If you are just beginning to implement change management on a project, remember that for many people participating in the project, the effective application of change management principles and tools is itself a change for them. Examples include:

  • A newly promoted senior leader who has participated in changes but never fulfilled the role of a change sponsor
  • Project team members who are well versed in project management methodologies and tools, but not exposed to change management
  • Functional managers being brought onto a change management team to share insights and expertise from their particular area, but who have no exposure to change management concepts or tools

adkar-cubesEach of these individuals is undergoing a change themselves—the change of applying effective change management. Since they are going through the change as individuals, we can use the ADKAR Model to examine the key steps, messages and information required to get change management team members successfully through the personal change (remember, applying effective change management is the change we are talking about). The ADKAR Model is an individual change management model characterized by these five phases:

  • Awareness of the need to change
  • Desire to participate and support the change
  • Knowledge about how to change
  • Ability to implement new skills and behaviors
  • Reinforcement to keep the change in place

For more information on the ADKAR Model, read this ADKAR overview article. 

Applying ADKAR with the change management team

Below is a series of questions and some talking points related to each phase of the ADKAR Model as they pertain to this change, namely, applying effective change management. The following also includes links to resources that give more detail and depth to particular points.

Awareness of the need to apply effective change management

  • Why is change management necessary and why now? 
  • What is wrong with the way we are implementing changes today? 
  • What will happen if we don't use change management?

As a leader asking your teams to apply change management, the first step is to make the need for change management concrete. When someone is asked to change the way they do things (i.e., apply change management on your next project), the first response is usually: "Why?" Several key messages and suggestions for building awareness include:

  • Highlight past failures or transition problems in the organization where change management was not effectively applied.
    • These create a common reference point for your team so the messages going forward have more impact. Talk about the impacts of those past changes and which key steps were missed.
  • Provide concrete examples of the risks of poorly managed change. These include:Lower productivityYoung business man with problems and stress in the office
    • Loss of valued employees
    • Decreased morale
    • Slow adoption
    • Passive resistance (including lack of commitment)
    • Active resistance (including sabotage)
    • The possible failure of the change
  • Share benchmarking findings from the Best Practices in Change Management report.
    • The number one thing teams would do differently on their next project is to involve change management earlier during the project planning phase.
    • Practitioners identified customized and scaled change management activities as a key component of an effective change management strategy.
  • Bring in a leader to advocate the use of change management.
    • Our research shows that executives and senior leaders are the best senders of messages related to the business need for change. This is true for applying change management as well. Therefore, having an executive speak to your team about the importance of change management for the organization will be a key success factor.
  • Resources: Prosci's book Change Management: The People Side of Change dedicates the first chapter to building the case for 'why manage change.' The book provides a great foundation for anyone who is tasked with managing the human side of change. Also, the Resource Center has several articles and webinars that you can use to build your team's awareness.

Desire to participate and support effective change management application

  • What's in it for me (WIIFM)? 
  • What are the benefits of change management for the organization?
  • Why should I get on board?

Desire is typically one of the most difficult phases because it requires individuals to make their own decision. As a leader you want to make a compelling case for adopting change management, building on the awareness that was created earlier. Talking points for desire include:

  • Share case studies where change management has made an impact.
    • Bring in people from within or from outside your organization to share their experiences on projects that successfully applied change management. For some people on your team, they will need concrete examples to support the concept.
  • Share benchmarking findings.
    • Prosci’s correlation data from over 2,000 data points and ten years shows that initiatives with excellent change management are six times more likely to meet objectives than those with poor change management. By simply moving from “poor” to “fair,” change management increases the likelihood of meeting objectives by three fold. 
  • Leverage senior leadership.
    • Prosci research finds that the role of the sponsor (the leader who is championing the change) is the number one contributor to successful change. Likewise, the role of the sponsor responsible for the application of change management is also critical for your success. Active and visible support for applying change management by a senior leader shows commitment and builds desire with team members.
  • Find effective coaches.
    • The relationship between an employee (or someone on your change management team) and their immediate supervisor is a powerful tool for building desire. Identify which of the team's supervisors can serve as coaches of change and prepare them with the awareness and knowledge they need (coaching may be an individual change for your supervisors too).
  • Resources:
    • The most critical resources for building desire are senior leaders and the employee's direct supervisor. Learn how to enlist, engage and empower your sponsors by watching this webinar. The Resource Center also has a number of free articles, worksheets and other webinar recordings on overcoming resistance and engaging supervisors.

