8 Critical Change Management Models to Evolve and Survive

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For your business to survive it will need to evolve. For it to evolve, you need to make changes. Without a change management model, the success of those changes is up to nothing more than hope and dumb luck.

British Airways didn’t successfully overhaul their entire organization by making changes and crossing their fingers – they had a model and strategy to follow.

Before King began announcing layoffs, he explained his reasons… to prepare them for the upcoming change. Without his transparency, British Airways could have experienced employee backlash and negative press around all the layoffs.” – Laura Troyani3 Examples of Organizational Change Done Right

A model that paved the way for them earning $284 million in profit (the highest in its industry) within ten years of the changes.

I’ve already gone over how to form your own change management strategy, so today I’ll break down the change management models you can use to do the same for your business.

change management models - british airways
But enough introductory babble – it’s time to get stuck into this behemoth of a post and give you everything you need to know about the 8 main change management models, being:

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Lewin’s change management model

Lewin’s model is one of the most popular approaches, and it’s easy to see why. By splitting the change process into three stages you can break a large, unwieldy shift into bitesize chunks which account for both the processes and people in your company.

Lewin describes three stages of change management:

  • Unfreeze
  • Make changes
  • Refreeze

Each stage is a little hefty and requires delving into detail, so I’ll split each into its own section below.

Click here to access Lewin’s Change Management Model Process Checklist!

The method

change management models - lewins change management model

Unfreeze your process and perceptions
Upon realizing that your company needs to change, the first step is to “unfreeze” your current process and take a look at how things are done. This means analyzing every step and human interaction for potential improvements, no matter how in-depth you have to go and how much you need to unearth.

By doing this you’re helping to eliminate any existing bias and commonly accepted mistakes. This gives you the perspective you need to change the cause of your problems, rather than just the symptoms.

Unfreezing also applies to your company’s perception of the upcoming change and its natural resistance to it. Forcing sudden change only breeds resentment, so you need to prepare your team for the new elements in order to let them take hold when deployed.

Everyone needs to know what’s wrong with the current process, why it needs to change, what changes are being suggested, and what benefits those changes will bring. This should help to convince them of the need to change and encourage them to stick to the new process.

Make your changes
Once you’ve prepared everyone it’s time to deploy your changes and guide the team as they adapt. Communication, support, and education are vital, as you want to limit any difficulties in the transition and address problems as soon as they arise.

As such, you first need to provide any extra education or training that your team will require. If you’re switching a piece of technology then they need to know how to use it, and if you’re adopting a new marketing policy they need to be told what to read to learn about it.

change management models - kurt lewin

Next, you need to make sure that everyone has a place or person they can go to for support on the topic. This can be a regular meeting with their manager, a knowledge base they can refer to, or a mentor that’s guiding them through the process.

Finally, you should be communicating regularly with all members of your team (or at least getting their manager to do so). This is primarily to listen to feedback, as this will quickly highlight any problems you need to tackle.

Refreeze the new status quo
Once your changes have been deployed, measured, and tweaked according to feedback, you need to “refreeze” your new status quo. This is vital to any change management model – everything you’ve done is pointless if old habits resurface.

Regular reviews need to be carried out to check that the new methods are being followed. Rewards should also be given to those who consistently keep to the new method, and those who make a large effort to support and uphold the changes.

If you’ve listened to (and applied) feedback then this stage will be a little easier, since your employees will be more invested in the changes. They helped to shape them after all, so it’s natural that they would want them to succeed.

Beyond that, any documented processes need to be checked and updated, and all of these checks upheld until the changes become a habit. There’s no set amount of time until this happens, but as long as you keep measuring and reinforcing the new state of things, eventually, the habit will be set in stone.

The good

Lewin’s change management model is fantastic for when your business needs to drastically change in order to succeed. It also excels at uncovering hidden mistakes which were taken for granted, since you have to analyze every aspect of whatever you’re changing.

If you’re carrying out any business process reengineering (see the template for this below) or know that you need to shake up some ingrained mistruths, use Lewin’s model.

The bad

Due to the scale of the unfreezing process, Lewin’s model can be difficult and time-consuming to enact. This isn’t necessarily a problem (since the changes highlighted are often massive and require a large time investment anyway), but it does mean that using the model for anything less than an in-depth analysis and overhaul isn’t worthwhile.

Lewin’s model also requires a great deal of care to be taken beyond the base instructions to support your team and consider their emotions through the turmoil.

Massive changes (which this model is suited to) run the risk of alienating employees since their workflow will be drastically different than before. As such, you need to be especially careful when bringing them on board and keeping up their enthusiasm in the refreezing stage.

The verdict

If you know that your business requires in-depth analysis and improvements, Lewin’s model is a great way to start.

By digging up the roots of your methods and completely revamping processes and practices where needed, you can pivot your company at a critical time in its lifespan. Unfreezing and analyzing your model with this method can show you what you need to improve and highlight how to let your team adapt.

change management strategy - lewin's change model

Just don’t try to “unfreeze” and change for every minor problem you find – it takes a lot of time and effort to do so, and if you’re not careful the disruption can alienate your employees.

The McKinsey 7-S model

Instead of supporting deep analysis and large shifts, the McKinsey 7-S model is great for analyzing how coherent your company is. If you know that you need to change your act, but you’re not sure what to do, this is the change management model for you.

