Change Management Demystified: A Guide to Change Management Models

Aug 15, 2023   |   By SEI Team

Change can be intimidating, but your organization needs it in order to thrive in today’s business environment. Here are six change management models you can use for seamless implementation.

Change is essential for business growth in today’s fast-paced environment. Companies must constantly adapt, innovate, and improve operational structures to remain competitive. But change can be challenging, especially when it comes to managing a transition effectively. Some companies are concerned about the potential disruptions and ripple effects that change can bring. Yet, sticking with outdated processes, technology, and inefficient practices can cause even greater damage in the long run.

Enter: change management. Over the years, a variety of change management models have been developed to help companies address common roadblocks involved with spearheading an internal transformation, be it minute or significant. In this guide, we’ll explore the concept of change management and delve into six change management models that can help your organization navigate through the complexities of change.

What Is Change Management?

Change management is the discipline of planning, implementing, and monitoring the processes, tools, and strategies that drive organizational change. It involves managing the human side of change, ensuring that individuals and teams are prepared and willing to embrace new ways of working. A well-informed and carefully curated change management strategy helps minimize resistance, maximize adoption, and ensure that desired outcomes are achieved as smoothly as possible.

Why Is Change Management Important?

Most businesses avoid change because of the potential risks it may bring. However, a solid change management framework prepares companies for these changes and teaches them how to mitigate disruptions and negative impacts that may threaten progress. It also enhances employee engagement and morale. When employees are involved in the change management process, provided with support, and given a voice, they are more likely to become change advocates and contribute to its success. After all, for any change initiative to work, everyone needs to be on the same page or else efforts will quickly fall flat.

The Top 6 Change Management Models

Whether used individually or in combination, these models empower organizations to proactively manage change for a seamless transition.

1. Lewin’s Change Management Model

Lewin’s Change Management Model, developed by social psychologist Kurt Lewin in the 1940s, is one of the most widely recognized and influential change models. It is based on the idea that successful change requires three stages: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing.

During the unfreezing stage, organizations create awareness and a sense of urgency about the need for change. This involves breaking down existing mindsets, challenging the status quo, and preparing employees for the upcoming transition. In the changing stage, new processes, systems, and behaviors are introduced, and the organization undergoes the actual change. In the refreezing stage, the new behaviors and practices are reinforced and integrated into the organization’s culture and processes to cement the transition further.

While simpler than other change management frameworks, it’s a great introduction to the type of mindset needed for successful change implementation.

2. Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

Developed by Harvard Business School professor John Kotter, this model recognizes that change is a complex process that requires strong leadership and active engagement from all levels of the organization. This approach keeps changes centered on the perspectives of employees who will be affected to encourage widespread acceptance. The eight steps Kotter outlines include the following:

  1. Create a sense of urgency by clearly conveying why change is needed and when it should happen.
  2. Build a guiding coalition that will lead your change efforts and motivate others to embrace initiatives.
  3. Form a strategic vision that’s easy to grasp and extensively conveys how the change will benefit the business from the inside out.
  4. Recruit volunteers by gathering organizational buy-in from top to bottom with the help of your coalition.
  5. Remove barriers that will slow down change efforts or find ways to compromise that won’t affect your end goals.
  6. Promote short-term wins to highlight how the change is already benefiting your organization.
  7. Nurture acceleration by remaining focused on your overall goals, no matter what pitfalls you may encounter along the way.
  8. Reinforce change until it completely replaces old practices and becomes a natural part of the workflow process.

Through these eight steps, organizations can mobilize support, overcome resistance, and implement sustainable change initiatives.

3. ADKAR Model

The ADKAR Model, developed by Prosci founder Jeff Hiatt around 20 years ago, focuses on individual change and highlights the five key elements necessary for successful change adoption:

  • Awareness: Involves understanding why the change is necessary and its potential benefits.
  • Knowledge: Provides employees with the necessary information and skills to embrace the change.
  • Desire: Addresses personal motivations and connects the change to individual values.
  • Ability: Focuses on building the ability to implement the change effectively through training, coaching, and support.
  • Reinforcement: Emphasizes the importance of driving the change to sustain new behaviors and ensure long-term success.

By checking off these elements, companies can best support personal transitions and enable employees to embrace change successfully. 

4. The McKinsey 7-S Model

Introduced in the 1970s, the McKinsey 7-S model views change as a holistic process that involves multiple interconnected factors within an organization. It identifies seven critical elements that need to be aligned to achieve successful change: strategy, structure, systems, skills, style, staff, and shared values.

This model emphasizes the interdependencies between these elements and highlights the need for coherence and consistency across them. For example, if an organization is implementing a new strategy, it must also consider the necessary changes in structure, systems, and skills to support the strategy effectively. It categorizes strategy, structure, and systems as “hard elements” — those that are easy to pinpoint and control — and values, staff, style, and skills as “soft elements” that are more subjective and hard to manage. The general idea is that by addressing all seven elements, organizations can ensure that their change efforts are comprehensive and aligned with the same objectives.

5. Bridges’ Transition Model

Change consultant William Bridges created the Bridges transition model to help organizations assist their employees during periods of change. It focuses on the psychological and emotional aspects of change and breaks down responses to change into three general phases:

  1. The End of Familiarity: Employees may first react pessimistically in fear and discomfort of having to let go of systems and processes they’re already comfortable with.
  2. The Neutral Zone: As the change unfolds, employees aren’t as skeptical as when they were first introduced to the change, but they haven’t yet fully embraced it either.
  3. The New Beginning: Employees finally accept the change and grow accustomed to the new way of handling tasks.

Bridges emphasizes the significance of communication, emotional support, and clarity throughout the transition process to facilitate successful change adoption.

6. Kübler-Ross Change Curve

Based on Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s work on grief and loss, this model illustrates the emotional journey that individuals experience during change. It outlines five stages: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.

Similar to the Bridges’ model, the Kübler-Ross change management framework suggests that individuals may initially resist change, experience negative emotions, and go through a period of adjustment before ultimately accepting the new reality. Organizations can use this model to understand and anticipate the emotional responses of employees during change, providing the necessary support, communication, and reassurance to help them navigate through the different stages and reach acceptance.

Evolving Through Change with SEI

Change is a constant in today’s business landscape, and effectively managing it is crucial for organizational success. Each of the top six change management models discussed in this guide offers valuable insights and approaches to navigate through change. However, it’s important to remember that the choice of model depends on the unique needs and circumstances of your organization. By understanding these models and their differences, you can make informed decisions and tailor your change initiatives for lasting success.

At SEI, we understand the complexities of change management and offer tailored solutions to help organizations thrive in dynamic environments. Our expertise in change management enables us to assist you in implementing the most suitable models and frameworks for your specific needs. Through granular stakeholder analyses and impact assessments, we diagnose existing and potential obstacles to change implementation and develop roadmaps to help your business thrive in the midst of a much-needed transformation.

Speak with our consultants now to discuss your organization’s change management needs and explore how SEI can help you navigate successful transformations.

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