Strategic PM and the ADKAR Model of Individual Change

Change initiatives face many hurdles at both the strategic level and project level. There are many frameworks and methods to help implement change successfully.

This post examines one method – the ADKAR Method – for implementing change. The ADKAR Method is focused on the individual. The post explores details of the ADKAR Method, advantages and disadvantages, and application and impacts to strategy and project management.

What is the ADKAR Model for Change Management?

ADKAR Model of individual change

The ADKAR Model was developed in the 1990s by Jeffrey Hiatt, the founder of Prosci, a change management consultancy. It was based on a study of hundreds of organizational changes – both successful and unsuccessful – over a span of years.

The five elements – or stage gates – of the ADKAR Model are:

  1. Awareness – Awareness of the need for change
  2. Desire – Desire to be a participant in supporting and achieving the change
  3. Knowledge – The requisite knowledge needed of how to make the change
  4. Ability – Ability to put into practice the target skills and behaviors
  5. Reinforcement – Sustainment of the change going forward

The focus of the ADKAR Model is on bringing about individual change as part of a structured process to achieve organizational results. The premise is that the organization will not change unless the individuals within the organization change.

Each of the elements of the ADKAR Model is a ‘stage gate’ through which individuals must pass in order for the change to proceed to the next stage gate. It is important and required to proceed through the five elements in order.

A = Awareness in the ADKAR Model

AKAR Model individual change - Awareness
Awareness starts with the question, “Why?” Individuals need to understand why something needs to be done as a foundational part of being aware of the need for the change.

Potential barriers to Awareness of the need for a change include:

  • The individual’s view of the current state – prior to the change
  • Perception of the problem – how it affects them and others
  • Credibility of the information available – and those sending it

Awareness is largely a matter of buy in. Individuals need to buy in to the need for the change.

Individuals are the stakeholders. It takes clear communication efforts to achieve Awareness on the part of individual stakeholders. And it takes tailored messaging to the various constituencies among the stakeholders.

D = Desire in the ADKAR Model

AKAR Model individual change - Desire
Desire represents full buy in by the individual – based on a personal decision to support the change.

What gets someone ‘over the hump’ to make that decision?

  • Individuals need to reconcile that “There is something in it for me.”
  • They need to see the change from an organization context – and buy in that the change is good for the organization.
  • They need to feel comfortable with their individual situation – and not personally threatened by the change.
  • They need to feel aligned with the change – such that they are positively motivated to engage.

Desire means that the individual not only has ceased to resist the change, but has made the decision to participate in some way in implementing the change. They have ‘transitioned’ from merely having awareness of the need for the change to wanting to be a full participant in making the change happen.

Communication is needed to build this desire among individuals. The foundation of that communication needs to be trust. Communications need to overcome resistance or disinterest based on insecurity, fear of change, personal factors, and the organization’s credibility.

In addition, individual stakeholder involvement in developing the change solution is extremely valuable.

K = Knowledge

in the ADKAR Model

AKAR Model individual change - Knowledge
OK – so individuals are Aware of the need for the change, and they have the Desire to help implement the change – but do they have the know-how?

Having a Knowledge gap among stakeholders can be a formidable barrier to implementing change. And note that there are two types of knowledge required: certain Knowledge required to make the change happen, and other Knowledge required to sustain the change.

Here are the factors to consider in assessing these potential Knowledge gaps:

  • What do individuals currently know – what is their current knowledge base?
  • How do they learn – and are they capable of learning what they need to know?
  • What learning resources – training, in-house or external experts, facilities – are needed to transfer the Knowledge?

Training is not necessarily the only solution to the Knowledge gap. Transfer of the requisite Knowledge can be acquired through specific experience, accessibility to information, job aides, coaching, user groups/forums, job and troubleshooting guides, and mentoring.

A = Ability

in the ADKAR Model

AKAR Model individual change - Ability
Ability puts the Knowledge from the prior step into practice. Individuals actually demonstrate Knowledge and Ability by taking ownership of the change. The targeted change actually occurs in the Ability step.

Barriers that commonly impede progress in the Ability element of the ADKAR Model include:

  • Psychological blockers – think ‘golf swing’ – easy to know, hard to do!
  • Physical blockers – could be in the person or in the environment
  • Habit – migrating Knowledge to Ability requires newly established habits
  • Time and resources – transitioning to a new way includes replacing old knowledge and resources with new

The transition from Knowledge to Ability is a big one. I mentioned golf swing above, but consider anything you have learned and then tried to put it into practice – it’s a big leap to ‘do it’.

To get through the Ability step, individuals may need some combination of time, practice, coaching, role-modeling, and access to help and feedback.

R = Reinforcement

in the ADKAR Model

AKAR Model individual change - Reinforcement
Once the Reinforcement step is reached, individuals have actually mastered and implemented the change. Reinforcement makes the change permanent – makes it sustainable. It prevents reversion back to old ways.

