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Are Your People Ready for Your Change?

You and your team have built the coolest application for your business partners.  You know once they see it, they’ll be tripping over themselves to get it.  Then when you give it to them, you find out that they’re not really using it.  Why not?  Don’t they understand what it can do for them?  Those are great questions! And ADKAR just might be your answer.

Anytime you introduce something new to someone, it means change.  And although the change may ultimately be the best thing, if those impacted don’t fully understand it, or they really didn’t ask for it, acceptance/adoption may be difficult to achieve.  Change is about people.  And it’s critically important to bring these people that you’ll be impacting along with you early on. It’s key to not wait to bring them in at the time when you’re ready to launch.

What is ADKAR?

So, how can you best ensure the change you are about to implement will be a success?  Well, there is a fundamental framework/model for managing change that I have found very straightforward and effective, and it can support any Organization Change Management (OCM) strategy.  It is called ADKAR.

In fact, I highly recommend the book “ADKAR: a model for change in business, government and our community” by Jeffrey M. Hiatt, this is part of Prosci. The following is a high-level overview of ADKAR as described in Jeffrey’s book.

Breakdown of the ADKAR Strategy by Jeffrey Hiatt

ADKAR is an acronym for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement.  It is a stairstep framework/model for preparing people and organizations for change.  By stairstep, I mean that you must begin with Awareness before you move to Desire, and Desire before you move to Knowledge, etc.  For example, how can someone have a desire for something if they are not aware of it?  Or, why would someone want to become knowledgeable about something if they don’t desire it?  Below is a high-level summary of each area of the ADKAR model.

  • Awareness– People cannot be ready for change unless they are first aware that it’s coming.  Awareness is about helping people understand the need for change, as well as the risk for not making the change; both from the company’s perspective (e.g. market pressure) and particularly the individual’s perspective (e.g. “WIIFM”).  As Jeffrey notes, “building awareness is a process; you cannot assume that a single message or event will result in uniform awareness of the need for change”.  He also states that awareness is also based on “how messages are received and internalized by each person”.
  • Desire– After people are aware of a change that’s coming, the next step is to build desire around the change.  Desire is about wanting to support and perform the change, and it is ultimately a personal choice.  As such, it is important to understand the motivating factors that would cause individuals to support a change, as well as factors that would not.  Once these factors are understood, then efforts can be made to generate energy and momentum to support the change.
  • Knowledge– Once people get excited about a change; they will want to know “how” to change.  In other words, they will want the knowledge on how to transition to and operate in, the future state.  Training is a key part of the Knowledge stage, but it should not be considered the only method.  Other methods to provide knowledge include job aids, one-on-one coaching, user groups and forums, etc.
  • Ability– As Jeffrey states, “ability is the demonstrated capability to implement the change at the desired performance level”.  Some might think that Knowledge equates to ability, but it does not.  For example, if someone is aware, has the desire, and has the knowledge about a particular sport, that does not mean they have the ability to perform in the sport.  Again, Ability is about implementing the required skills and behavior to accomplish the change.
  • Reinforcement– Reinforcement is about sustaining the change after it’s been implemented.  If you don’t continue to reinforce the change after deployment, you risk losing momentum for sustained adoption as people might go back to the way they did things before (e.g. “is more familiar”).  Tactics for reinforcement can include such things as celebrations and recognition, rewards, audits, employee feedback, etc.  Just remember, once you implement change, full adoption is not guaranteed.  Continued post-implementation reinforcement is key.


All right.  There you go!  You now have a very high-level overview of the ADKAR model, and the key stages involved to help prepare people for change.  Keep in mind that it’s not everything there is to implementing change.  As I said, it’s an underlying framework/model to support change as part of an overall OCM delivery strategy.  But it works.  Remember, change is about people.  Therefore, people who will be impacted by your change must be engaged early, and in parallel, of your delivery process.  If you can bring them through the stages of ADKAR as part of your OCM strategy, then you WILL have people ready and clamoring for your new application!

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