By analyzing the following seven aspects of your company and how they affect each other, you will highlight the changes you need to make to create a united approach to business:

  • Strategy
  • Structure
  • Systems
  • Shared values
  • Style
  • Staff
  • Skills

Click here to access the McKinsey 7-S Change Management Model Checklist Process!

The method

change management models - mckinsey 7s model

Assess your strategy
Your company strategy needs to be formal enough to allow you to move forward with purpose and gain (or maintain) an advantage over your competitors, and flexible enough to adapt to changes without destroying your progress. As such, when assessing your strategy you need to answer questions such as:

  • What are your objectives?
  • What is your strategy to achieve them?
  • How are you staying competitive?
  • How can your strategy adapt to the current (and future) situation?

Record the answers to each question (and any others you can think of), then move on.

Look at your structure
Your structure should be fairly simple to note down since it’s more tangible than your strategy, but it’s nonetheless important to double-check with your team(s). Unless your information is accurate for how your company is actually structured, you’re only neutering the effectiveness of your changes.

change management models - organization structure

Ask yourself:

  • How is your company structured (departments, teams, etc)?
  • What is your hierarchy?
  • How are your departments organized and managed?
  • How are your teams organized and managed?
  • How do your individual team members organize themselves?
  • Who makes the decisions?
  • How are they carried out/passed down?
  • How does everyone communicate?
  • How often does communication occur?

Analyze your systems
Any of our returning readers will know the importance of having processes and managing them effectively, and now is when the McKinsey model applies that same belief. Here you need to assess your business systems, including official processes, unofficial shortcuts, rules, and how everything is tracked.

In other words, ask yourself:

  • What are the core systems in your business (HR, finance, document management, team management/meetings, etc)?
  • How are these systems and/or processes stored and used?
  • How are they updated (and are they up to date)?
  • Are these systems accurate (are they being used word-for-word)?
  • How do you track and assess the results of these processes?
  • Who has access to these systems?

Record shared values
We’re back into abstract territory now, as the next step is to analyze your shared values. This will typically include both your official company values and your company’s (possibly also your individual teams’) culture.

While culture might seem irrelevant to managing change, if used correctly it can be a powerful tool indeed. Linking your values and culture to the changes you make will make them more agreeable to your work force, who will, in turn, adapt them more readily.

Take a look at:

  • What are your core company values?
  • What is your company culture?
  • What are your teams’ cultures?
  • Are they at odds with the company culture?
  • Knowing this, how strong are your values?
  • How could you strengthen them in practice?

change management models - mckinsey origin book

Take note of your style
This stage is all about assessing the management and leadership style used in your business. While it might be tempting to present an idealized view of your own leadership, resist that urge and be frank with how both you and the rest of the company are managed/manage others.

The questions you need to be asking are:

  • How are your departments and teams managed?
  • How active is this management/leadership?
  • Is this style effective, and to what extent?
  • Do you inspire competition or collaboration?

List your staff
This section is exactly what you’d expect. Take a look at your staff list and assess whether you have the required positions filled, what gaps you have, and so on.

Take a look at your staff list, their job descriptions, common tasks, and skill set in general to answer:

  • What positions do you have filled?
  • What skills do they bring to your company?
  • Are you lacking a particular skill set?
  • Do you need to hire someone?
  • If so, who will your next hire be?

If you need help writing your job descriptions, try using the template below for free.

Assess their skills
Finally, it’s time to look at the skills your staff currently have. This shouldn’t end at a basic description – you’ll need to gather some feedback around how your company is perceived, as this will give you an idea of what your customers think your skills are (which is arguably just as important).

Take a look at:

  • Do your employees have the necessary skills to do their job to the desired quality?
  • What skills are not present in your company?
  • How vital are these missing skills?
  • What are the strongest skills across your company/teams?
  • How are you assessing these skills?
  • What is your company perceived as doing well, and what skills does that reflect on?

Cross-examine the 7-S’ and find what changes you need to implement
Once you’ve analyzed all of the 7-S’ you should take the time to think about how each affects the others. As with many of these change management models, it’s worth meeting with at least the upper levels of your management to do this, as you’ll get a more accurate idea of these things in practice.

You need to be looking at whether your 7-S’ support each other, and planning incremental changes to make that happen if it isn’t already. For example, look at whether your structure supports your strategy, how they are both helped by your systems, and how all three reflect your shared values.

Once you have an idea of what needs to be brought in line, plan out incremental changes you can make which won’t disrupt your regular operations too much or alienate your employees. After they’ve been deployed (or even after every change you make), go through the 7-S model again to reassess and find out what you need to do next.

change management models - mckinsey model rough

The good

The 7-S model shows the weaknesses in your company and highlights the areas that most require attention when deploying changes. Beyond that, it helps to make sure that every aspect of your company supports the others, giving you a formidable business plan which is both incredibly strong and yet flexible to further change.

The bad

Unless you run a small operation with very few employees, the McKinsey model is impossible to effectively carry out alone or in a short amount of time. You won’t have the required knowledge to assess every element of your company, and so extra time and resources must be dedicated to build the overview and assess viable changes.

The verdict

The McKinsey 7-S model is best suited for those who want to know how they can change for the better. By creating an overview of how coherent and effective the various elements of your company are, you can then go on to analyze your current situation and draft changes to tackle the problem.

In other words, this model is great if you don’t know where to start, but if you are just looking to assess the viability of a specific change, it might be best to use a model which has a smaller scope.