Some things that can help build sustainability in the Reinforcement step include:

  • Accountability – people need to be actively held accountable for adhering to the new change
  • No negative Reinforcement – the individual needs to feel the consequences of veering from the newly established path
  • No positive Reinforcement – rewards, encouragement, and ‘celebrations’ are helpful

Reinforcement must be meaningful. That means credible, relevant, sincere, and authentic.

Reinforcement means not stopping after the Ability step – after the change has been initially implemented. Processes need to be built to acknowledge and catch the human tendency to revert back to the familiar and comfortable.

Strategy and the ADKAR Method

As a forward-looking discipline, strategy is about devising and planning new directions to produce greater results. Strategists need to be concerned with the hurdles involved with implementing the changes associated with their strategies.

Strategists have a variety of frameworks at their disposal to enable successful strategy implementation. A couple of frameworks that are useful for ensuring organizational alignment include the McKinsey 7S Model and the Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model. These frameworks help ensure that the organization has all the requisite pieces in place to implement the strategy.

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I recommend these strategy resources (paid link):

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The potential benefit of the ADKAR Method is that it turns the attention to individual readiness, as opposed to organizational readiness. In fact, individual readiness contributes to organizational readiness.

Strategists may find it useful to consider the challenges at each of the five elemental hurdles for individuals. Without consideration for those individual ‘stage gates’, the strategy may encounter challenges that prevent or limit progress, an especially big problem when time is of essence to the strategy.

Project Management and the ADKAR Method

Content goes here. Most projects are about change of some sort. It only makes sense to consider change impacts and the change process as part of normal project planning. In fact the Project Management Institute (PMI) offers many change management resources.

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I recommend these PM templates (paid link):

Method123 PM templates

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Let’s look at how each of the elements of the ADKAR Method might be used in project management:

  1. Awareness – Are all stakeholders aware of the need for the change being brought by the project? This includes the full range of stakeholders – employees, managers, executives, customers, suppliers. Anyone that will be effected at all needs to become aware – especially aware of how it will affect them.
  2. Desire – With Awareness in place, have all the stakeholders bought in to the change being implemented by the project? What resistance exists? What can be done to work through, and turn around, any resistance among certain stakeholders? You can use the applicable suggestions in the ‘Desire’ section above to sort through issues and improve the project’s chance of success.
  3. Knowledge – In planning for the implementation, what Knowledge transfer needs to take place for those stakeholders directly effected by the change? Are users prepared with the skills they need to adopt the new behaviors? Is there help available until they are up to speed? What methods will be used to transfer that Knowledge?
  4. Ability – Beyond the Knowledge required, what is the plan to provide effected stakeholders the time and other needed resources to practice the new skills required? What is the plan for making certain that these stakeholders have demonstrated the Ability to execute in the new way?
  5. Reinforcement – In anticipation of the potential for individuals to revert back to prior behaviors, what mechanisms will be needed to sustain the changes implemented? How long will those mechanisms need to be in place for support until the change has been firmly established?

There are many change management frameworks. The ADKAR Method is a particularly good one for working through change at the individual stakeholder level.

Advantages and Disadvantages of the ADKAR Method

The ADKAR Method is an effective one for change management, but it is more advantageous in some applications than others. Here is a summary of these advantages and disadvantages of the ADKAR method:

Advantages:

  • The ADKAR Method focuses on outcomes as opposed to tasks. You do not pass through a stage gate unless you have achieved the prescribed outcome.
  • The ADKAR Method lends itself well to measurement of readiness at each step. Progress in this way can be measured at the individual level, providing clarity for degree of readiness for the next step.
  • The Method is an ’empowering’ tool, as it does not force process onto people, but rather monitors their individual level of readiness – via Acceptance, Desire, Knowledge, and Ability – for the change.

Disadvantages:

  • It does not provide readily adaptable framework for changing course along the way. Thus, it is most effective at supporting change in more established organizations than in startup situations which require more agility.
  • It lacks the ability to handle complex organizational issues, since it is focused exclusively at the individual level.

It is entirely possible that the ADKAR method could be used in conjunction with another methodology in a hybrid approach to change management. Such an approach could take advantage of the strengths of each approach to better handle all issues.

Conclusion and Further Resources

The ADKAR Method offers an effective framework for implementing change within an organization. It is focused at the individual stakeholder level, which has some powerful advantages but can also result in some shortcomings.

Do you have any experience using the ADKAR method, or similar method, or do you have any situations in which you think the ADKAR method could be applied effectively?

Lucid Software (paid link) provides a number of recommended Change Management tools.

I recommend “The Prosci ADKAR Model: A Powerful yet simple model for facilitating individual change“, by Prosci, originator of the model.

I also recommend the following video, “The Prosci ADKAR Model | Prosci Tim Talk”, where Delanie Robertson, Growth Enablement Manager, interviews Tim Creasy, Chief Innovation Officer, both at Prosci, which was founded by Jeff Hiatt, originator of the ADKAR approach.

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