ADKAR Model: What Is It and How To Use It?


Anyone who has looked into change management has heard of the ADKAR model of change management. But there is a big difference between knowing what the ADKAR model is and being able to use it.

Breaking out the ADKAR acronym into its five outcomes is simple, but successfully applying this popular change management model requires a deeper understanding of how to achieve each individual outcome.

What is the ADKAR Model?

The ADKAR Model of Change Management is an outcome-oriented change management method that aims to limit resistance to organizational change. Created by Jeffrey Hiatt, the founder of Prosci, the ADKAR Model is the Prosci change management methodology.

What Does ADKAR Stand For?

  • Awareness
  • Desire
  • Knowledge
  • Ability
  • Reinforcement

As per the ADKAR change management model, awareness and desire aim to move you out of the current state, where change is needed but has not yet begun. Knowledge and ability occur during the transition, and reinforcement focuses on the future.

ADKAR states of change
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How to Apply the ADKAR Model For Organizational Change

Because the ADKAR Model is outcome-oriented, it can be used to facilitate change by setting clear milestones to be reached throughout the process. Every person involved in the change must reach each goal, though different people may reach different goals at different times. For example, one person may already have the desire to change, while another is still becoming aware of the need to change.

One of the most helpful aspects of the ADKAR Model is that its five sequential goals identify areas of resistance. For instance, is someone unable to change because they do not understand why it needs to happen (Awareness), or do they not understand how to make the change (Knowledge)? You will be better prepared to guide them through a stage once you figure out which step someone is stuck on.

GOAL 1: Create awareness of the need to change.

Without a doubt, communicating the need for change is fundamental, but creating awareness for the change goes beyond simply announcing it. In order for employees to be truly aware of the necessity for change, they must not only understand the reasoning behind it but also come to agree with that reasoning.

Begin by providing clear explanations of why the change is needed.

Let’s say you’re introducing Microsoft Sharepoint. Start by explaining that when employees travel or work from home, it’s difficult for them to access documents and communicate with the in-office team. To solve this problem, the company will use Microsoft’s SharePoint cloud-based service.

Be sure to focus on the benefits of the change as they apply to the people affected. In this case, SharePoint will allow off-site workers to easily access documents and data. Making the switch will streamline communication and eliminate information silos.

Lastly, always encourage your team to ask questions about how you decided on the change and how it will be implemented, and about other aspects of the change process plan.

GOAL 2: Foster desire to make the change

Just because employees understand why a change should be made doesn’t mean that they want that change. In order for them to adopt the change, they must desire it. Thankfully, you can foster that desire.

Start by designating change leaders. Not only will your change leaders show public support for the change, but they most naturally connect with the people who will be affected by it. Choose change leaders who are able to relate to how daily routines will be affected so that they can provide specific support and guidance.

In order to foster desire, change leaders need to get specific about the benefits of the change as they apply to particular individuals or teams. Avoid touting advantages for the company.

You may want to replace three separate tools with Salesforce because it saves you money, but that’s not a great motivator for employees. Instead, present the change as something that will benefit them in their day-to-day work lives. In this case, Salesforce will make it easier for them to run reports, monitor customer relationships, and implement marketing strategies all in one place, saving them the trouble of using three different tools.

When fostering desire, resistance to change is a major obstacle. Resistance is to be expected, but you need to understand the core reason for it. Are people scared that they don’t have the skills to make the change? Is that they are worried about how it will affect their job duties? Employees frustrated by the extra effort needed to learn something new?

Once you understand the root cause of the resistance, address it head-on and, if necessary, make adjustments to your change implementation plan.

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Goal 3: Provide knowledge on how to change

The knowledge milestone in the ADKAR Model is primarily about training and education. In order to begin the transition, your team will need to understand how their responsibilities, skills, tools, and processes will be impacted.

Given that everyone must reach each milestone individually, knowledge-building needs to be specific. Provide knowledge that applies directly to each team’s or individual’s responsibilities. For example, if you are introducing new software, the IT team may be responsible for setting everyone up to use it, while other departments will need to focus more on how to use the software. The knowledge needed to perform distinct roles in the change is different even though the overall change may be the same.

Take time to evaluate what additional skills, tools, and duties the change will require. Doing so will allow you to plan your change schedule around the necessary skill development. And remember: Too much change all at once can be jarring and lead to resistance. If your change requires employees to learn a large amount of new material and/or master new skills, implement the change gradually.

Another way to increase comprehension is to use a variety of creative employee training methods:

  • Traditional classroom training
  • Job shadowing/mentoring
  • Videos
  • Blog series
  • Interactive self-guided learning

Of course, knowledge-building should go beyond facilitating the change. It is equally important to provide knowledge that allows your team to see the change through to the end.

Goal 4: Ensure that employees have the ability to make the change

Regardless of how well employees know how to do something, having confidence in their own competencies determines whether or not they can or even will do something.

How to Use the ADKAR Model

The Prosci change management methodology uses athletics to prove this point: While plenty of baseball fans understand the mechanics behind throwing a curveball, not all of them would make great pitchers.

To bridge the gap between knowledge and ability, put change leaders in charge of coaching individuals or teams. Task change leaders with collecting feedback from their teams and bringing potential issues and obstacles to your attention.

Hands-on training is also extremely valuable. By giving teams a chance to test out the change before fully rolling it out, you give them the opportunity to build confidence. Plus, you can monitor performance and provide detailed feedback. For larger-scale changes, consider implementing them in stages so you can identify issues early on and make adjustments to your implementation plan.

Goal 5: Reinforce the change

Initial momentum may get you to the finish line, but you won’t cross it if employees start relying on old habits. Once new processes are in place, new software is installed, or the new organizational chart is official, reinforce the change long after its implementation.
Celebrate success during and after the transformation so that you can build and maintain enthusiasm. Try creative motivation techniques like these:

Correct mistakes and poor behavior in private when people slip back into old habits. On the other hand, give praise publicly so that the entire organization can celebrate together.

In the meantime, continue to collect feedback. The change process may be “complete,” but employee feedback is still valuable. Listen to employees to identify pain points and see where extra support would be beneficial.

Lastly, include time for reinforcement in your change management plan. You should continue monitoring and reinforcing the change all through Q4 if you intend to be fully switched over to SharePoint by the end of Q3. Change cannot be solidified overnight; reinforcement efforts should go well beyond the target completion date.

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Accelerate change by seeking support

The ADKAR model provides an excellent framework for many types of organizational change. However, that doesn’t mean you should depend solely on the ADKAR change management methodology. Each milestone may require additional support from change leaders, change management software, and employees, so be ready to seek out that support.

You may also consider combining the Adkar model with other established change management models. In order to have a framework to handle emotional reactions, ADKAR model could be paired with people-centric methods.

Change takes time, but Whatfix works to accelerate transformations. 

Contact Whatfix to discuss how we can help build knowledge, increase ability, and reinforce changes through our customized self-guided learning and digital adoption tools.

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