Kotter’s theory

Kotter’s theory is the first in this list to focus less on the change itself and more on the people behind it (albeit from a top-down point of view). By inspiring a sense of urgency for change and maintaining that momentum, Kotter’s theory can be used to great effect in adapting your business to the current climate.

Kotter’s theory works by:

  • Creating a sense of urgency
  • Building a core coalition
  • Forming a strategic vision
  • Getting everyone on board
  • Removing barriers and reducing friction
  • Generating short-term wins
  • Sustaining acceleration
  • Setting the changes in stone

Click here to access Kotter’s Change Management Process Checklist!

The method

change management models - kotter's theory

Create a sense of urgency
First you need to create a sense of urgency for your change – this will provide the initial traction you’ll need to get your team on board and motivated to adapt.

The best part is that you don’t need to do all of the work for this urgency to spread – once you have a core group who are open to discussing the changes, it’s likely that they will, in turn, talk to others and convince them to feel the same.

Take stock of potential threats, what your competitors are doing, and opportunities you can capitalize on, and then use them to start discussions with your team around the effects on your company and what should be done about them.

Build a core coalition
Once you’ve got the ball rolling you need to get the key players on board. Gather your organization leaders and stakeholders and convince them of the need to change.

This step is pretty straightforward, but you should make sure that you have a good span of people from various experience levels, skill sets, and so on. Be sure to specifically ask them for a commitment to these changes too, since you will need a strong core of promoters who can reach every employee in your business.

Form a strategic vision
Your aim in this step is to be able to define your changes and the vision you’re aiming for. The key here is to not overwhelm whoever’s listening to you with detail or complicated ideas or language.

change management models - dr john kotter

Write down what values your changes work towards achieving, what the changes are, and what the predicted outcome will be. Keep the summary to one or two sentences, and in simple enough language that everyone in your core group step understands exactly what you mean.

If your coalition can’t describe your change in a couple of sentences, you’ll have no hope of convincing your front line employees why they’re important.

Get everyone on board
Now it’s time to spread your idea for change to the rest of your organization, including the front-line employees.

Although part of this will be having regular meetings to discuss the vision and changes with your teams, you also need to be promoting these elements outside of meetings too. Not only that, but you can’t just shove information at your employees and expect them to mindlessly convert – you need to be open to feedback and host discussions about the topic.

Essentially, the goal here is to convince your entire organization that the changes are necessary and why they should happen – you’re setting the stage for them to later deploy the changes.

Remove barriers and reduce friction
If all has gone well then your employees should be eager to get started with your changes. Before that, it’s vital to take a moment to assess what might block the changes’ progress.

change management models - kotter's theory rough

For example, an employee might not have the skill to use a new piece of technology or a team might not have the manpower to spare for implementing a new task. Whatever the issue, make sure that you’ve limited it as much as possible.

You can do this by analyzing your structure and processes to see if they are holding your changes back, and by tackling problems (both human and technical) as soon as possible after they show up.

Generate short-term wins
We’ve finally gotten around to deploying your changes, but now you must be extra vigilant – the initial motivation to change won’t last forever. Instead, you need to make sure that there are short-term wins associated with your changes that you can present and praise employees for.

This both gives your team a sense of accomplishment and shows them the process working in action, making them more likely to keep up with the changes.

Although it’s best to plan out these milestones in advance, you can always measure the effects of the change as it happens, then present that data to your team to show them exactly how their performance is being affected.

If you’re struggling to think of any milestones, you could always just reward those who are sticking to your changes and helping you to meet your targets.

Sustain acceleration
This stage is all about sustaining the momentum that you generated for your changes. If you’re successful, the acceleration can carry you far enough that the changes become the new habit before the team loses steam.

change management models - acceleration

Take stock of any successes (or failures) your team has, looking at what happened and what could be improved next time. Beyond that, be sure to set new goals whenever one of your current ones is reached to let your team have something to work towards.

Set your changes in stone
Finally, you need to make sure that your changes have been set in stone, both in your documentation and company culture. Aside from updating any formal processes you have to reflect the new change, you also need to promote the success of your changes and help them to endure going forwards.

For example, one great way to cement a change is to announce and recognize the original coalition and their contributions to the final product. This highlights their interaction in the change, your willingness to hear feedback, and the change as a whole as a good thing.

All that’s left to do now is to repeat the change process for the next round of alterations.

The good

The first few stages of Kotter’s theory are fantastic – they force you to set the foundation for success by creating a sense of urgency and convincing everyone why change is necessary. This gives your team the drive they need to enact the change, with enough people working on deploying it that it should quickly become standard practice.

The bad

While it focuses largely on widespread adoption of your changes, Kotter’s model is a top-down approach at heart. Without a little extra effort on your part it doesn’t take any feedback on board, and therefore runs the risk of alienating employees by just telling them what to do.

This is likely because the majority of Kotter’s experience came from working with large top-down companies, but still, it can be an issue for companies rely on a more collaborative setup. For anything other than a large corporation, having some kind of back-and-forth is vital for giving context on changes from varying points of view and skill sets, and for having employees adapt to the change at all.

change management models - kotter leading change

Put it this way – if you’re small enough to know the name of almost everyone working for you, you need to go one step beyond Kotter and listen to your team. That way they will be more likely to adopt your changes, as they will at least have some say and direct connection to the changes.

The verdict

Kotter’s theory is great as a checklist, but lacks the necessary back-and-forth (and, to a degree, actionable instructions) to be taken as a step-by-step process. Smaller companies depend much more on cementing every employee as a champion of each change, meaning that you need to pay more attention to their feedback.

