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Ten Change Management Models Your Business Needs to Know

8 min read
senior executives discussing how they can reach their strategic vision for organizational culture

Change is happening at a pace we’ve never seen before, from technological advancements to climate change. But it’s not just us as individuals that need to adapt – the businesses we work in do too. Managing organisational change is now essential to any business’s arsenal, but evolution isn’t easy. And the more complex the business is, the more difficult it is to implement effective change. Studies show that the failure rate for organisational change is as much as 70%. This figure hasn’t changed much since the 1970s.

The ability of an organisation to make necessary changes can determine the long-term success of that organisation. However, change requires a lot of strategic thinking, processes, collaboration, and effective communication, which is where change management comes in. 

Change management is a structured approach used by organisations through transitionary periods. The intention is to increase the acceptance rate and minimise disruption. This leads to an even bigger conundrum for businesses today: how to create successful change management.

To answer that, we need to look at some change management models. In this article, we’ll look at the principles of a change management strategy and some of the most common and effective models you can deploy to ensure your change sticks.

human resources team at a meeting discussing change management strategy

What is a Change Management Model?

A change management model is a framework for navigating change. The idea behind them is to provide a blueprint for executing change successfully with minimal disruption and maximum acceptance.

There are dozens of change management processes, many of which focus on different aspects of leading change and can be used together to achieve success. We’ll investigate some of the most popular models below. 

Change Management: Project vs Organisational Level

There are three main differences between change management at a project level and an organisational level.

  1. Scope – Project-level change management is usually limited to a single project addressing a specific area or initiative within a particular timeframe. Organisational change focuses on the whole business, and there are likely to be several different projects involved, spanning multiple departments and stakeholders without necessarily having an end date.
  2. Focus – The focus of transformation projects will often be specific goals, deadlines, and KPIs, whereas, for an organisation, the focus is usually much broader, looking at a business’s strategy, culture, processes or structures.
  3. Impact – The impact of project-level change management is limited to the project’s outcome, stakeholders, and immediate environment. On the other hand, organisational change management impacts the whole business, often affecting multiple projects, departments, and stakeholders.

The Four Key Principles of Change Management

1. Understanding Change

The first step to successfully implementing change is understanding it, which means fully understanding the purpose. You and your project teams must vet the change to ensure it solves the problem. Start with your problem statement, objective and the benefits of change, and then interrogate them. Here are some questions to get you started:

  • Why do you need change?
  • What are the likely outcomes – positive and negative?
  • How will it impact people? Think about the way they work and how they feel about their work.
  • What do people need to help them change?

2. Planning Change

All businesses are unique, so each organisation’s planning stage will be, too. Generally, it’s best to rely on robust project management skills and principles to help you in this phase. These are the essential things you’ll needs to consider:

  • Sponsorship: Change is always tricky, but it’s almost impossible without the sponsorship of an executive or someone in the senior leadership team. This is just a role to champion your project, but they should also be actively involved in helping you drive it forward.
  • Roles and responsibilities: Who will be doing what? Identify the requite resources and establish whether you already have them in the business or need external support.
  • Buy-in: Getting buy-in from the wider business is essential. You can achieve this by identifying and resolving any risks and dependencies in the planning stage.
  • Performance: How will you measure and define success? Set some key performance indicators to help keep you on track.

3. Implementing Change

How are you going actually affect change? There are some fantastic tried and tested change management models (more on these next) that you can explore to help you actually implement change. Whatever tool you use, here are some guiding principles to help you do it in a positive way:

  • Ensure everyone understands the overall objective and their roles and responsibilities.
  • Keep the project on track by regularly measuring performance against your KPIs.
  • Ensure you know all your key stakeholders and their level of engagement in the project.
  • Assess the training requirements of your change management team.
  • Support everyone through the process.
  • Appoint ‘change agents’ to be the champions of your new practices.

hr team implementing change management models to help with managing change

4. Communicating Change

Communication could be the most important principle of effective change management, though. How you communicate through the process can make or break how the change is received and adopted. How and when you’ll share key information with the wider business should be planned out before you start the project, it should be regular, relevant and clear.

It’s not as simple as telling people what you want them to do and why you want them to do it; you also have to convey your message to encourage the proper emotional reaction to the change you’re trying to make. This is often achieved by linking the planned changes to your business’s vision, mission, and values.

Some of the models we’ll discuss in this article focus more closely on the communication of change. Look out for the ADKAR Change Management Model.

Eight Change Management Models to Successfully Manage Change

Lewin Model

The Lewin Model is named after its creator Kurt Lewin, a German-American psychologist who created the model in the 1940s. This model helps organisations break the change into three manageable chunks – that he likened to melting and refreezing a block of ice. The three stages are:

  • Unfreeze – This is the preparation phase. Start by analysing your current processes and look at how they can be improved. This will give you a reference point to help the wider business understand the need for change. Remember, overcoming resistance is vital for successful change.
  • Change – Now, it’s time to implement the change. This requires a clear strategy and open lines of communication to guide employees through the process.
  • Refreeze – This is when you make sure the change sticks, or ‘refreezes’ as the new norm. To facilitate this phase, you’ll need to establish a system of reviewing and measuring progress and checking in regularly with employees to make sure they know what’s expected of them.

Because of its few phases, Lewin’s model tends to spread change over a long period of time. This allows businesses to successfully overcome resistance and provide training to help employees adopt it. This model suits large organisational changes with strong support from senior executives and leadership.

