The Prosci ADKAR Model gives us five outcomes individuals must achieve in order to change successfully: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement. It is at ability, when the new skills or behaviors are put into practice, that the change is actually realized. And if the goal is to help people change, why not stop at ability? Why not ADKA?
We rarely initiate changes that are intended to be temporary; we typically strive to make changes that are sustained. Why would we go to all the effort to progress from awareness to ability, unless we intended for that change to stick? We don’t. That’s why reinforcement is critical, and it’s ADKAR, not ADKA.
We are creatures of habit. The motivation to move to a new way of doing things may not be sufficient motivation to stay in that new state. If people stay in the “new” state long enough, it will eventually become the “normal” state, and reinforcement will no longer be needed. But if we do not nurture people from “new” to “normal” through reinforcement, they may backtrack to their old habits, behaviors, processes and archaic spreadsheets.
In the Best Practices in Change Management – 2016 Edition, participants revealed that planning for reinforcement is critically important, especially when it comes to achieving project results. Of the participants who planned for reinforcement in their projects, 68% met or exceeded their project objectives. Of the participants who did not plan for reinforcement in their projects, only 42% met their project objectives.
We asked research participants to identify the most impactful activities that reinforced change at the individual level (check out the Best Practices in Change Management – 2016 Edition report for reinforcement strategies for groups and projects). Here is an excerpt directly from the research and some thoughts on how this plays out:
Communicate consistently and continuously, including progress updates and short-term successes. Use positive and consistent communications in both one-on-one situations between a supervisor and direct report and with peers in informal settings. Communicate through post-implementation of the project to drive sustained change.
At implementation and shortly thereafter, there is usually a flurry of communication: reporting bugs, responding to questions, and course correction. It can be easy to focus on the reactive, mission-critical (and often problem-oriented) communication. The challenge is to carve out time to communicate about the successes, the bright spots, and the wins.
Ensure that feedback is collected at all levels, and demonstrate that feedback was heard. Address both positive and negative feedback using one-on-one and team meeting settings. Provide honest and helpful feedback to end users during implementation and post-implementation.
Feedback is a two-way street, which is critically important in reinforcement. Providing end-users with feedback provides reinforcement in and of itself because it requires that the end-users are being observed and coached. Charging managers to be the conduit of two-way feedback allows for scalability, but just ensure managers have clear escalation paths for end-user feedback.
Provide a variety of channels for recognition through both one-on-one and team meetings with direct reports. Acknowledge success of both short-term wins and long-term goal achievement. Show appreciation for effort made by individuals. Celebrate success and offer incentives throughout each phase of change.
Again, when a change has “gone live” there are almost always issues and problems, and it is easy to focus on rectifying the things that aren’t going according to plan. It requires conscious effort to find and celebrate the things that are going right. However, this positive reinforcement can provide the ongoing motivation to stay in the changed state. Remember, the motivation to enact a change may not be enough to continue a change, and celebration and recognition provides fresh motivation.
Make support mechanisms available during each phase of change. Provide technical and moral support from super users, change champions, leaders and early adopters. Allow for practicing and trial experiences with the future state. Provide job aids, help desks and updated process documentation.
On-the-job support can actually contribute to awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement. When resources, particularly people resources like change champions or super users, are available, they can provide “just in time” change management to help people wherever they’re stuck. Whether the question is “why are we doing this again?” or a more technical question, on-the-job support can keep people on track throughout the project.
Don’t underestimate the power of old habits and discomfort in the future state. Even if people successfully transition, keeping them in the future state requires intentional reinforcement. Start planning for reinforcement early in the journey so your strategies are ready to go as soon as people achieve ability.
Susie Taylor-Patterson combines years of helping private and public sector organizations develop their change management capabilities with a deep knowledge of Prosci’s research and approach. She leads Prosci’s new development portfolio with a goal of equipping leaders, practitioners, and change agents with the most effective skills and tools to optimize their change results.