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ADKAR: Core to the People Side of Change

The Prosci ADKAR Model was developed by Jeff Hiatt in 1996 and first published in a white paper titled “The Perfect Change” in 1999. Following nearly a decade of research by Prosci on the model, the first book on ADKAR was released in 2006 titled ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government and Our Community. Since then, the model has enabled and inspired leaders, managers and employees in hundreds of organizations around the world to be successful leaders of change.

The secret to the success of the application of ADKAR is simple: a change happens when individual employees embrace, adopt and use new processes, tools or techniques proficiently. It is the accumulation of individual change that leads to organizational change. When we can use a tool like ADKAR to support individual change, we are in effect supporting organizational change and the achievement of results and outcomes since it is individuals that collectively make up the organization.

We do not need complex plans and methodologies to lead employees through change. Rather, the most successful way to facilitate change with individuals is through the use of simple, easy-to-use, and holistic tools that are based on how employees really experience change; tools and models that outline the specific steps of successful change, enable us to identify unique barrier points and offer effective remedies to overcome those barriers. The ADKAR Model addresses each of these factors so that we can successfully employ it to facilitate individual change.

The letters of ADKAR represent the five essential elements that must be present for an individual to make a change successfully:

  • Awareness of the need for change
  • Desire to participate and support the change
  • Knowledge on how to change
  • Ability to implement required skills and behaviors
  • Reinforcement to sustain the change

These elements are intentionally sequenced. Earlier elements must be sufficiently achieved before the proceeding elements can be realized. For instance, building Knowledge of how to change is ineffective if an individual does not have Awareness of the need for change or Desire to participate and support the change. ADKAR has been used by thousands to drive more successful change because it presents the structure and sequence required for individuals to make a change.

By understanding how an individual experiences change, you will be in a better position to lead impactful and wide-scale changes in your organization.


The first element in the ADKAR Model is Awareness. More specifically, this is the awareness of the need for change. Change begins with understanding the “why”, including answers to some basic questions, such as:

  • What is the nature of the change?
  • Why is the change happening?
  • What are the risks of not changing, to me and to the organization?

If we do not understand why a change is needed then we do not have Awareness, and our natural reaction is to resist the change. In fact, Prosci’s benchmarking studies show that a lack of Awareness is the greatest source of resistance for both employees and managers and supervisors.

Action Item:

For a change either in your personal life or at work, describe your personal awareness of the need for change.

  • What are the reasons you believe the change is happening?
  • What are the risks to you or the organization if you don’t participate in the change?


A large organization is implementing a new document management system. Employees will need to learn new processes around retrieving, editing and sharing documents within the organization. The change is needed in order to make the organization more efficient at tracking and maintaining up-to-date documents. The “why” behind the change comes from a failure of the current system resulting in expensive mistakes and lost documents. At the level of an individual employee, the risks of not changing include the inability to access necessary documents and slower turnaround times on finishing tasks.


Ultimately, change requires an individual to make a personal decision to participate and support a change. Because it requires a personal decision, Desire is often the most difficult ADKAR element in an organizational change. However, leaders and managers can influence this decision by addressing the personal and organizational motivators for the change. The desire element addresses “What’s in it for me?” (WIIFM) and “What’s in it for us?” regarding the change.

Action item

List the motivating factors or consequences related to the change that would influence your desire to change. These factors can be positive or negative.


From an individual employee’s perspective, the consequences of not changing pose a risk to their performance at work, which could have other repercussions on their personal success at work. However, if an employee is not as computer savvy as other employees, he or she may be less motivated to learn a new system. On a more positive note, the new system is promised to work better than the old methods of managing documents, so, for many employees, this change may come as welcome relief.


The Knowledge element of the ADKAR Model is often accounted for with training. Successful change requires knowing how to use the new tools or perform the new skills after implementation and knowing how to change. In many cases, simply attending training does not result in sufficient knowledge. Practice, on-the-job coaching and additional job aids can all help ensure that individuals have the knowledge they need to make a change successfully. And, training without the preceding awareness and desire is ineffective and can actually be more frustrating than beneficial for employees.

Action item

List the skills and knowledge needed to support this change, both during and after the transition.

  • Do you need more training, one-on-one coaching, or simply time to study the new system or processes?
  • What would help you better understand how to change?


Employees are required to know how to navigate the new document management system and understand how to access files. The training was provided to all impacted employees. In addition, managers were trained and equipped to offer individual coaching and support to their employees to ensure the employees understand and know how to use the new tools and processes. In addition, a “practice” station was established so employees could become more familiar with the look and feel of the new document management system.


Following knowledge, an employee must have the ability to demonstrate new skills and behaviors. It is possible that an employee may understand the change on a theoretical level and even have the knowledge to make the change but ultimately cannot demonstrate the required skills and behaviors. It is at ability – when employees achieve the desired change with new skills and behaviors – that the change comes to life and business results are realized.

Action item

Consider the skills and knowledge understood from the knowledge element and assess your ability to implement this change.

  • What challenges do you foresee?
  • Are there any barriers inhibiting your ability?


For the majority of employees, adoption of the new system should be smooth, especially when allowed a few weeks to practice. There will be a select few employees who will be unable to learn the new technology, either due to personal limitations or prolonged time required to learn.


The final element in the ADKAR Model is Reinforcement, a critical step to ensure the change is sustained. Reinforcement includes actions, recognition, mechanisms and rewards that increase the likelihood that the change will be continued. While reinforcement mechanisms can be in place before the change is made, reinforcement at the individual level occurs once the change has been adopted (i.e. ability has been achieved). This does not mean the employee must be proficient to receive reinforcement, but they must first demonstrate some ability for the behavior to be positively reinforced.

Action item

List the reinforcements that will help you to sustain the change.

  • What incentives are in place to help make the change stick?
  • Are there any opposing incentives to the change?


The organization has tied the successful implementation of this change to employee bonuses. The project sponsor is very active and visible in giving positive feedback to impacted groups who are demonstrating the change. Managers are closely working with struggling employees to ensure they can succeed at the change as well. In addition, managers are continuing to actively remove barriers and manage resistance to the change.

Read more about ADKAR here.


This blog post was originally published by Tim Creasey in Prosci blog.


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