Models of Change Leadership: Part 1

Posted by: Nigel Girling Post Date: 9th October 2017

Change is a topic which attracts a lot of research, academic thought and especially consultancy, training or ‘expert’ activity.

As one of the very few constants over recent decades, change, like leadership, is a topic that can always be guaranteed to get an audience. Indeed, performing an internet search on the term ‘change management models’ receives over 30 million results.

Models of change leadership

Among the ‘top 10’ will be the usual suspects that are explored in this guidance, along with a plethora of academics and consultants putting forward a critique or suggesting a re-interpretation of a model. In the case of change however, some re-examination of both territory and models is valid and fundamentally necessary.

Things, it is fair to say, have moved on. Organisations of all sizes and sectors in the 21st century are increasingly aware of the need to recruit, retain and nurture talent. They understand that the provision of real leadership and workforce engagement is a strategic necessity and requires them to go beyond the operational imperatives of maintaining compliance or assuring quality.

Similarly, the speed of change and the many impacts of a diverse range of social, economic and technological influencing factors mean that most organisations are in a state of flux every day. In today’s world constant change is business as usual.

So, do the models still make sense in that context? Let’s examine them and see.

Kotter’s 8 Steps

Since it was published in 1996, Kotter’s book ‘Leading Change’ has been a cornerstone of much organisational thinking on the successful introduction of change. Originally, Kotter defined 8 steps:

  1. Establish a sense of urgency
  2. Form a powerful coalition
  3. Create a vision
  4. Communicate the vision
  5. Empower others to act on the vision
  6. Plan for and create short term wins
  7. Consolidate improvements and produce still more change
  8. Institutionalise new approaches

Thousands of organisations and probably millions of managers and leaders – and rather a lot of consultants and advisers – have followed these fundamental 8 steps to managing change. They make clear and uncomplicated sense and are easy to understand. All models can be a lesson to you as a leader in understanding the key issues and organising your thoughts into a well-considered approach. Slavishly following any one is probably missing the point.

John Kotter has revised some of his original thinking in his ‘new model’ shown in the image above. This has some useful additions that seem more appropriate to our current paradigm. It is explored to good effect on the Kotter website.

Finally, it would be sensible to consider these 8 steps in conjunction with those in the other models so that you can devise an approach that makes sense in your own context.

Beware though: that is fundamentally not the same thing as cherry-picking the bits you like best or those you think might be easiest to implement. The challenges of today require you to make the most appropriate choices to support the needs of your organisation and its many stakeholders. It is likely that most if not all of the steps in each model will be needed at some point. The tendency prevalent in Western businesses to view such issues as quality, safety, change, projects, leadership development, training and wellbeing as being managed in separate ‘boxes’ by different teams can be a challenge here. These things must be integrated and dealt with holistically to ensure that the many connections can be effectively managed.

The ADKAR model

Prosci (PROfessional plus SCIence) has been around for more than 20 years and is a world-leading advisory organisation around the challenges of change.

This ADKAR (Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, Reinforcement) model, developed by Jeff Hiatt at PROSCI in 2003, is widely used across the Western world. The premise behind both Prosci and the ADKAR model is that change often fails due to insufficient attention being paid to the human impacts and psychological repercussions of changing people’s experience of their working day – especially without their consent and involvement in the decision.

Where this model differs from many, however, is in its focus on the individual. While a lot of change models look at the process as though it were a project or a simple problem to be solved – and therefore tend to take an organisational perspective – this one looks at the shift in attitude, awareness and mindset that must take place within each individual. The model believes that this internal shift is fundamental for an individual to make a sustained ‘change’ and suggests the more typical ‘norm’ is experimenting with a new approach for a while before sliding back to a preferred or familiar comfort-zone. Anyone who has been on a significant diet or fitness regime will probably recognise that cycle. ADKAR is also a process and sequence of activities, which many people find more comfortable than being asked to understand broad ideas and concepts. ADKAR doesn’t require deep understanding to begin, and understanding will usually grow as the various stages are completed.

AWARENESS: The first stage of ‘awareness’ is often a dawning realisation (or sudden shock) that some problem exists or some shift is needed. A situation that someone recognises and knows they need to escape from – and which therefore provides the motivation to bring about significant change. When a leader wants to gain commitment to a change, this is often the intent behind early communications. They make people aware that change is both necessary and beneficial. Sometimes that might be economic – such as the threat of new competitors, poor financial results, a critical loss of market share or the launch of a competing product. Alternatively, it might be political – the introduction of new legislation or punitive repercussions for failing to comply with requirements such as safety or quality. Any situation that demonstrates that major change is inevitable and advantageous can be very helpful in creating the mindset-shift and readiness to change that is usually necessary to ‘unfreeze’ the paradigm of ‘business as usual’.

DESIRE: This moves people towards the stage of ‘desire’, where they actively want to make the change. This is the critical first step in gaining traction for a change. Once people have decided that the change needs to take place, everything else is just about the what, how and when. Leaders need to think carefully about the arguments to put forward or ‘buttons to press’ in order to create that desire.

KNOWLEDGE: Reaching the third stage of ‘knowledge’ is generally the result of people being clear on exactly what needs to happen and how to do it. This requires a level of shared understanding and planning so that the change is understood at an appropriately granular level.

ABILITY: That should lead naturally to the stage of ‘ability’, once people have acquired any skills and capability they are going to need not only to make the changes but also to help them flourish.

REINFORCE: Finally, that requires us to begin the cycle of training and coaching activities needed to ‘reinforce’ the new behaviours, processes and actions once the change has begun to happen. This is often the ‘secret ingredient’ that prevents slippage and a gradual return to the old paradigm.

Kubler-Ross – The Change Curve

Elisabeth Kubler-Ross was originally interested to observe and de-construct the stages an individual experienced after significant bad news, trauma or bereavement. It was never intended to be viewed as a model of change, merely a means to understand the personal-journey an individual might experience when faced with such a traumatic event. It is usually represented as a curve, but here are the five stages of grief:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

The text can clearly be translated to become applicable to any major upheaval in a work situation.

For the leader, thinking about this in depth can provide important insights into typical psychological reactions to significant change. When change programmes fail, it is often because the leaders haven’t spent enough time thinking about how people will feel and respond. Many change programmes are managed primarily through logistics and plans of action as if they are simply mechanical projects. People don’t tend to respond in such predictable or submissive ways. Even if the force and style of approach used generates high levels of compliance, it is perfectly possible that these underlying emotional responses are occurring, just hidden.

Failure to recognise and deal with these issues is likely to store up challenges for later, which may be problematic or even, in the worst cases, catastrophic.

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