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A brief overview of 3 of the most well-known change management models

Businesses change. Whether they are responding to growth or challenging circumstances. Change is all around us, and during the COVID-19 crisis the necessity for change has been thrown into sharp relief.

This post is going to give you a super brief overview of 3 of the most well-known change management models with pros and cons for each. Helping you to identify which change management models or a combination of them could help you in your business. Or if you’re on the receiving end of the change as an team member, this post will help you identify what’s happening and provide an insight as to why your company might be making changes in this way.

“Change is the only constant” so said Heraclitus around 500 BCE and to be honest sweeping forward to 2020 it’s no different. Changes will come in life and in work whether we seek them or not. As we’re living through the coronavirus pandemic this is highlighting for me at least just how true Heraclitus was.

As a communications specialist much of my consultancy work comes from working with businesses who are actively investing in change; whether it’s building and deploying a new IT system or inspiring a culture change within its business. Changes are inextricably linked to communications. They go hand in hand. And for me as someone who looks to communications as a way of connecting people, change is often the bridging point from communication to connection.


ADKAR was created by Jeffery Hiatt (the founder of Prosci) and is a change management model with a bottom-up approach. The employees behind the change are the focus of this model. The ADKAR term is less of a sequence of activities and more of a series of five goals. By achieving the five goals the ADKAR model is used to plan out change at an company-wide and an individual level.

Pros: Because ADKAR’s focus is on the employees the model supports goals that help employees engage with changes thus deployment can be sped up if the goals are followed and executed well. It’s also a flexible way of managing change because it’s goal-based you can flex it to your business’s situation.

Cons: ADKAR is suited to incremental changes focused on employees. There’s an assumption with the model that businesses know what needs to change and has the drive to do it. This is a big assumption to make.

2. Kotter’s Theory

Dr Kotter’s theory has eight stages and like ADKAR focuses on the people behind the change, however it differs greatly from ADKAR by focusing on a top-down approach. Kotter’s Theory focuses on the leadership behind the change.

In a nutshell the theory goes that if a sense of urgency can be inspired amongst the leadership creating a momentum (that then must be sustained throughout the change) then business change can happen successfully.

Pros: The early stages of Kotter’s theory are highly effective. Creating urgency, building a coalition and really forming clear ideas as to why change is important provide a strong basis for the momentum to generate enthusiasm and engagement, particularly among leadership who are likely to have to push through more challenging times to succeed.

Cons: However, because of it’s top-down focus there’s nothing in the eight stages that creates a two-way discussion or feedback loop. This is a major issue because ensuring changes are being understood, accepted and engaged with by employees is a crucial aspect of whether a change will be success in the short term and adopted in the long term.

For me, as you may expect with my communications background, this is a huge con. So, it typically means that I encourage using aspects of Kotter’s Theory in combination with another model that does include a feedback loop.

3. Lewin’s change management model

Lewin’s model is a popular and widely recognised model, often used because it takes the complexity of change and breaks it into three chunks. By breaking change into three stages of change each can contain activities both for the change to processes and the changes people within the business will work with.

Pros: This model is great when you’re considering a drastic change to your business. This is because the depth of analysis needed in the stages means no process is left unscrutinised; so unnoticed or unknown issues are brought to the surface for review and subsequent change.

If you’re planning on massive changes, this may well be the model for you. But, it does come with the health warning below.

Cons: The sheer scale of the unfreezing process can be challenging within and of itself, it can also be time-consuming and therefore resource heavy. For a large-scale change that your business is prepared to invest in for the longer-term to get results this is a great model due to the depth that each of the three stages go into. But, don’t go into this thinking three stages will give you a quick win – the devil’s in the details.

Also, don’t forget the human cost of this model. The depth of change this model focuses on will lead to significant discomfort, disruption and uncertainty for employees so managing and maintaining balance and engagement during the three stages of this approach is essential.

Regardless of whether your working with a team of fifteen or of fifteen thousand adopting changes is rarely easy or issue free. I chose these three popular change management models for this post because when adopted into a hybrid together they can work wonders on creating successful and significant changes for a variety of businesses.

If you’re looking for further information on how change management could support your business contact Ellen today at:

Change is the often the bridge for communications and connection. Check out more blogs at:

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