Change Management: Using the ADKAR Model

Contributed by Joseph James, Business Resiliency Counselor @ UNC Pembroke

The past two years have impacted many of the basic aspects of our lives, such as how we work, learn, socialize, and consume goods and services. Obviously, this meant businesses had to adapt in many ways to ensure their survival and rebound from the effects of the pandemic. Businesses that leveraged their employees in this process gained two key benefits:

  • They were able to access the collective intelligence of their employees, rather than relying on the insights of the owners/leaders.
  • They were able to engage employees in the process of helping the business endure the difficulties associated with the pandemic and bounce back effectively afterwards.

Approaching pandemic-related challenges through a change management process helps businesses gain the two benefits described above. It can be easy to think of change management as this elaborate and complicated process that only applies to large corporations. However, businesses of any size can reap its benefits. And the smaller they are, the easier it is to effectively manage change.

There are a variety of change management models to help guide businesses through the process in a way that strengthens their chances of success. I would like to call your attention to Prosci’s Change Model. The model is intuitive and framed around the five outcomes that your employees need for a change to be successful. These five outcomes are represented by the acronym ADKAR. The outcomes are defined below with a practical example of each.

A – Awareness of the need for change

Communicate the urgency of the situation – this involves the “why” of the change. For example, restaurants had to quickly adapt their service model to rely more heavily on takeout and delivery. In some cases, this meant laying off employees. Helping employees understand the “why” in clear terms will help strengthen buy-in among those who remain and offers the departing employees the opportunity to understand the reasons they were laid off.

D – Desire to participate and support the change

One of the best ways to strengthen the desire to participate and support change is to involve employees upfront. In my previous example, the restaurant staff may have proposed reduced hours to mitigate the layoffs. Also, some employees may have departed voluntarily.

K – Knowledge on how to change

Again, communication is key here. What will employees need to do differently? Adopting the use of PPE and a stronger focus on phone etiquette are two ways that restaurant workers may have had to adapt. Clear expectations help manage the uncertainty that everyone is already experiencing as a result of changes being made.

A – Ability to implement desired skills and behavior

As changes are made, it is important to be sensitive to any training or additional resource needs among employees. Knowing what to do differently and how to do it are two very different things. To continue our restaurant example, changing to a focus on takeout and delivery likely means increased use of the telephone and internet to receive orders. In some cases, this many have required the purchase of new telephone or computer technology. I do not know about you all, but I continue to struggle with how to transfer calls and put people on hold with my office phone without hanging up on them. How much more difficult might it be for a server trying to answer an increasing number of orders placed via phone?

R – Reinforcement of the new skills and behaviors to sustain the change

New skills and behaviors can be reinforced through communication such as providing a script or guidelines on customer service on the phone, repeating the new expectations during shift meetings, and connecting it directly to how performance is evaluated.

Clear and frequent communication is key to ensuring a successful change. If you take nothing else from this model, I hope you understand that communication is critical to successfully navigating changes within your business.

The ADKAR model is a great tool that helps frame the type of information needed by individuals to engage and support changes. Change is constant in the business environment. Equipping and leveraging your employees to support the changes, including those unrelated to a pandemic, will improve the chances of successful change. The use of a formal model and change process can help leaders understand what needs to be communicated and when throughout the process.