ADKAR: A Bottom Up Approach to Implementing Change
written by: N Nayab
• edited by: Ronda Bowen
• updated: 6/17/2014
ADKAR is the acronym for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement. It depicts the five stages for an individual to make a successful change. The steps are sequential and cumulative, and an individual has to attain the goals of one stage before moving on to the next stage.
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ADKAR is a goal-oriented model that allows individuals and teams to focus activities on specific tasks. The application of ADKAR in project management allows an easier implementation of change, so that PMs can manage scope creep and revise the project charter. The model could also be helpful for a stand-alone project execution in many situations, and help drive change in Six Sigma and other projects.
The model was first mentioned in the 1998 book The Perfect Change by Jeff Hiatt as a tool to determine the effectiveness of change management activities such as communication intervention and training. Since then, ADKAR has become one of the most popular change management and business improvement models. Jeff Hiatt's 2006 book ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government and Our Community” elaborates upon a complete ADKAR model.
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The first step in a successful change management or development program is an awareness or understanding of the need to change. The success of any endeavor depends on the support of the individuals involved in and affected by the change. The drivers of the change have the responsibility to spread awareness on why the change is necessary, how change will affect everyone, and the potential benefits to each stakeholders resulting from the change.
The best method to spread awareness is through planned or structured communication. The project owner or manager, for instance need to convey in a planned and structured way to each employee the business reasons for the project, the key challenges that the project raises for each individual, and the benefits resulting from overcoming such challenges.
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The second step in the ADKAR model is a desire to participate in and support the change. Mere awareness will not help to progress the project. The individuals involved in the project need to have the desire to put such awareness to good use.
Desire or willingness to work on the project depends on how well the project manager has sold the benefits of the change during the awareness stage. The project manager trying to sell the project to an individual member needs to understand what motivates the individual, and align the benefits of the project accordingly.
For instance, if an individual is motivated by self-actualization, the best way to kindle a desire in the project is by convincing the individual that successful project execution would throw open many opportunities for self-actualization. Here again, planned and structured communication is the best method.
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Awareness about the change and desire to be part of it counts for little unless one has the knowledge on how to change. Very often, change or project execution falters as individuals in charge of the process, even when fully committed to the project, has inadequate skills and competencies to drive the process forward.
The onus is on the drivers of change to undertake a “gap” analysis for each member of the project team. This requires listing out the skills and competencies required for successful project execution, understand the extent to which the team member has such skills and competencies, and providing structured interventions to bridge the gap.
The most common methods of intervention are formal training, coaching, and mentoring. Such sessions should transfer knowledge on what the individual needs to do during the project execution process, and how to perform after completion of the project or change.
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Acquiring knowledge to change still counts for little if one cannot implement required skills and behaviors. Knowledge is the theoretical framework regarding the change, and ability involves putting those theories into practice.
Ability is in a sense an extension of the training and other interventions of the “Knowledge” phase. It involves developing individual level tasks and goals to apply the knowledge gained through training and other interventions. Such tasks and goals should remain congruent, or be a part of the overall project goals. This is the culmination of the process that starts from making the person aware of the project, kindling a desire in him to become part of the project, and infusing him with knowledge to allow become a part of the project.
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This final stage in the ADKAR model is reinforcement. This stage involves efforts to sustain the change, ensuring that people continue to use the new systems and procedures, and that the old paradigms and systems do not recur. Very often, unfamiliarity with the new makes many people habitually revert to the old. Absence of strong countermeasures to prevent this happening may derail the entire change effort.
Ways to ensure the change sticks and that people do not revert to the old ways are establishing a system of controls, positive feedback, a policy of rewards and recognition combined with punishments, and a continuous system of monitoring and measuring performance to take corrective actions.
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ADKAR is a bottom-up method of business improvement. Most top-down methods communicate the change and implement programs for all the employees, and hope that everyone catches it. The advantage of ADKAR is that it works its way upwards from the individual level, ensuring that each individual equips for the change well and makes the transition. This approach measures the effectiveness of change at the individual level, allowing the project manager to manage resistance to change in a much better way compared to other models.
The application of ADKAR in project management focuses on outcomes rather than tasks. For instance, an individual struggling to cope with change may require knowledge on how to change, or may lack in ability to implement the necessary skills or behaviors. Many models suggest specific interventions for such purposes, when such interventions may not be relevant in the context. ADKAR leaves bit to the manager to provide training, work closely with the individual, coaching him, or undertake any other intervention while it leads to the desired results.
The model also finds use as a diagnostic tool. It allows breaking down the change into parts, to identify the specific processes that break down, and take remedial measures. This very often helps in identifying the root cause of the problem.