The ADKAR Model: 5 Steps to Drastically Improve your Change Program

Change is an inevitable phenomenon. Heracletus, a Greek Philosopher once concurred that, “The only constant in life is change.” The same is true in business. So, how do we manage people through change successfully? The ADKAR Model is a proven tool that can help you achieve this.

We’ll explore how to get the best out of it in this article.

What is the ADKAR Model? The ADKAR Model is a change management tool, created by Prosci and its founder, Jeff Hiatt. It is designed to help individuals overcome the resistance to change by taking them through 5 key stages and outcomes. Each stage overcomes a common change barrier.

By following the steps in sequence, it allows you to lead change at the individual level and accelerate successful change across your business.

ADKAR stands for:

  • Awareness – without the awareness for the need to change, change will not happen;
  • Desire – If you don’t provide empowerment and engagement towards change, change will be lost;
  • Knowledge – Without the understanding of what change looks like, change will derail;
  • Ability – If you don’t identify and address barriers to change and provide teams with the ability to change, change won’t sustain;
  • Reinforce – Without reflection and positive feedback, people may go back to their old ways and change fizzles out.

As you can see, every change project faces resistance from its stakeholders. It is argued that we all go through the change curve. The ADKAR Model can help us accelerate this change if done correctly. Here’s the theory and how you can practically implement it.

Why The Need For Change?

As a leader, you need to constantly update and revise your strategies in order to respond effectively to the fast changing VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) business environment.

In this scenario, stagnancy will make you obsolete. This necessitates the need for change.

We know that consumer tastes change, technology, supply chain pressures, market demands and competitor pressures means that things will evolve.

  • Needs change;
  • Customer expectations change;
  • Service and products move on.

If we decide to maintain what we’ve got, we can only assume that our competition will continuously change and improve to suit the dynamics of the marketplace.

If we were once a market leader, sooner or later, we would be caught and overtaken by superior services and products from our competitors.

We either change now, or face going out of business eventually. In this situation, we’d need to make huge change to correct and reposition ourselves in the market again.

However, continual change is kind of prerequisite in business, these days.

The Scale of Change

Change doesn’t always have to be so severe, though. It can be minor, such as shifting your office premises or changing the manpower allocation to different projects.

But it can be a major change, entailing a total restructuring of business processes, large scale layoffs, declaration of bankruptcy or a complete overhaul of the organisational structure, as we described above.

That said, change should be seen as something common that leaders must take their teams through continuously, at different levels. It should be seen as something as common as dealing with conflict or daily goal setting.

Either way, change cannot be forced on people. It must be led and treated like a process.

Why Change Fails?

While all of us realise and accept the need for change, we are OK with it, only as long as it doesn’t happen to us.

Faced with a prospect of change, we all go through the shock and denial, gradually progressing through bargaining and frustration, untill we finally accept the change or leave the business. The length of time it takes us is rather personal to us.

As a leader, if you dont guide and hand-hold your employees as they go through this change curve, your change project is often doomed to fail.

Why The Resistance To Change? The 3 Common Barriers

Any attempt to change the status quo is met with resistance. This resistance does not necessarily come only from the lower rank employees. Often, even leaders of an organisation are resistant to change.

Here are the common causes:

Poor Communication

Most of the decisions implementing any change are not well communicated to all the stakeholders. This poor communication leads to misunderstanding and reinforces the resistance to change. 

Why should we change if no one has explained it properly? 

Lack of Trust

The misunderstandings stemming from poor communication of change decisions or from earlier experiences, may lead to the employees having misplaced views about leadership’s intentions. This leads to a lack of trust in leadership.

I don’t trust you, so why am I going to follow what you ask?

Fear of the Unknown

Deep down, we all believe in the saying, “A bird in hand is worth two in the bush”. In other words, we’re happy to stick to the comforts of the present.

This is not by chance. It’s how we evolved. Psychology Today defines the reasons why we don’t sustain change.

One of the big factors is that our body is designed to maintain homeostasis – “Homeostasis helps our bodies to maintain a normal body temperature, metabolism, weight and other functions that are necessary for our survival.” 

If we are in the process of change, hormones are released, we feel anxious and are put in survival mode.

Internally, our bodies work hard to bring it back to homeostasis and the predictable norm, where we are not anxious and pent up.

Hence, no change means we are in an equilibrium state and there is less chance of danger. When change is introduced, even if your employees are aware of the possible benefits that it offers, they are disinclined to accept it wholeheartedly.

