There are quite a few change management models out there. The most popular ones differ, sometimes quite significantly, and their success depends on many factors. For example, how does the organizational structure affect change? Is the company very clearly departmentalized with teams working in very separate silos? What motivates people and what discourages them? Are there barriers to immediate and clear communication caused by language or cultural differences?
Companies also need to remember that centralization of power can help with an initial decision regarding change, but it may hinder any recurring updates. On the other hand, a wider span of control can also be problematic because it’s hard for one manager to have meaningful conversations about change with 50 people. Depending on each organization’s existing culture, size and structure, there are differences in how suitable different change management models would be and the final choice should be carefully considered.
Four of the most popular change management models are Kotter’s Eight-step Plan, Lewin’s Change Management Model, The McKinsey 7S Model and the ADKAR Model. They all overlap in some aspects but differ significantly in others, so it’s important to determine what suits your organization’s needs.
For example, Kotter focuses on leadership driving the change, Lewin addresses the driving and restraining forces for change, McKinsey requires leaders to look at both the business and people elements of change, and ADKAR focuses on leader-driven goals.
Large organizations that understand the importance of leaders might want to consider Kotter, McKinsey and ADKAR. When planning for resistance, Kotter, Lewin and ADKAR might be the way to go. Kotter provides steps for implementation while Lewin and ADKAR are more general in their approach, encouraging organizations to develop their own way of reaching goals.
Below is an overview for each model, Kotter’s Eight-step Plan, Lewin’s Change Management Model, The McKinsey 7S Model and the ADKAR Model, followed by information on what to consider when deciding on a plan that’s right for your organization and the role of feedback loops.
Kotter’s Eight-step Plan
- This plan is an in-depth model that provides clear steps.
- It can be time consuming, but long-lasting change needs preparation and time.
- Because of its top-down approach, it might make those in charge forget to allow time for feedback from all employees.
- The first two steps are a great strength of this plan because many organizations don’t take seriously the need to convince frontline workers that there is a need for change. They just inform them that one is coming, but engaging people in the change can be a true guiding force.
- This is a great model for large organizations and/or very significant changes.
This is one of the most common and recommended models. Kotter’s eight steps are:
1. Establish a sense of urgency
Make sure that your people want the change because, for it to be successful, they should believe that it needs to happen and that it’s urgent. Including employees in honest conversations about problems in the company can make them more involved and engaged. And getting support from customers or outside stakeholders could help with building a strong case for change.
2. Create a guiding coalition
Build the right team with people who will be empowered to help you. Search for leaders (even if they’re not in managerial positions) and key stakeholders. If your organization is large, every department and every level within the organization should have someone to represent them on the team. This will help build support throughout the company. Ask your team for an emotional commitment and make sure you work on team building. And don’t be complacent about looking for weaknesses in your coalition. Is there something else you need? Is anyone missing? Does anyone need to be replaced?
3. Develop a vision and strategy
Make sure everyone is on the same page by having the right vision—everyone should see the same future. A “vision speech”—a summary based on the values that are central to the change and that capture the expected future—should be practiced and delivered often. The change coalition should also be able to describe the vision in very few words. So consider developing straightforward answers to several questions: What are we all working towards? How can we motivate each other? Then develop a strategy to figure out the steps needed for this change to happen.
4. Involve everyone and enlist a volunteer army
Communicate, communicate again, and then communicate some more. Projects often fail because of communication issues. Talk often about your change vision to make sure everyone knows why you’re making the change, what the benefits will be and what the alternatives would be if the change doesn’t happen.
Allow people to share their concerns with you without fear of retribution, and address those concerns openly and honestly. The more people believe in it, the larger your support and you’ll have a volunteer army at your disposal. What’s more, you should tie your vision to all aspects of operations and lead by example preaching the change and living it.
5. Removing and reducing barriers
Make sure it’s clear whose responsibility it is to carry out any new actions. Empower the change leaders by removing barriers (human, organizational, etc.). Are your organizational structure, job performance and compensation systems in line with your vision? Are there any inefficient processes or illogical chains of command? People need to be able to work across departments and silos to generate real change.
Consider organizational rewards and recognize people for making change happen. But also keep an eye out and identify people who are resisting the change. They will need your team’s help to see that change is needed.
6. Generating and focusing on short-term wins
If you’re tackling a very big change or task, split it up into small pieces, and celebrate completing each one along the way. When they’re recognized and communicated, the whole organization will be able to track your progress and remain committed.
Make sure to find easy-win, cheaper projects to start with. Ideally, they should be ones that you can tackle and implement without help from any strong critics of the change. This is good advice regardless of what model an organization chooses. Starting with a small, simple change helps people get a feel for how things work out, what change looks like and what challenges they might face.
7. Keeping the momentum going
Keep building momentum and, after every win, analyze what went right and what needs work. Focus on continuous improvement. Bringing in new people into your change coalition can help keep ideas fresh. Keep revisiting the steps that still need to be completed to see if they can be improved or if they’ll be affected by the completed steps in ways you haven’t considered.