Knowledge about how to apply change management

  • What skills are involved in implementing change management?
  • How do I obtain these skills?

delivering-project-results-onsite-trainingsThe key mechanism for creating knowledge is training. Unfortunately, many organizations fail to address awareness and desire, and attempt to build buy-in by just training people. This is not an effective approach and can even create more resistance and make adoption more difficult. Make sure that your team has awareness of the need for change management and a desire to engage before initiating training.

Some key points for knowledge include:

  • Teach the team how individuals go through change.
    • To be an effective manager of change, people need to understand how an individual experiences change. Whether it is your project team, communications staff, human resources personnel, senior leaders and executives, supervisors or front-line employees—everyone will be better equipped to handle and manage change with a solid understanding of the ADKAR Model.
  • Teach organizational change management principles and processes.
    • The team should be exposed to the change management methodology you will be using for your project. This may be a methodology selected specifically for the project or one developed and deployed across your organization. Organizations are using both internally developed methodologies and externally provided approaches. The key is that your team understands what change management tools they have (communications, sponsorship, coaching, training, etc.) and when and how to use these tools.
  • Resources:
    • The Practitioner eToolkit provides access to Prosci's 3-Phase Process based on research results with more than 4,000 companies, including templates, checklists, assessments and guidelines to quickly apply organizational change management. These resources are available for license to the organization. In addition, Prosci provides a three-day training session that teaches the concepts and has participants apply them in real time to actual changes they are working on in their job. Find out more about Prosci training options.

Ability to implement new skills and behaviors related to change management

  • Once I have the knowledge, will I be able to act on that knowledge?
  • What do I do when I have problems or questions?

Ability is the fourth phase—following awareness, desire and knowledge. This means that the team can act on the knowledge provided in change management. Some keys to ensuring ability include:

  • Consider the time and activities needed to develop new skills.
    •  Just imparting knowledge of how to change doesn’t actually bring about change; people acting in a new way (demonstrating ability) is when the change is realized. Foster ability by providing hands-on instruction, one-on-one coaching, and access to subject matter experts.
  • Coach change management practitioners.
    • Coaching by experienced and skilled people in your organization is a great way to support and build ability in your change team.
  • Engage in two-way communication.
    • While knowledge can sometimes be conveyed in a one-directional manner, to create ability you need to be available to hear concerns and questions and give back direction and clarification. Two-way communication helps to solidify knowledge so employees can act upon it.
  • Get interactive in your training sessions.
    • Learning by doing is one of the most important ways to build knowledge and ability, especially for adult learning. Prosci's change management certification training is built around a case study that participants bring from their job. During the course, the participant is actually creating the communication plan, doing the sponsor assessment, identifying special tactics, and so forth as they learn the concepts—building ability while transferring knowledge.
  • Resources: 
    • An important resource is your internal coaches and support staff. Provide these individuals with the tools and information they need to effectively support project teams and change management teams during implementation.

Reinforcement to keep the use of change management in place

  • What happens when we are successful? 
  • What is the reward? 
  • Will there be smaller rewards along the way to encourage us?

In many instances, changes in large organizations can be temporary if employees revert back to the old way of doing things. If you've identified change management as a key component of the changes you are making in your organization, then you cannot take the risk of reverting back to ineffectively managing the people side of change. Some keys to keeping change management in place include:

  • Engage senior leaders.
    • Active and visible sponsorship for the application of change management will have a significant impact on how often it is applied. They must endorse that change management is an integral part of all future projects. They also must hold project teams accountable for applying these tools on their projects.
  • Monitor progress and create measurement systems.
    • Just like for any other change you expect to be adopted, there must be some way to ensure success. For change management activities, this may include status meetings and deliverable standards (like you would for the project management deliverables, such as schedules and work breakdown structures). Create schedules and stick to them. Visibly show your results.
  • Watch for alignment of incentives.
    • Be sure that your incentives line up with the goals of the project to drive the behaviors you want—both for the change you are introducing and for your change team.
  • Celebrate successes.
    • Identifying and celebrating successes is important—it reinforces that there is commitment to applying change management. It also keeps morale high and can create additional momentum.


This approach helps change management teams and practitioners to fully grasp why they are applying change management and how to do it effectively. While the process appears long and comprehensive, you can actually address the phases in a short amount of time. The important point to remember is that the change will take place in the sequence described in the ADKAR Model, so don't try to skip steps or individuals may end up sitting in a training program thinking "Why am I here?"


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Written by
Tim Creasey
Tim Creasey

Tim Creasey is Prosci’s Chief Innovation Officer and a globally recognized leader in change management. His work forms the foundation of the largest body of knowledge in the world on managing the people side of change to deliver organizational results.