effective summary of the model and then continues to describe each part in more detail. Many examples are used and each aspect of ADKAR® is explored in detail. For example in the chapter dealing with Desire, Hiatt explores four factors that influence a persons' desire to change.

It's essential reading.

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