The Prosci ADKAR Model is one of the most requested change management models in the world. By breaking down successful change into five simple steps, change management practitioners around the globe have been able to more effectively make sense of and drive the individual transitions that result in project success. However, building Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement® is not always easy and can be challenging. This tutorial presents data on and examines common challenges associated with each of the ADKAR elements.

What is the Prosci ADKAR Model?

The Prosci ADKAR Model is an individual change management model, describing how one person successfully makes a change. The ADKAR Model presents the five elements of successful change as:

  • Awareness 
  • Desire 
  • Knowledge 
  • Ability 
  • Reinforcement® 

Whether the change is at home, in the community or in the workplace, an individual can succeed at change when he or she can say, "I have Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement." Change management practitioners use the ADKAR Model to guide their change management plans and create action plans. Because it is results-oriented and focused on the individual, ADKAR has the ability to unlock organizational change efforts.

Building the necessary Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement is essential in creating successful change, but it is not always easy. If an individual is experiencing a change but does not possess each of the ADKAR elements, the change will struggle and stall. In this way, The ADKAR Model can be used as an effective diagnostic tool that focuses on the root cause of why change is not occurring.

So, what challenges might you face as your work to build A, D, K, A and R?

Which element poses the biggest challenge?

In webinars conducted in July 2011 and March 2012, attendees were asked which ADKAR element - or building block of success - they thought posed the biggest challenge. The data from those webinars is below.

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Why Awareness can be challenging

Only 9% of webinar attendees identified Awareness as posing the biggest challenge. However, when asked about why employees and managers resist change, studies have identified a "lack of awareness" as the top reason for resistance. This is an interesting disconnect. One of the primary reasons for this disconnect - that Awareness is not perceived as a challenge when it is the top reason for resistance - is that building Awareness is often overlooked. Without the grounding and orientation provided by ADKAR, it is easy to focus on the "what" and ignore the "why" in times of change. Communication messages that center on project details and vision are an example of overlooking Awareness. To enable employees to embrace, adopt and use a change resulting from a project or initiative, you must first answer "why" the change is necessary.

Why Desire can be challenging

Over two thirds of webinar attendees (69%) identified Desire as posing the biggest challenge. The reason Desire is routinely identified as the biggest challenge is that it is ultimately a personal decision to get on board and support a change. While this decision can be influenced, no one can make an individual have the Desire to support the change. Because Desire is a personal choice, it is the most difficult of the five ADKAR elements to create. However, change management practitioners are not helpless. By highlighting the personal and organizational motivators for the change, and by leveraging the support of senior leaders, managers and supervisors, employee Desire can be created.

Why Knowledge can be challenging

The fewest webinar attendees (2%) identified Knowledge as posing the biggest challenge. Many organizations have experience and competencies in building Knowledge, found in the training and learning departments. The challenge associated with Knowledge comes from the propensity of project teams to default to Knowledge. In times of change, the immediate response is "send the employees to training." Training, without the prerequisite Awareness and Desire, will not be effective. Change management practitioners can ensure that sufficient Awareness and Desire exist before jumping to Knowledge and can support project teams in identifying the Knowledge needed both during and after the change.

Why Ability can be challenging

Ability was the second least identified challenge (5%). Again, this stems from organizations' existing experience and competency in supporting skill development. The challenge with Ability results from the need to foster Ability through practice. Many organizational changes are occurring so quickly that employees do not have the bandwidth nor time to turn their Knowledge into Ability. If there is a potential Ability gap on a project, it is important to intentionally create the time necessary to foster Ability. Change management practitioners are also in a unique role to identify and resolve barriers to Ability.

Why Reinforcement can be challenging

Reinforcement was identified as the second biggest challenge by webinar attendees (15%). The primary challenge related to Reinforcement is that it takes time and energy. In many of today's organizations, there are so many change efforts underway that there simply isn't the time and energy to spend on reinforcing a change. In addition, Reinforcement activities are often not considered during the planning phase of a project. Since Reinforcement activities occur after a project passes the "go live" stage, the project team has typically moved on to the next project. With no one in particular having the responsibility to ensure that the last project was fully implemented, Reinforcement can be neglected. The pace of change and change saturation make Reinforcement an afterthought.

Tips for addressing potential ADKAR challenges

  1. Look at change from an ADKAR perspective - by addressing individual change with a structured model defining success, you will be more effective in sequencing your work and how you engage employees.
  2. Understand the driving and restraining forces of each ADKAR element - Kurt Lewin introduced his notion of force field analysis, including driving and restraining forces, in his seminal work regarding social psychology. These forces apply to ADKAR as well. For example, there are driving forces on Awareness and restraining forces on Awareness. If you understand these forces, you will be able to influence them to move a change forward. The first half of ADKAR: A Model for Change (learn more about the book) presents the driving and restraining forces of each of the ADKAR elements.
  3. Use the right tools to build each ADKAR element - you cannot train Awareness, and you cannot communicate Knowledge. With ADKAR as your framework, you will be more equipped to use the right tools at the right times in managing the people side of change. The second half of ADKAR: A Model for Change (learn more about the book) presents action steps for each of the ADKAR elements.
  4. Remember, ADKAR is an individual model - although we can talk about patterns related to ADKAR, in the end it is an individual that experiences change, and the challenges he or she faces will be individual. This is why leading organizations are teaching their managers and supervisors the Prosci ADKAR Model so they can be more effective in one-on-one interactions with their direct reports.

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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.