ADKAR model for change

The ADKAR Model was created by Jeffrey Hiatt, the founder of Prosci, a change management professionals company. Hiatt’s model is unique because it focuses on the individuals behind the change, stating that organisational change can only happen when individuals do. The result is speeding up the implementation by limiting resistance.

ADKAR is an acronym for the outcomes an individual needs to achieve for change to happen. These are:

  • Awareness – Of the need for change
  • Desire – To participate and support the change
  • Knowledge – On how to change
  • Ability – To implement desired skills and behaviour
  • Reinforcement – To sustain the change

The idea behind the ADKAR model is that organisational change fails because people don’t understand the change, just that it’s happening.  By putting the focus back on the individuals, leaders ensure they have the right information, motivation, and skills to make the transformational change a success.

hr team discussing change projects to help guide their team members

Bridges’ Transition Model

Bridges’ Transition Model is another framework focusing on the emotional reaction to transition. This change management process was created by the popular change consultant William Bridges. It’s based on the transition process, helping employees work together to embrace change rather than the change itself. Bridges breakdown the process into three stages:

  • Ending, losing and letting go – Often, the first reaction to change is resistance characterised by discomfort and fear.
  • The neutral zone – When the change starts, people tend to be caught between remembering the old and embracing the new.
  • The new beginning – If the change has been successful, people will start to accept the new status quo and be comfortable with it.

McKinsey 7S Framework

This framework was designed in the 1970s and has been described as a ‘watershed thinking moment‘. McKinsey’s 7S model is one of the more complex models designed for larger, more complicated changes. The model looks at seven internal elements and how they interact so that the agents of change can identify whether they’re aligned or any strategic points of weakness. The seven elements are:

  • Strategy
  • Structure
  • Systems
  • Shared Values
  • Style
  • Staff
  • Skills.

These elements are split by hard (strategy, structure, and systems) and soft (shared values, company culture, style, staff, and skills). The model works by interconnecting the seven areas, meaning that change in one will require an effective change in the others.

Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

Kotter’s 8-step theory is a change management model created by Harvard Business School Professor and renowned change expert John Kotter. The top-down model focuses on building enthusiasm and understanding the need for change, but it can also lead to frustration among employees because there is no mechanism for feedback during the process. The eight stages are:

  • Step 1: Increase Urgency – Identify threats, opportunities, encourage conversation and engage stakeholders to create a sense of urgency around the change.
  • Step 2: Build a Guiding Team – Create a group of influential people throughout the organisation to identify areas of concern and help drive change.
  • Step 3: Develop the Vision – Develop core values and define the vision and strategy for the desired change.
  • Step 4: Communicate the Buy-In – Communicate to everyone in the organisation so that they understand the need for change and address any concerns.
  • Step 5: Empower Action – Ensure all the organisational structures and processes are in place and identify any potential bottlenecks that could slow down the change or cause friction with employees.
  • Step 6: Create Short-Term Wins – Break the vision into small achievable goals and reward those contributions.
  • Step 7: Don’t Let Up – Drive continuous improvement by celebrating successes and moving through any issues positively.
  • Step 8: Make Change Stick – Make the change visible, create conversations around it and anchor permanent change into the organisation’s culture.

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross Change Curve

The Kubler-Ross Change Curve was initially created by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross to explain the five stages of grief. This model approaches change management from a different perspective and focuses on the emotional impact of change. Kubler-Ross suggested that change creates an emotional reaction first and encourages employers to acknowledge those emotions throughout the change process as an integral component of managing change effectively. The five key stages are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance.

This model champions connection with individuals through communication and empathy. When using this Ross’s framework, it’s important to recognise the unpredictability of emotions and remember that employees may move through these stages randomly and even repeat some.

Nudge Theory

Nudge Theory is a concept in behavioural economics and other behavioural sciences. It proposes small, indirect, subtle changes to influence people’s behaviour to create a desired change.

Unlike other models, Nudge Theory doesn’t have predefined steps, although it does have some key principles. These are:

  • Define the change
  • Identify the employee perspective
  • Share evidence of options
  • Present change as a choice
  • Gather feedback from employees
  • Remove barriers to change adoption
  • Sustain change and celebrate short-term wins.

To make this theory more effective, consider implementing it alongside another theory and pay close attention to the feedback.

Maurer 3 Levels of Resistance and Change Model

Rick Maurer’s change model is unique because it is based on three levels of resistance – essentially, what he describes as the causes of change to fail.

  • Level 1: I don’t understand – This needs to be addressed with facts, figures, and ideas to provide stability and support.
  • Level 2: I don’t like it – This is the emotional response that often makes change most difficult. Emotions aren’t naturally expressed at work, so it can be difficult to see when you have a problem. To combat Level 2 resistance to change, you need to remove as much fear as possible and build positivity and excitement.
  • Level 3: I don’t like or trust you – This isn’t resistance to the idea; this is resistance to the person or people presenting it. Level 3 resistance can be deeply entrenched and boils down to trust, which takes time and dedication to build. To overcome this kind of resistance to change, you’ll need to keep commitments, think about taking responsibility, and allow yourself to be influenced by the people resisting you.
Jessie is an experienced content creator and copywriter specialising in technology and telecommunications. She comes to the HR technology space keen to exercise a passion for people and the human resources industry.

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