Change management and the ADKAR model

Change management, as related to the life of companies, is that process of transition necessary to adapt to changing market conditions. The organization changes by rethinking the way it operates as a whole and does so on the basis of certain reference models.

The main player is the change manager, who follows a script that passes through different phases to be performed in succession.

The development of the different models of change management arose from various theories of social psychology that began to spread in the second half of the last century. The most important scholar to have initiated the interpretation of change is without doubt Kurt Lewin, who proposed his 3-stage model of perception.

In brief, this model provides for an “unfreezing” phase, which aims at breaking with the present inertia, a second stage of “confusion”, due to the process of changing past habits, and finally “refreezing” to consolidate results. If we extend the same reasoning to companies, we speak of an incubation period, in which the overall scope of action is defined, to then move on to gaining the consensus of all involved, and finally to the material execution of the action plan. Over time, however, a fundamental concept has emerged: organizations cannot achieve their goal if they do not change people. Starting from this assumption, the ADKAR model has established itself as a change management model.

Table of content

  • What is the ADKAR model?
  • Advantages and disadvantages of applying the ADKAR model
  • Conclusion

What is the ADKAR model?

In the 1990s, Jeff Hiatt developed a change management model that differed from many others in that he put the individual at its core. The individual’s ability to open up to the new organization is a guarantee of success. The name ADKAR is an acronym that comes from the names of the phases the model is made up of: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement. The results achieved in each step allow you to move on to the next.
Before addressing each of the above five steps, it is worth having a look at the foundation upon which the entire structure rests: each single individual must understand the need for change. If they do not, they will lack the motivation to find the fundamental energy they will need to expend on transition.


Building awareness is the first step in any process of change. The human mind needs to understand why things change. Resistance to change is human, so communication must aim at dismantling those false certainties that generate unconscious fear and uncertainty for the future. In particular, the comfort that comes from not changing needs to be called into question. To do so requires, first of all, high credibility, open discussion of the causes of the need to change and finally clarification of doubts arising from inevitable rumor and gossip.


The previous step will have been successful when every single individual feels the desire to support and be part of the change process. The feeling generated by attaining an understanding of why things need to change leads to a state of dissatisfaction resulting from having understood the risks associated with remaining in deadlock. Success in this step is achieved by clarifying what each individual can expect once the change management phase is over.


Awareness and desire are the basis for accessing knowledge about one’s own abilities and role in the new organization. The tools for acquiring knowledge are usually the same as those used in training but may also come from on-the-job experience or from information management and problem-solving groups.


The application of knowledge leads to results in which one’s ability makes the difference. This may seem a natural step following on from the previous one, as a consequence of learning, but results are not guaranteed. It takes practice and time, along with optimization of the tools at one’s disposal.Usually, a trainer is involved to ensure correct application. It is the point at which individual objectives and those of the entire organization meet.


The last phase is the one in which the greatest dangers of failure may lie. Our brain has a natural tendency to retrace its steps. Reinforcing change means celebrating the outcome and building lasting, credible systems of recognition. Feedback is now an accepted way of showing recognition for one’s work. In some cases, it may be necessary to adjust compensation help the final transition on its way.

Advantages and disadvantages of applying the ADKAR model

Change management experts, who are usually interim managers, interpret the ADKAR model in different ways. On the one hand, there is no doubt that facing an important business transition by means of a precise methodology involves an effort on the part of all members of the organization. Interpreting it in another way, it could be noted that the timing of the different phases is, in many cases, just an aspiration, since individuals are in many ways unpredictable.

The advantages are related to the succession of events, thus focusing attention on results. Other models appear very descriptive about what to do but do not go into detail about motivation and thus the measurement of change.

Another advantage is the possibility of promptly verifying the level of change achieved. People play a central role, more important than that of the process itself, and this is a guarantee of quality.

Conversely, such a model can be more successful in smaller companies with more limited processes, given the complexity of dealing with too many variables.


Change management is debated in companies. The need for it is no longer under discussion, but opinions differ on how to get the best results. Most companies that decide to use it find they need to turn to experts in temporary management who are able to implement the process in a set timeframe.

The Italian business landscape is largely made up of small and medium enterprises, and for decades this has favored a rapid response to changes in demand. In modern times, such changes have become epochal and small and medium-sized businesses, however much dynamism they may have in their DNA, do not have the skills to cope.

Change management models such as ADKAR can ensure transition, leveraging the psychology of the individual to obtain stable, long-term results.