So, as with Lewin’s and the McKinsey change management models, Kotter should be supplemented with other approaches (or at least elements of them to make up for its shortcomings.

Nudge theory

Nudge theory is odd, in that it really is just a theory – there’s no set change management model to be had, but instead, a mindset and tactic which can be used to frame your changes in a more attractive and effective manner.

The basic theory is that “nudging” change along is much more effective than trying to enforce it in a traditional sense. So, instead of telling your employees what to do and how to change, you pave the way for them to choose to do so by themselves. The trick is knowing how to present these nudges.

Businessballs highlights some of the core aspects of nudges as being indirect, subtle, open-ended, educational, backed up with evidence, optional, and open to discussion. However, as for a set method, the theory is incredibly vague, since it’s more of a tool to use within another, more structured change model.

The basic principles you need to follow when nudging changes are:

  • Clearly define your changes
  • Consider changes from your employees’ point of view
  • Use evidence to show the best option
  • Present the change as a choice
  • Listen to feedback
  • Limit obstacles
  • Keep momentum up with short-term wins

Click here to access the Nudge Theory Change Management Model Checklist!

The method

change management models - nudge theory

Clearly define your changes
As with any other model, it’s vital for you to clearly define your changes. Your ultimate goal with this method isn’t just to deploy your changes, but to do so with the full support of your employees, and to do that they need to know exactly what they’re signing up for.

Consider changes from your employees’ point of view
Once you’ve clearly set out what changes you want to make, you need to consider them from the point of view of your employees. Take what you know about their team’s culture and structure, along with their responsibilities and skills in order to gauge their reaction.

More importantly, start to think about how the same changes could be achieved in a way that’s desirable to your workforce. For example, if you want to create a set editing checklist to follow for your marketing team, you could say how such as process would be a great way to make editing easier, quicker, and more consistent.

Use evidence to show the best option
Once you know how present the change to fit with the team’s priorities, you need to gather evidence to prove how useful it is.

I’m not saying that you should cherry-pick evidence that supports your theory and ignore anything contrary. Instead, you need to gather information about their current performance and structure, and then compare that with the predicted effects of the change.

When you come to present the change to the team this will both show them why it’s necessary in the first place, and why that particular suggestion is the best course of action.

Present the change as a choice
In keeping with the passive spirit of nudge theory, despite all of the evidence you’ve gathered you can’t just force the change on your team and justify it with your findings. This will breed resentment to both the change and you since no-one else had a say in the matter.

change management models - nudge theory book

Instead, the change should be presented in a way that the team will understand and respond well to, with evidence to back it up, and above all else as a choice. If you haven’t missed anything and have argued your case well enough your team should back you on this, and the change will be deployed all the better for it.

If not, make the most of the rejection, and either way…

Listen to feedback
Whether your changes were rejected or not, you need to be open to whatever feedback your team may have. It’s entirely possible that you missed an effect the change may have or an outside factor which will help or hinder progress, and nobody will know more about these hidden factors than the team the change will affect.

Not to mention that by letting your team give feedback you’re showing them that they are valued as people, and their opinion matters. This, in turn, will make them more willing to give your changes a shot.

If you don’t have a set method for gathering feedback, try adapting the feedback template below for your employees.

Limit obstacles
Both before and during your changes’ deployment you should be limiting or removing any obstacles you can. If your team uses your new process and immediately hits a roadblock, their enthusiasm for the whole thing is going to plummet.

Instead, make the transition to the new way of doing things as easy as possible by assessing what might get in the way of the change and tackling that issue as soon as possible. Again, talking to your team to help identify these obstacles is a great way to identify ones you would have otherwise missed.

Keep momentum up with short-term wins
Once some progress has been made on deploying your change you need to make sure that it is maintained. To do this it’s worth planning out some short-term goals and milestones which you can celebrate upon reaching – at the very least this should keep the new practice going until it becomes the normal routine.

The good

Helping the employee realize the importance of the issue and letting them choose the solution makes them more motivated to see it through. Giving them that choice also promotes a stronger bond with yourself and your business, which can extend into greater loyalty and a lower employee turnover rate.

Nudge theory also covers the hole many other change management models leave open – it deals with change on the employee’s side of things and focuses on encouraging them to adopt it. This makes nudge at least a great supplement to more formal approaches.

change management models - nudge

The bad

By itself, nudge doesn’t provide a model capable of analyzing, managing, deploying, and maintaining change, hence why it serves best as a supplement.  Also, because of having to be used alongside another method, the extra time and effort involved in providing attractive choices for your employees can be staggering and impractical for larger companies.

Nudge also suffers a little in terms of its predictability. While you can improve the landscape for your changes all you want, the choice (or a variation thereof) ultimately has to lie with your employees, which can make the outcome uncertain.

The verdict

Nudge theory is an odd concept, but with careful planning you can turn the people] your changes most depend on (your employees) into its biggest champions.

However, the lack of specific, actionable instructions, combined with the time and resources nudge requires on a large scale means that it’s best to combine with another model that follows a set structure. That way you can have a specific action plan while getting a large amount of support from your team.

The ADKAR model

Created by Jeffery Hiatt (founder of Prosci), the ADKAR change management model is a bottom-up method which focuses on the individuals behind the change. It’s less of a sequential method and more of a set of goals to reach, with each goal making up a letter of the acronym.

