3 Change Models to Keep Business Transformation on Track


You’ve probably had some genius idea to improve your business, only to find it’s far more difficult to implement that you realized. Let’s face it—most of us have implemented processes to improve performance, take advantage of opportunities, or correct problems, but have always struggled with employee cooperation. There’s usually at least one vocal naysayer—or a passive resister—who can derail a project by simply refusing to adapt to the new process.

Change isn’t easy. That’s why change management models sprang up. Yes, that’s right—there’s an entire discipline devoted to understanding how we prepare, equip, and support employees to successfully adopt change that drives organizational success.

After all, business transformation is never a cut-and-dried process and the popularity of digital transformation has added a whole new layer. This is particularly true when introducing new technologies, tools, and digital processes to operations steeped in “old ways” and traditions. (See our recent blog: 5 Tips to Keep Your Digital Transformation from Derailing Your Business).

That’s where change management can swoop in to save the day—and your business. Luckily, there’s a wealth of established change management approaches to choose from.  Ahead, we'll look at three popular methods and list the pros and cons of each.


Designed by Prosci in 1998, the ADKAR model breaks down the five stages that individual team members go through on their change journey. They include:

  • Becoming Aware of the need to change,
  • Generating a Desire to make the change,
  • Acquiring the Knowledge to change,
  • Gaining the Ability to implement new skills and behaviors; and
  • Reinforcing the change to make it stick.

The ADKAR model provides insight into how real people react to change. It can be used by employers to understand what the business transformation journey looks like for their team members, and inform strategies that will support those individuals through each step.

Critics of the ADKAR model argue that the ADKAR approach is overly prescriptive and focuses too much on the micro-level of program management. Its ready-made nature also makes it somewhat inflexible to innovation or changes along the way, and for situations where multiple changes are occurring at once.

Kotter's 8-Step Change Model

Introduced by Professor John Kotter from the Harvard School of Business, this aptly named model breaks down the process of business transformation in 8 digestible steps. They include:

  • Create urgency by identifying the need to change and the benefits of doing so.
  • Form a change management team comprised of leaders and change “champions” that will help drive “buy-in” from everyone in the organization.
  • Define your vision for change, including the transformation objectives and the values that are central to that change.
  • Communicate the vision regularly; take time to address your team's questions and concerns along the way.
  • Remove obstacles to change, by identifying and addressing logistical roadblocks, antiquated systems or tools, or reluctant team members.
  • Create short-term wins to derive short-term benefits and keep your team motivated.
  • Build on the change by looking beyond “wins” for further improvements.
  • Anchor the change in your corporate culture by making it core to your business vision, team training, and communications.

The Kotter model offers a step-by-step blueprint to leaders who anticipate a struggle during their business transformation. In this sense, it can be a reliable guide for building towards one's objectives. As a top-down strategy, however, it requires change leaders to check in with their team at every step to collect their feedback and address concerns to ensure a smooth transformation.

Lewin's Model

Created by psychologist Kurt Lewin, this 3-step model provides leaders with a simple framework for change. It includes:

  • “Unfreeze” the status quo by developing a compelling reason for change among your team, convincing them of the benefits of leaving the “old ways” in the past.
  • Make the change, by implementing the change plan, engaging your team, communicating the objectives and potential benefits, and dispelling rumors and misconceptions when they appear.
  • “Refreeze” the organization to make the change stick. This includes monitoring the changes, taking corrective actions where needed, and reinforcing new processes and behaviors.

Lewin's Model is a straightforward approach to business transformation that focuses more on what leaders need to do. However, it does not adequately address the challenge of dealing with team members who are disengaged, reluctant to change, or face difficulty learning new processes or technologies. In this sense, the Lewin's model is light on some of the more “human” factors that can impede business transformation.

If you’d like to keep your initiatives on track, one of these change management models may prove to be exceptionally valuable. Their approaches are different, but each emphasizes a systematic approach that takes into account a team's needs, concerns, and human reactions to change. Once you deal with those obstacles, your employees should be far more willing to implement improvements.

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