March 04,2020 Change Management

ADKAR Change Model

ADKAR Change Model

Jeff Hiatt’s Background

Jeffery Hiatt had an atypical journey to joining the Mount Rushmore of change theorists with his ADKAR change model. Gaining an undergraduate degree in engineering from Colorado State and a masters degree from Rutgers, Hiatt did not go into academia. Instead, he worked as an engineer and program manager at Bell Labs.

While working as a program manager his main projects focused on restructuring business processes. This developed his fascination with changes. More importantly, he explored why some changes succeeded and why others didn’t. The role also gave him the opportunity to perform extensive research into change adoption which drove his finding that the common factor to change effectiveness centered on people.

In 1994 Hiatt formalized his ADKAR change model that focused on people instead of just the change. Opening the business under the name PROSCI, the model and company’s popularity surged throughout Corporate America. By 2016 over 35,000 PROSCI practitioners were trained and actively practicing.


Hiatt believed that change occurs in 2 dimensions, the organization’s perspective, and the employee’s perspective. A change can only achieve success when both perspectives occur. The organization will travel through the phases of preparing, designing, implementing and sustaining the change. However, the employee’s journey will begin with awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement or ADKAR for short (Hiatt J. a., 2012).

When the change is announced to the workforce, the employee becomes aware of the change. Cognitively they grasp to understand the business need and the reason for the change. Next, they seek to understand what the change means on an organizational level and personal level on what all the changes will consist of. Lastly, they search for what long-term and day-to-day impacts those changes will make on their job.

The next gate the employee must travel through is their desire to support the change. Until they want to change with the organization the change remains in a standstill. The organization searches for the general motivation for the employees to change. This varies for each employee, yet the organization will typically focus on one or two highest motivators. Lastly, the change manager places a focus on peer pressure. Before the change adoption, peer pressure can push desire away. However, after a tipping point of employees have adopted the change, peer pressure can help pull the remaining stragglers into the change in fear that they will be left behind.


The stakeholders then shift their focus to the knowledge of the change. Understanding the new tools or processes or applications and how they can implement them. They learn their new rules and responsibilities. This closely resembles how a new employee approaches fitting in at a new company. They observe, question, and mimic behaviors so that they understand how they fit in this new world and how they will get work done.

With knowledge comes the ability. The stakeholders then focus on building the capability to implement knowledge and change. They must overcome the physical limitations to apply a new process or tool. Also, they must overcome the psychological blocks to apply a new process and change. Lastly, they must overcome external blocks or detractors that provide roadblocks to the change using social pressures.

Finally, the focus moves to the reinforcement of the changed state. The change will have been implemented yet the change project will not be complete. The change manager will search for an absence of negative behaviors and feedback from those impacted. Additionally, the change stakeholders will display a higher level of accountability for new processes and tool usage.

ADKAR Model in Action

When I worked with Bechtel National, we held the contract at the Naval Reactors Facility. There we processed all the spent nuclear fuel from aircraft carriers and submarines. Working with radioactive components created an environment of strict controls and a heavy training burden to help mitigate the risk of working with dangerous materials.

Since its inception in the late 1940s, the training model had emphasized using the college academic model. Engineers and technicians would attend training on specific topics and then attempt to pool that knowledge together to complete their day to day work. This led to the creation of four separate training groups that would provide some workers with up to 18 different training certifications.

I was awarded a unique opportunity to modernize this approach to training by becoming the manager of three of the four groups. I outlined a clear intent to change our focus from training specific topics to training specific work evolutions. During the awareness stage, I walked all the instructors through the desired end state and what impacts would take place. Significant to each instructor was that they would then step away from being a subject matter expert in a field of study and were being asked to become subject matter experts in highly complex work evolutions.

Desire to Change

The desire to change on an individual level significantly lacks in comparison to my boss’s enthusiasm. The key contributing factor to their motivation though came from developing new training teams and empowering them to build the new training model. This gave them the knowledge to cross-training into different specialties and observation of how their previous training had been implemented.

To help the team shift into the ability phase of the change, we rolled out a prototype training team that focused on the easiest work evolution. It gave the entire department a chance to practice and gain greater insights by playing in the new model and seeing the results. Following the pilot, we rolled out three additional training teams. Wanting to quickly reinforce this model change, I changed our goal, metrics, and performance appraisals to ensure that if we did want to revert, the structure would be gone.


Modern-day practitioners widely apply the ADKAR model in today’s workplace. It is not only popular with practitioners but stakeholders as well. As it has become the new corporate model de jour and it aligns with the modern trend of putting focus and effort into the treatment of employees. While Kotter’s model may align with work practices of the 1980s, the ADKAR model is viewed as the advanced model in practice.

There are numerous positives to Hiatt’s creation beginning with the practicality of the PROSCI approach. The approach thoroughly engages the employee and gives the impacted a seat at the table. More impressively, practitioners extensively field-tested the model with positive results.

However, every model does have flaws. The ADKAR approach doesn’t fit all change projects. The model also struggles with large scale change planning which can tie people up in the weeds of the change. Lastly, it is not a quick process. When executed expertly it takes time to adequately move the organization through each phase of the change.

The team at PROSCI has made a significant impact on the change management world. Beginning with an increased success rate of changes using their model. The approach of engaging the organization into the process lessens employee resistance thus improving the odds of adoption. Most importantly is the model following the trend of partnering with employees instead of directing them.

 “Change would be easy if it wasn’t for the people Jeff Hiatt.”


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