By focusing on achieving the following five goals, the ADKAR model can be used to effectively plan out change on both an individual and organizational level:

  • Awareness (of the need to change)
  • Desire (to participate and support the change)
  • Knowledge (on how to change)
  • Ability (to implement required skills and behaviors)
  • Reinforcement (to sustain the change)

Click here to access the ADKAR Model Change Management Process!

The method

change management models - ADKAR

The awareness stage is all about making sure that your employees understand the need for change. This is done much as you’d expect – by meeting with your employees and/or managers, presenting the current state of affairs, and how your proposed changes could benefit the situation.

The main difficulty here is remembering that you’re pitching this change to other people, and so you can’t just reel off a list of changes and expect them to be accepted. Instead, you need to justify those changes by using hard evidence to really drive the point home.

Similarly, forcing yourself to justify your changes will prevent you from over-reaching with drastic shifts or promoting those that you think are correct (but quite frankly aren’t).

Inspiring the desire to change is usually the most difficult part of ADKAR, since you’re appealing to both the logical and emotional side of your employees. If you can’t get both on your side, you aren’t going to get the total commitment you’ll need to deploy the change.

As with most other management models in this post, one of the best ways to grow this desire is to promote the benefits of the change relevant to the people you’re talking to.

Give real-world examples of what will happen after the change and compare it to their current position. Listen to their feedback and implement any useful advice to share the responsibility if creating the change.

The knowledge goal in ADKAR is to make sure that everyone knows how the change will be carried out and how to fulfill their specific part in that process.

So, here you need to break down the change into steps and analyze what various employees will need to know in order to complete them all. Once you know this, the team(s) need to be taught how the change will be completed and what their part in the process is.

change management models - adkar knowledge

While it might seem like knowledge and ability are the same thing, the time it takes to go from knowing how to complete a task to being able to actually carry it out can be immense. Just because you know how to do something doesn’t mean you’re good at it.

As such, you need to check the ability of each employee and assess whether they need extra experience (or knowledge) in order to reliably complete their tasks.

The required knowledge and ability to achieve your change can also be limited by creating a documented process which anyone can follow, no matter their skill set or experience. This will make your changes more consistent and measurable, since most variables can be locked in a constant state.

Reinforcement here means implementing incentives and rewards to make sure that the change is maintained until it becomes the new norm. Remember that it’s a good idea to identify any mistakes in this stage as early as possible, as then you’ll prevent a flawed method becoming your employees’ default.

The good

ADKAR is a bottom-up approach which focuses greatly on employees, in turn speeding up the rate at which changes can be reliably deployed. By giving you set goals to meet without a specific method, ADKAR provides a flexible framework which you can go on to apply to almost any situation.

This flexibility also makes ADKAR great for deploying incremental changes, since small frequent changes are less disruptive, and can be planned out to achieve a larger shift over several ADKAR cycles.

The added focus on the people and their needs rather than just the technical aspects also results in a higher success rate for changes you make.

change management models - adkar book

The bad

While it’s suited to incremental change, ADKAR is left lacking what it comes to large-scale alterations. This is largely down to the style of ADKAR being bottom-up, since any macro management is either ignored or taken for granted.

In other words, ADKAR requires you to know what you’re going to change and have the drive to push for it.

The verdict

ADKAR is a great model for cutting through any complicated setups and getting straight to the point with how to improve your employees’ reaction to change. As long as you already know what you want to change and why it’s important to do so, you can deploy it using this model with a fair amount of confidence.

Remember, however, that this is severely lacking in terms of a high-level plan. If you don’t already have a set change in mind then it’s best to analyze your company with something like the McKinsey model first.

Bridges’ transition model

Created in 1991 by William Bridges, this model focuses on transition rather than change. While that might seem like a needless difference, this small factor alters the entire way that change management is approached.

Put simply, change happens to people and can be considered intrusive. It’s usually pushed despite what the recipient wants and they’re forced to adapt despite their feelings on the issue.

Meanwhile, a transition is more of a journey over time than an abrupt alien shift. This makes Bridges’ transition model one of guiding your employees through the reaction and emotions they will encounter when dealing with your changes.

It does this by detailing three stages of transition, each of which the employee must be guided through for the change to be successful:

  • Ending, losing, and letting go
  • The neutral zone
  • The new beginning

Click here to access Bridges Transition Model Process Checklist!

The method

change management models - bridges transition model

Ending, losing, and letting go
Ending, losing, and letting go is exactly what you’d expect. It’s all about guiding people through the emotions associated with the change and communicating how their skills and knowledge will transfer to the new activities.

Here you need to focus on listening and communicating, as employees may feel fear, anger, denial, uncertainty, and a host of other negative emotions which serve as a roadblock in the transition.

Combat fear by helping them to understand the change and the positive outcome that it will eventually bring. Make sure that anyone who needs to can reach out to a support channel (through a knowledge base, mentor, etc). Listen to what your employees have to say on the subject and take on board whatever feedback they may have.

The neutral zone
The neutral zone is the bridge between the old and the new. It is likely to be the time when productivity is at its lowest and your employees most tempted to give up and revert.

This is perfectly normal.

When the changes are first deployed people will resist it, potentially have a higher workload, and may be less productive while they adapt. The best way to combat this is to regularly provide your team with feedback to give some wider context on how they’re doing, and to help them solve any problems they encounter.

