ADKAR Change Model – An Evaluation of Its Strengths and Weaknesses


The ADKAR change model was first published by Prosci in 1998. Prosci is the recognised leader in business process design and change management research, and is the world’s largest provider of change management and reengineering toolkits and benchmarking information.

Prosci’s own research shows that problems with the people dimension of change is the most commonly cited reason for project failures.

And in terms of change management, study after study shows that 70% of all business initiatives where there is a significant change element [which is virtually all of them!] fail to realise the envisaged benefits.

Summary of the ADKAR model

It is based on 2 basic ideas:

(1) It is people who change, not organisations.

(2) Successful change occurs when individual change matches the stages of organisational change.

For successful change to occur at the individual level people need to move through each of these stages:

Awareness of the need for change
Desire to make the change happen
Knowledge about how to change
Ability to implement new skills and behaviours
Reinforcement to retain the change once it has been made

For organisational change to be successful, these individual changes need to progress at or close to the same rate of progress through the business dimension of change.

Prosci define the business dimension of change as including these typical project elements:

– Business need or opportunity is identified
– Project is defined (scope and objectives)
– Business solution is designed (new processes, systems and organizational structure)
– New processes and systems are developed
– Solution is implemented into the organization

Evaluation of the AKBAR model

There are 2 quite different streams of thought that have shaped the practise of change management.

(1) The engineer’s approach to business improvement with the focus on business process.

(2) The psychologist’s approach to understanding human responses to change with the focus on people.

The single biggest reason for the astonishingly high 70% failure rate of ALL business change initiatives has been the over-emphasis on process rather than people – the failure to take full account of the impact of change on those people who are most impacted by it.

Closely allied to that reason is the lack of process to directly address the human aspects of change.

In my view their ADKAR model reflects the BPR background of Prosci and the engineers approach to business improvement, this is quite apparent in the language and tone of their description of the model and with their emphasis on management and process alone.

The clear strength of the model is that provides a useful management checklist of the phases of the transition.

The weaknesses, in my view, are as follows, the ADKAR model:

(1) Fails to distinguish between “incremental change” and “step change”

If the change involves any of these following factors then it will definitely need to be handled as a “step change” and treated as a specific initiative that sits outside of business as usual. The factors are: complexity, size, scope and priority.

The ADKAR model is, in my view, suited to incremental change and is an effective management checklist. But it misses out far too much to be fully effective in a step change initiative.

(2) Fails to distinguish between the roles and functions of leadership as well as management

Whilst the very definitions change management and project and programme management emphasise the management aspect [and of course this is important] much of the cause of the 70% failure rate in change initiatives is directly attributable to a lack of leadership… Leadership that sees the bigger picture – that ensures that people will follow – and the discipline of a programme management approach provides the tools and processes to facilitate that.

A step change initiative needs to be led – and it needs to be seen to be led.

(3) Ignores the need for leadership to address the emotional dimension

The transition between stage one of the ADKAR model – an awareness of the need for change and stage two – the desire to participate and support the change can be massive – especially in a step change.

One of the main points that William Bridges makes in his book “The Way of Transition ” is that transition is not the same as change. Change is what happens to you. Transition is what you experience.

Many thought leaders in the world of change management and change leadership are now speaking vociferously about the importance of the emotional dimension of leadership and the need to address the human dimension of change.

So to summarise, in Bridges’ own words: “A change can work only if the people affected by it can get through the transition it causes successfully.”

(4) Fails to see the macro level of programme management

Steps three to five of the AKBAR model are about knowledge of how to change, ability to implement change and reinforcement – making change stick, and these all relate to one of the biggest issues re implementing change – which boils down to: translating vision and strategy into actionable steps.

The traditional project approach referred to by the AKBAR model – sees it as a set of tasks which if executed successfully get a result. In other words the typical process led approach which has failed so consistently and so spectacularly over the last 20 years.

There is an important distinction between the micro level and the macro level perspectives of change management – and which the AKBAR fails to recognise.

At the macro level the root cause of this is lack of clarity and lack of communication about the people aspects of how to manage change – and even more fundamentally – the lack of a language and contextual framework to articulate and manage the necessary processes of change that will work for people. At this level, a major part of the solution to this lies in employing a programme management approach to change, and this is because it is holistic and takes far more account of the many dimensions overlooked by the narrow scope of a project management led approach.

At the micro level, delivering a strategy and changing a culture requires hands-on detailed management – micro management on occasions – in the specifics of how to do it – especially during the early stages. So at this operational level people need to be enabled and supported to develop the capabilities to deliver your strategy and become what you want them to become [or as close to that as is realistically possible].

Leave a Reply