They view it through the prism of sacrificing the surety of the present in favour of the uncertainty of the future.
This is the main reason why many-a-time, improvement ideas often fall on deff ears, and are left on the table.

Why would I put myself at risk of any danger?

How to Overcome Resistance – The ADKAR Model

Now that we have seen the various reasons triggering the barriers to change, let’s look at the ADKAR model and how it can help to overcome this resistance.

The ADKAR model gives you five successive steps to steer your employees through change.

These steps aim to address the individual barriers to change that we all have. They are designed for you to lead your employees through each step in sequence.

For instance, there is no point trying to provide knowledge and understanding of how to change (Knowledge phase), if you haven’t fully addressed the Awareness stage.

Equally, trying to reinforce good behaviour (Reinforce stage) is pointless, if you haven’t addressed the ability stage and given them the tools and training to make change work.

Here are the steps in greater detail.


Much of the resistance to change arises from the lack of awareness about the need for change and what it entails for the various stakeholders.

For instance, when British Airways decided to restructure its entire business to recover from the massive losses, a lack of awareness about the dire financial condition of the company would have made it look like an exercise solely aimed at maximising profits for the shareholders, at the cost of the employees.

The new CEO, Lord King, was successful in creating sufficient awareness about the company’s financial position, as well as his vision about how the proposed changes will improve the future.

Quick Tips to follow:

  • Lay out to the employees and other stakeholders, the facts that necessitate the proposed change – why do we need to change;
  • Involve the different stakeholders in brainstorming sessions on how to respond to this situation, to identify ideas – this creates a sense of togetherness and openness as they identify ideas ;
  • Show your employees the prospects the organisation faces if the change is not implemented – Why do we need to change;
  • Keep communication channels open at all times. Communicate your decisions as well as encourage feedback from your employees – build the buy-in for change;
  • Create a picture of what change looks like for the employees when it’s been implemented. Afterall, you can say all you like about how the business needs to change, but we want to know how it will affect us as individuals. Answer the question, “how will change affect me?” Do this, and you’re well on the way to create great awareness.


Mere awareness about the need for change is not sufficient. One can be aware of the present scenario, but still be unwilling to embrace any change.

Change pushes people out of their comfort zones, and nobody wishes to move from their zone of stability.

To overcome this, you need to create a desire in the mind of the individual to accept and implement the change. Not only should an individual be willing to accept a change, rather they should desire to be a part of it.

Once the majority of people exhibit a desire to participate in the change project, in all likelihood they would be able to influence their peers who had been either passively or actively resisting the change ‘till now.

I call this the 20:60:20 model.

Look to get the 20% of your informal leaders on board to change. Theyare the people in all areas of the busienss that are eager to change and will not take much, if any work to convince. Work with them to influence the 60% of the fence sitters. This leaves you time to work closely with the 20% that are finding it hard to move on.

Quick tips to create a desire to support change

  • Give them a vision of the future as you see it – what it looks like when change is complete. Show them the future;
  • Give a clear and truthful explanation of how the change would benefit the growth and development of the employees as well. Make it all about them;
  • Clearly show the contrast between the prospects of the organisation having implemented the change as against forgoing it. Repeat the need to change;
  • Show your willingness to work with your employees and support them through the process of change by hand-holding them, as well as financial and emotional support. Supporting them through it is your sole aim.
  • Be aware of the fears and emotions of your employees and make sincere efforts to address them. Work with them to overcome barriers that they highlight;
  • Give them time to internalise these ideas. Partner with them, so they can start to see how they will fit;
  • Find the 20% of employees who are already engaged and committed, and work with them to roll out change. Influence the masses by using the 20% informal leaders.


Having eventually generated the desire for the employees to support and participate in the change process, you now need to empower them with sufficient knowledge and capability to implement the change.

For instance, consider that you have shifted your business to a new software platform.

While your employees resisted the change at first:

  • You have made them aware about the older system becoming obsolete and difficult to maintain;
  • You have also created a desire for the change by showing them how this new software platform will benefit the organisation and them with improved productivity, and less day to day frustrations;
  • This would also lead to individual benefits for your employees in the form of increased emoluments and bonuses and improved revenues for the business.

However, this change project would not be successful unless the employees know about this new software and how to use it.

The same is true for any change programme. At this stage, you need to be crystal clear in terms of what the change means and how they will work in this new way.