As with many other change management methods, it’s also worth clarifying some short-term wins which you can capitalize on during this phase, since this should help to buoy up your team’s general attitude.

change management models - william bridges quote

The new beginning
The new beginning is when the changes have been accepted and energy is high. Here the main aim is to reinforce the changes, keep objectives clear, and to keep up the pace while you can.

Again, rewarding your team members (especially those who championed the changes) is a great way to reinforce that your goals were both handled well and were the right thing to do in the first place. Meanwhile, setting new objectives and using the momentum from your changes to power through will help to make sure that there isn’t time to get complacent and lapse back into old habits.

The good

The Bridges’ transition model closes the gap between management and rank-and-file employees. It takes a very personal approach to helping everyone adapt to changes by considering their emotions and reactions, which is rare (at least to this degree) in most management models.

The consideration for your team as people will also inherently encourage loyalty and better performance, making them feel a stronger bond with their work.

The bad

As with several other models here, Bridges’ contains no real actionable steps, and no set timeline or conditions for moving from one stage to another. It’s once again more of a transition checklist or guideline to help manage your employees than a step-by-step guide on implementing change.

change management models - bridges

The verdict

As the name suggests, Bridges’ transition model is fantastic for guiding your team through a period of slow improvement (transition). Unfortunately, this leaves it lacking the heavy management aspect that a large-scale change (or company) requires

In other words, this model is fantastic to apply to your core employees (be they managers or your entire team if you’re a small company) in order to ensure your changes’ success with the core players in promoting it. Beyond that, Bridges’ model can be useful for predicting the general effect of changes in your workforce’s mood (and therefore productivity).

Kübler-Ross’ change curve

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a psychiatrist who detailed the five stages of grief in her book On Death & Dying. It may seem odd to mention that in this list, but the Kübler-Ross model based on those five stages fulfills a specific niche in change management – allowing you to focus on and deal with the emotional response of those affected by the change.

Your employees are (ultimately) entirely responsible for carrying out your changes after all. Sure, you can give them systems to follow and training to fill in the gaps, but all the help in the world won’t save your change if the employee is opposed to it emotionally.

No matter how hard we try to remain consistent, emotions play a massive role in our productivity, and by knowing the following the five stages of grief you can anticipate your employees’ reactions and plan your response (and schedule) well ahead of time. The stages are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

It’s quickly worth noting that people can move through the stages in a random order, and they can jump backward or repeat stages too. As such, it’s important to know how to deal with each step and encourage progression to the next smoothly.

Click here to access Kubler-Ross Change Curve Process Checklist!

The method

change management models - kubler-ross change curve

Guide them through denial
Denial is usually short-lived and involves team members dismissing that the change needs to happen, why it will happen, what will happen if it occurs, and even that it will happen at all. Employees, therefore, need to be allowed to take things gradually and not be swamped with too much information or too severe a change – if you change too much at once then they will naturally rebel against the thought.

If your employee is going through denial about your changes, you need to focus on open communication and taking the transition slowly in order to bring them around.

Prepare in advance for anger
Denial can often pave the way for fear to settle in, which in turn can lead to anger. This could be anger at the changes, anger at your decision to make the change, anger at their colleagues for accepting it, and so on.

Anger can also manifest either as general curtness towards the rest of the team or full-on outbursts at the slightest provocation.

While awkward and destructive, their anger is understandable. Change takes people out of their comfort zone, and doing so puts them on the defensive (often making us lash out in the process).

The key here is to realize that this is natural and to plan in advance for it. If you know that a particular employee is more likely to get angry (either by having the brunt of the changes or because of their nature), take extra care to provide communication and support so as to limit their anger.

If they blow up, continue to provide support to stop things from getting out of hand.

change management models - anger

Be firm, but listen to bargaining
Bargaining may show in the form of the employee trying to alter the change so that most things remain the same. This could be through feedback and conversations with you directly or even by convincing themselves that parts of the change are unnecessary and trying to spread that belief to their team.

This can lead to team members failing to carry out your changes in their entirety, which is almost worse than if they weren’t carried out at all.

Although they can give useful feedback you should listen to, be aware of when employees are trying to bargain for the sake of reducing the changes, and remain firm on the parts that matter. If you have up-to-date processes for your changes then make sure they are being followed fully, since any shortcuts taken now can lead to long-term inaccuracy.

Try to ease them through any depression
Change can be difficult, and it’s unrealistic to expect an employee’s mood not to affect their output. Upon reaching the depression stage, productivity will take a dive while the changes are prepared for and adjusted to. The best you can do is to limit the friction in their activities and try to make the new process rewarding or interesting in some way.

Admittedly, it’s rare that a change in your business will result in your teams coming down with full-blown depression. Even so, a minor mood dip can harshly affect their productivity, so don’t underestimate the importance of keeping spirits up.

change management models - dilbert depression

Celebrate acceptance
Once changes are accepted then people can start building new goals around it. If they fully subscribe to (and understand) the change itself they might even experience a boost in productivity when it comes to this stage, since they might be able to build ambitious new goals with the new changes in action.

The best way to promote this productivity burst is to celebrate once the changes have been successfully upheld for a while, whether that means messaging your core promoters or rewarding particularly helpful team members.

The good

The Kübler-Ross model excels at anticipating and managing the emotional reaction of your employees, and thus their productivity. The emotional take on the change process can also let you see in advance where the biggest problems will arise and who will put up the most resistance.

In turn, knowing how employees react to similar situations will let you limit the damage they do if they take their frustration out on their team or a part of your business.