8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture
You need to make clear the connection between the desired new habits and organizational success. Make it personal if possible. Include this connection in your organization’s established procedures, mission and/or vision statement, constitution and new hire training. Stay on top of it because it can be easy for people to revert to their old practices.
Talk about progress and share success stories whenever you can, publicly recognizing key contributors to change.
Lewin’s Change Management Model
- This model is easy to understand and provides a visual representation of what change should look like.
- It does not discuss the detailed “how” of the change, especially when it comes to dealing with situations that involve resistance from people who are against the change.
- The model is simple, but the implementation may be harder than it seems. It might work as a guideline for organizations that are prepared to dive into details on their own. Or it can work in tandem with Lewin’s Force Field Analysis.
This process aims to help organizations understand what successful changes and transitions look like while letting them figure out how to achieve them. And this comes in three stages:
The “unfreezing” relates to the organization’s status quo. To change, everyone should understand the plans ahead and why a change is needed. This is why leaders need a compelling message that will make people believe in the importance of the change. The more the employees feel the urgency, the quicker the current state of the organization can be “unfrozen” and changed.
This is the implementation stage. Preparation and communication are crucial to help employees learn the new processes or behaviors and accept the changes. Rumors and negative perceptions need to be addressed immediately and employees need to feel involved in the process. Education, time and support are needed at this stage.
This stage involves reinforcing and solidifying new processes and structures. The new state needs to become part of the culture and requires ways of sustaining and supporting it in the long term. This is visually represented as the new state being “frozen” as the new status quo.
McKinsey 7S Model
- This model is not a change management plan. It does not give you steps that will help you improve each of the seven factors or strengthen your processes. It’s more of a preparatory-work model than a change model.
- Before creating an actual plan, this model is meant to help you take seven factors into account and analyze the differences between where your organization is (current state of the seven factors) and where you want it to be.
- The model often drives home the complexity of any organization because it shows that all those factors are so closely interrelated that if one is affected, it will probably impact all the others. It helps leaders see what they need to keep in mind when implementing change.
- A lot of work, research and benchmarking is required.
This model can help leaders assess every component of their organization in detail before they focus on action. Knowing exactly how all the parts of their organization are interconnected can help people understand how well-positioned the company is to improve and deal with the intended change. There are seven equally-important and interconnected factors that need to be analyzed:
This is where companies analyze their objectives, strategy, and how they will adapt in the future. In short, what’s your plan to succeed in the marketplace? You have to identify problems that need addressing and create a plan of action to tackle them.
Leaders need to analyze the organizational structure and how everything within that structure, including people, activities, coordination and machinery, fits together. They need to look into the challenges (and chances for growth) that this structure will offer when change is implemented.
This is all about analyzing everyday processes and activities (including the people who undertake them, the tools they use and the resource allocation) and how they would be affected by change.
4. Shared Values
As the name suggests, these are the core values of the organization. They influence all aspects of the company and affect all people and systems. Leaders need to figure out if these values can reinforce the change and what the organization is trying to achieve. If they can’t, maybe it’s time to reevaluate them. And if those values are only important on paper but don’t permeate the organization, then that will become obvious very quickly.
Consider the organization’s behavior patterns—or the “style”. These are the informal rules that are demonstrated by key leadership groups. Do they walk the talk? Do they actually embody the shared values? Analysis of the typical behavior patterns can help predict the way in which leaders will adopt, implement and champion changes to come.
This factor is all about the employees. What’s the makeup of the workforce? What are their roles, attitudes, characteristics and capabilities within the organization? How are they trained and led? How will they react to changes and how will they be affected?
When it comes to analyzing skills, this covers not only the core competencies of the employees but also the capabilities of the organization as a whole. What are the core skills and what can/should be outsourced?
- This model is not ideal for companies that are not sure about the scope of the transitions they need to face.
- It is focused on goals rather than the path towards them, so it can be an adaptable tool that fits many types of organizations.
- Larger change might not be something to tackle with this model.
This model outlines the goals—instead of steps—that leaders should aim to achieve when implementing change.
Creating awareness relies on a stable line of communication with employees. Everyone needs to understand the benefits of the change and why it’s needed.
Being aware of changes doesn’t mean that employees will want them, so leaders need to create a desire for change and for the resulting benefits.
This is about educating yourself AND sharing knowledge with the employees. Establish what the pros and cons of the change will be, and what the potential barriers might need to be overcome. And openly share everything there is to know with the employees with detailed instructions instead of a summary.
You need to ensure that the organization fosters an environment that enables people to work through the change. Will your company be able to deal with the change and will employees be able to carry out their tasks? Will they need additional help or education?
Sustained change will require reinforcement. Mistakes need to be handled with care and leaders should keep the engagement, dedication and momentum going. Everyone will need access to tools that will help them stay on track.
Which Change Management System to Choose
Whichever change management system you decide to use, execute the change model with care, quality and structure. Don’t think that because this is an internal campaign, it doesn’t deserve the same level of dedication as customer-facing initiatives like a product launch, marketing campaigns or a CEO speech in a public forum.