Quick tips to boost the knowledge of your employees

  • Identify all the training needs of employees with regards to the new changes. What are the skills gaps that need to be bridged?;
  • Provide learning workshops to ensure everyone is trained. Focus on mass training;
  • Encourage the employees to learn by acknowledging and rewarding the fastest learners. Encourage learning;
  • Organise knowledge sharing platforms for the already trained employees (the early adopters) to share their knowledge and experience with those who are still lagging behind. Learning from the positive experience of their own peers will further reduce their resistance to change. Coach, mentor and collaborate with others.


Following on from our example above, merely knowing how to operate the new software will not make the change successful. They need to be made capable enough to work on the new platform, at least as good as, if not better than what they could do on the older platform.

If not, the gradual acceptance will be neutralised and the employees will again revert to one of the earlier stages on the change curve.

Quick tips to develop the ability to adopt change:

  • Conduct repeated trial runs of the changed process(es) – Follow the Plan-Do-Check-Act process as you go;
  • Troubleshoot any issues with the processes or procedures and continuously improve;
  • Encourage objective feedback from the employees or users about their experience and the difficulties they might be facing. Open up communication and sharing;
  • Don’t hesitate to change anything that you find is not serving its purpose. Continuously improve.


Once the change has been integrated into your regular business processes and the workflow has entered the phase of stability, you should not let go. There is always a chance that any untoward event might push the mindset of the employees back into the region of denial and dissatisfaction.

There is a need for constant reinforcement, by highlighting the benefits that the changes are bringing to your organisation and the employees.

The new way of working must be made into a habit in order for it to be sustainable. The more complexity in a change, the more time it will take to be integrated into the regular workflow of the organisation.

Quick tips for positive reinforcement of a change:

  • Encourage good performers by providing awards and recognitions to show that you take the change seriously and value the employees them. Publicly reward employees for adopting the new ways of working;
  • Provide constructive feedback to the employees and help them find better means to make the change work. Coach them to success;
  • Instead of waiting for the process to fail, use workflow diagrams and monitor regular performance to identify possible areas of improvement. Monitor processes and look for any gaps to plan;
  • Encourage collaborative problem solving among the employees, to come up with solutions to the challenges or issues faced. Work together to solve problems every day.

As Stephen Covey Said, “Think Win/win”

The main reason that many change projects fail is because the employees see any change as a zero sum game. They are inclined to believe that if the leader of an organisation is proposing a change, it must be to benefit only the organisation and its owners, at the expense of the employees.

In his book, the 7 Habits of Highly Successful People, Steven Covey identified that there are only 7 habits you really need to master to be successful. Habit 4 is win/win. This means that both sides should benefit from a relationship and that leaders should always look for win/win over win/lose partnerships.

In order to make change impactful, fair and sustained, you must think about win/win. This meanshow change will improve the business AND how it will improve the employees.

The ADKAR model aims to change this outlook to one, where the employees see any change as a positive sum game.

Additional Questions

What are ADKAR Barrier Points: It’s not enough to just implement the Adkar change model. You also need to know how effective you are managing this process, based on the change program that you are leading.

Simply put, if you were to ask your employees to score the effectiveness of each of the 5 adkar model steps in their own eyes, from a score of 1-5 (1 being not clear and the lowest score, to 5 being the highest score), you can then define where the first score is marked as a 3 or lower in the sequence of ADKAR.

This is the ADKAR Model Barrier point and represents the current weakest area of change to address.

For instance, if your change program scored a 1 for awareness, 2 for desire, 3 for knowledge, 2 for ability and 1 for reinforcement, your barrier point would be the awareness stage, as it’s the first point in sequence with a score lower than 3. This represents a considerable weakness to the change program and should be addressed.

How do you identify change barriers? It’s relatively easy using the ADKAR model. Each stage in the model identifies potential barriers and outcomes to address, in order for change to be successful.

As in the point above, if you score your employees’ perception on how you are implementing ADKAR, you should see the current barriers present, by identifying the current adkar barrier point.

Often, the typical barriers to change are from:

  • Not being clear of why we need to change and little supporting communication;
  • Not developing desire to change because employees are not supported enough through it;
  • Little knowledge to change, where training and understanding is limited;
  • Lack of ability and make the change autonomous, which is often a result of lack of coaching and support from leadership;
  • Lack of reinforcement and feedback, where leadership don’t celebrate and praise good work and successes.

The ADKAR model in turn, directly addresses each one of these barriers to change through its 5 step model of leading change.