The bad

The unpredictable nature of emotions means that not everyone will fit this model, and your team may jump between completely different steps at any given time, making it hard to manage your approach for each individual. Some employees may not even fit the model at all and react completely differently to your changes – such is the human mind.

change management models - on death and dying

The biggest drawback, however, is that Kübler-Ross doesn’t provide a method for guiding employees through each stage, meaning the steps you take are down to your own knowledge and experience.

However, even if you tried to create a universal actionable checklist for this model, the best approach for each employee will vary drastically, making your attempts next to impossible to succeed.

The verdict

In short, Kübler-Ross’ change management model is great for using in small meetings when you’re trying to connect with employees on an individual level and manage their complaints to any changes. However, much of this is vague and deals with concepts that highly depend on the employee themselves, so a little flexibility in your methods is a must.

Plus, there’s nothing here about how to figure out what you need to change or how to go about changing it on an organizational level. As such, a solid framework needs to be paired with this model to effectively manage your changes.

The Satir change management model

The Satir change model is fairly similar to Kübler-Ross’, except it applies the progression through the five stages of grief to a general model of performance during the change. In this sense, it’s a way of predicting and tracking the effect of changes on overall performance.

Satir’s change management model is made up of five stages:

  • Late Status Quo
  • Resistance
  • Chaos
  • Integration
  • New Status Quo

Also, before diving into the final change management model, note that the Satir model focuses on tracking rather than affecting performance. Without using a supporting model to tackle these negative effects you’re left with little more than a way to measure the effect of your change.

This isn’t always a bad thing, but keep it in mind when looking for a method to actively support your changes.

Click here to access the Satir Change Management Model!

The method

change management models - satir change management model

Late status quo
Late status quo is where things currently are and how they are done – it’s your starting point before you introduce any changes.

Performance should be reasonably consistent, and your team should be pretty comfortable where they are. They know what to expect, and have plenty of experience doing the exact same thing before, so significant challenges should be minimal.

At this stage, there may not be a set change in mind, and so it’s important to encourage team members to seek out information and ways to improve by themselves.

Resistance is encountered when a new element (or change) is introduced. This could be encountered at any level (from CEOs to front-line employees) and is usually accompanied by denial or dismissal.

You can usually identify the start of resistance by a team or employee’s output beginning to take a nosedive. To limit this where possible, you need to help everyone to overcome that resistance by reaffirming the need to change and getting them to commit to it.

Unfortunately, other than the fact that it will happen after a change is introduced, very little about this step is set in stone. Instead, your task is to measure the effect this has on your performance and plan your response while trying to limit the negative affect on your team’s output as much as possible.

change management models - satir change curve

Chaos is where the emotional impact of your changes needs addressing, as whether you made large or small changes there will be a negative reaction which affects your team’s productivity. Listen to feedback, answer questions, and consider implementing a mentor (or general support) system.

Above all else, measure performance during this period to continue the change curve, and know that this stage will probably be the lowest point you reach. As long as your supporting change management model is working, it’s all up from here.

Integration is a very mixed bag. This is both where productivity begins to sharply improve and enthusiasm takes hold, but all involved will still need support with any problems they encounter to make sure that they don’t lose any steam prematurely.

As with other stages, make sure that you track everyone’s performance and continue to plot your curve.

New status quo
Finally, the new status quo settles in once the change becomes the norm, and will (hopefully) result in a higher level of performance than during the late status quo.

This is where you can really analyze the effect of your change and whether the process was worthwhile. By checking the overall effect of the change on your performance you can provide solid proof that the operation succeeded or failed, and begin to pick apart why that result happened.

In turn, what you learn from the success or failure can be used to influence further changes and predict what will be more effective in boosting performance.

The good

Like Kübler-Ross, the Satir change model can be good for anticipating the impact of a change before it happens, and even for justifying the change to employees as they go through the chaos phase. If they can be shown that the turmoil is only natural, they’ll be more willing to stick out the changes.

Unlike most other change management models, the Satir model also provides an easy way to analyze the impact of your changes at a glance (by producing a graph based on your ongoing performance). Not only that, but it makes it easy to compare the effects of various changes you have made and provide a measure of your business’ progression.

The bad

If you’re trying to predict a change’s outcome with the Satir model it’s easy to take for granted that a change will increase performance rather than measuring and checking it. There’s also very little to tell you exactly how to identify when the last three stages begin and end, and few actionable tips for guiding employees through the process.

Finally, the Satir model is only suited for measuring and predicting the affect of a change, and not for analyzing what changes need to be made (or how to make them).

The verdict

Like with most of the other change management methods mentioned above, Satir’s model is only truly effective when supported by an actionable, measurable framework. It’s fantastic for measuring your employees’ individual reactions to a change and to reassure them during the chaos phase, but it’s all too easy to become complacent and fail to measure and adapt to the hard stats of what the changes are doing.

Use Process Street to manage change in your business

Although the number of change management models on offer (and the time and effort it takes to deploy even a single one) might be overwhelming at first, having a set framework to deploy your changes will let you reliably deploy improvements and let your business evolve. Not to mention that failing to account for your employees’ reaction is a dire mistake since you never know when the very people powering your business will take issue with your decisions.

Instead, take advantage of one or more of the change management models above and give your path to success the best possible chance of becoming your team’s natural habit. Be sure to establish a thorough risk management plan, as well, to prepare for any complications and ensure a smooth transition as you implement your changes. And let Process Street help you with that.