In fact, it will need to be tackled with even more care because employees can be your toughest critics and they have the greatest historical baggage, understanding and involvement. Be sure to use your best talent to write and design internal speeches, campaigns, stories, and develop collateral. Use your best speakers to deliver and share the information and include key people for early adoption.
And stick with your choice for future changes. This way everyone can get used to following the process and you’ll be able to change and improve more efficiently in the future. Make sure you evaluate all your different change management options thoroughly, considering that you will probably continue using them for a long time.
The Role of Feedback Loops
As mentioned above, it’s helpful to start change with a small project. But this should be preceded by letting everyone know that the organization is not tackling a large project to begin with because it needs to get good at change first. Starting small will let everyone become accustomed to what the new change management approach feels like and how it works.
It might also be a good idea to start with a safety initiative. It will demonstrate that the company cares about employees. This will build trust and engagement, and help all future change initiatives go more smoothly. However, some people have a tendency to doubt new initiatives, especially when no serious incidents have happened to make them want change. “This is how we’ve always done it” or “we don’t need more safety training” can be a common refrain. Helping people see safety as an urgent matter is important. This is where leaders come in.
Good managers know that change doesn’t just happen and it can’t simply be announced. For it to be successful, employees have to be invested in the change and supported by leaders that display emotional intelligence and understanding. No organization should forget the importance of leaders and feedback loops, especially in projects involving change.
Considering how people react to change and planning for their emotional needs ahead of time can allow organizations to predict and deal with delicate and challenging issues quickly and successfully. Whether they’re already on board or still resisting change, employees need their superiors to support, educate and lead them towards the new status quo in a respectful and understanding manner. To know where employees are culture- and attitude-wise takes dedicated and caring leaders who know that change is often hard but are committed to making it easier on their teams.
Supervisors and leaders are the key to organizational improvement. With the right skills, supervisors and leaders can identify where the interactions between the workers and the systems diminish engagement, decrease productivity and affect risk levels. They can then support and gather information from individuals before communicating it up and contributing to organizational growth and development.
To be successful, any organization needs to constantly learn from its results and consider more than just systems and processes. Good leaders will remember the effects that individual employees’ physical and mental states (i.e., human factors) have on company performance and safety.
Figuring out how to handle workplace operations and safety by learning from the human factors requires a system of communication that moves up and down in the organization and also laterally across departments. You need well-trained and respected leaders for that.
Additionally, there needs to be a constant flow of inputs from the CEO, change management and new systems teams as well as outputs from workers and supervisors to the corresponding teams (safety, change team, management, and others). If organizations have a good framework in place for multi-directional communication and feedback loops, they could have inputs and outputs that are able to handle multiple subjects at the same time.
The importance of human factors
Change is all about human factors. If you’re implementing a new system, change management will have to focus on the people using the new system, so you need to account for natural human responses.
Organizations have to understand that in the midst of change, people are likely to be operating with reduced efficiency. Learning new information while trying to meet regular targets will likely cause rushing as workers try to complete tasks they previously finished faster. Change will also mean more stress, frustration, fatigue and then the crossover of those states to other people. This can affect performance and safety as well as the change implementation schedule.
If supervisors don’t understand human factors, they could unintentionally but inadvertently cause problems with the change initiative and even cause loss of engagement or increase the risk of injury among employees.
Human factors also matter when it comes to the difference between individual change and organizational change. The two are closely linked, and knowing how one affects the other can help organizations a great deal. This is not only true within the organizational framework and feedback loops, but also through the simple connection of teaching employees how to build habits and improve on their own. If they are comfortable with such skills, they will be more likely to adapt to organizational change.
There is a difference between change management as a project-based challenge and a continuous improvement mindset. But to be good at project-based, one-off changes, it might be worth learning about making your organization open to change in general. An approach that celebrates an improvement mindset (based in a strong organizational framework) will always be helpful, whether the changes down the line are small, large or continuous.
Whatever the reasons behind change—safety, growth, mergers, new technologies—organizations need to consider a number of factors before they draft a plan. Start with an assessment of your current state and develop a clear picture of your desired future state. Remember that the rationale for change has to be strong.
Secondly, communication is always key. It’s difficult to over-communicate, but it’s certainly common to not communicate enough. Leaders have to remember to clearly and repeatedly share their vision not only to keep people informed and remind them of what’s at stake but also to keep them motivated. Equally important is the need to have information flowing in all directions, especially from the workers up through their supervisor to the rest of the organization, including the change project team. This step involves including all the right people and, obviously, creating a communication plan.
Thirdly, it’s important to remember to use soft skills, especially if change is particularly stressful or destabilizing. This includes incentivizing people, not necessarily with rewards, but by trying to make them see the change as a desirable goal.
Lastly, organizations need to consider their resources—human and otherwise—wisely and make sure they’re appropriately managed. New equipment will be worthless if the employees don’t know how to use it well or don’t have the time to learn to. And no amount of safety training will keep people safe if their schedules require them to rush.
Change is never easy and the larger the group affected, the more complex and lengthy the implementation. And it becomes even more complex and stressful when employee health and safety is on the line. Choosing the right change management plan is important, and keep in mind that change and improvement need to be entrenched in real care for employees and their families.