Before signing off why not check out this episode of our podcast Tech Out Loud to hear Tomasz Tunguz‘s advice on how and and when to make changes and adopt new technologies. went about growing his 8 figure business:

Tech Out Loud is the only podcast that brings you the most impactful blog posts from the biggest names in tech, straight to your ears.

You can also listen to this podcast on other platforms. Click to see the full list! If you enjoyed this podcast, subscribe for a new episode each week.

How do you deploy changes within your own organization? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.

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Ben Mulholland

Ben Mulholland is an Editor at Process Street, and winds down with a casual article or two on Mulholland Writing. Find him on Twitter here.



Thanks for the call out about Dr. Kotter’s model. Although interesting observations our method is quite different from how you characterize it. I am happy to chat further if you’d like to know more.

Eric Ellis
Kotter International

Nice compilation! Some of these are new to me. Just finished reading “Switch” by Chip and Dan Heath (also authored “Made to Stick”) which would provide a nice addition.

This is an interesting review. I believe however that all these models are missing the most important point. In a VUCA world where employees work continuously out of their comfort zone, psychological flexibility is the crucial element that needs to be developed. We are missing a change management coaching model that focuses Emotional Agility & Resilience.
Martin Bless
Agilience Sàrl

This is a fantastic compilation. As a CM Consultant with 20 years in the field, I have used all of these models and appreciate how our experience affords us the opportunity to customize a model to meet the needs of each organization from a scalability, magnitude, duration and strategic importance perspective. Thank you for insight here.

Thanks how great to have all the methods summarised and gathered together and better still compared, often when I go into companies they are sticking to one method “As the holy grail method for the change” not often not knowing there are other models, or indeed models better suited to the company’s vertical, management style, size, etc so thank you! I will keep this as a quick reference guide.

An excellent article Ben – as a Change Communications Consultant, I am often challenged on the pros and cons of each model, and obviously have my favourites. Your easy-to-read article provides me with some very valuable comparison insight, which will help me explain the various alternatives to my own customers – Many thanks

Finding a good change management software depends on knowing exactly what you’re looking for in a solution this is a good checklist for scrutinizing and filtering out a software Change management solutions enable IT and support teams to operate more efficiently. This becomes much easier when the change management solution is equipped with the key features you need to enable intelligent, consistent and effective change operations.

An outstanding effort! I am confident it took some serious effort to put this wonderful article together. Well done!

This is such a detailed complication of the models. It gives a lot of insights about which is suitable for each different situations. Thank you

That was a great compilation. I think in Lewin stage 1, unfreezing, there is a sense of urgency in that, the rationale behind the unfreezing depicts there is a sense of urgency. In stage 1, one must create the need for change which points, in my view, the sense of urgency. Thanks

Ben, Among the most succinct and yet comprehensive overviews of change models that have endured the test of time. While each one could be the focus of a lengthy treatise, you boiled it down the the critical points. As a long time student in this space, I think you were fair and hit the key points of each. I will keep your article for quick future reference. Nice job!

Thank you for this change management model comparison. I would like however to note that the ADKAR model is only one small aspect of Prosci’s structured approach to leading and managing organizational change. The approach has a detailed and comprehensive structure for any large scale change from the preparation phase through to the implementation and post implementation phase, backed by twenty worldwide benchmark studies that span 85 countries and over 1600 public and private organizations. The model comes with templates, assessments, checklists, videos and training. I’ve used the model as an internal consultant since 2009 and it has worked well for small organizations to large organizations with over 10,000 employees.

As an IT project manager and business analyst I can thoroughly appreciate, your comprehensive and yet succinct post on the application of change management in its various (models) forms. Nicely executed!!

Hi Ben …. just come across your article so many thanks for your excellent summarising of the models. Facilitating some leadership and management stuff for a small organisation and some useful pointers. Trying to enable folk to find the balance between the functional aspects of ‘change’ and what I feel is the important bit- the ‘people stuff’. I like some of the psychological aspects of ‘nudge’ which as you imply can be implemented within one of the more structured models.

i want to design a model and use it to write a report that evaluates a recent strategic IS organizational change
1. Provide background information on the strategic IS organizational change.
2. Design a model that contains a comprehensive set of categories to evaluate the strategic IS change.
3. Derive a checklist of categories and items in the form of a matrix to evaluate the strategic IS change initiative.
4. The matrix should include a weighting scoring model that assesses the quality of the change program and qualitative information to justify the scores. 5. Based on the major gaps/variances found against a suitable standard, recommend how the firm or client should improve their current/future change initiatives.

Hey Pitso, on the 26th of May we will be publishing a load of change management checklists based on the different models – so maybe they can be a useful inspiration for how to approach and structure yours? If you subscribe to the blog, you won’t miss a thing. Cheers! Adam

It’s hard to say without a full understanding of the company, and it also depends on what causes the resistance to change. If there’s an emotional connection to former ways of working, then the Bridges transition could be useful – for example.

Dear Ben, I highly appreciate for developing and sharing practical guidelines on the change theories. This is really a great job. But I am little bit confused why developing Strategy comes first (in 7-S model). Generally, what we think is that we can formulate good strategy only after assessing other Ss. Further, I think Staff component of the 7-S model should be placed under Hard component. Anticipate your clarification.

Thank you.

Thank you for the review.
It provides important and succinct overview of the key models. And, in me case, your article saved me the time and energy I would need to compile all this information on my own.
Much appreciated.

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