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Mae Angeline

Change Management Models to Tackle Change Resistance

Large-scale organizational change needs to be guided with care! Luckily, there are several tried-and-true change management models that you can draw upon for inspiration.

Okay, let's get the painful home-truths out of the way first: a large proportion of organizational change initiatives fail. In fact, research by McKinsey found that only 38% of organizational changes are completely or mostly successful.

This might be a difficult stat to stomach, but it's good to know. Because then you can start asking the important questions, like, "Why are such a large number of change initiatives unsuccessful?"

Well, often the reason is change resistance. After all, it's human nature to prefer the status quo, and people at all levels within the organization can put up resistance to the change initiative. From a grumbling reluctance to adapt, through to full-blown employee protests, change resistance is a significant spanner in the works of an evolving organization.

The good news is that there are strategies you can put in place to reduce change resistance and improve your transformational success. This article will look at eight helpful change management models to guide organizations in implementing change more quickly and efficiently.

What are change management models?

Change management models are best practices on how to institute change. They are examples that organizational leaders and stakeholders can consider while developing their own plans for change within their organization, to increase their chances of successful implementation.

As a manager or executive, you can apply change models to all changes in your organization, from relatively small changes in communication protocols or tweaking operational efficiency, through to significant business alterations in structure, culture, technology, and processes.

The target is to achieve the primary goals of the change program, whilst preserving or even increasing the company's productivity, profit, and employee engagement.

8 tried-and-tested, popular change management models

  1. Lewin's change management model

Kurt Lewin's model identifies three stages in managing organizational change:

  • Unfreeze: understand the current situation, prepare for changes in focused areas to facilitate a smooth transition
  • Change: actual execution
  • Refreeze: maintaining the new processes to prevent going back to the old ways

The system is popular because it is simple enough to be understood and applied without extensive explanation. However, the drawbacks are that the model doesn't give much detail on how to execute change, or how to reduce change resistance in staff.

  1. Bridges' transition model

As with the Lewin's model, Bridges' model focuses on three phases. This time, the phases relate to phases of transition within people, occurring in response to external change:

  • Ending, losing, and letting go: companies should recognize the emotional baggage of changing what has been a routine for them and take action to appease their feelings
  • Neutral zone: employees start to reshape their thinking by coming to terms with the implemented changes
  • New beginnings: acceptance of the new norm can be seen through improved employee performance
Bridges' transition model

As the model looks at the people involved rather than just the business processes, it provides a good foundation for empathetic handling of a team – and the predictable drop in employee productivity – during change management.

  1. ADKAR change management model

The ADKAR model takes a proactive approach, presenting the five characteristics needed for an individual to embrace change:

  • Change Awareness: discover why there is a need to change
  • Change Desire: being involved in pushing for change
  • Change Knowledge: gaining the information on how to change
  • Change Ability: having capabilities in carrying out the changes
  • Change Reinforcement: sustaining what has been changed

The ADKAR change model is based on observations of over 700 organizations, and is built on the principle that for an organization to change, the individuals involved must be willing and equipped to change.

  1. Kübler-Ross change curve

This change model discusses the popular five stages of grief, which can be applied to the emotions experienced by an employee during the implementation phase of a change program:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

While this can be helpful in understanding an employee's emotional state, it has its limitations, as each person's experience is different. Not everyone passes through all five stages with every change they encounter, and the intensity each person feels may differ from their colleague.

Kubler-Ross change curve
  1. Satir change management model

The Satir model aims to apply family therapy experiences to individuals as foundation units of a business organization. As with the Kübler-Ross model, this theory looks at five stages of emotions that employees may go through when undergoing changes:

Satir change model
  • Late status quo: present conditions before changes occur
  • Resistance: the general emotions people will feel after being aware of the changes
  • Chaos: implementation of change brings about confusion and refusal to accept
  • Integration: beginning to accept changes evident with restored or increase in performance
  • New status quo: employees start to relax with the new process

Unlike the Kübler-Ross change curve, the Satir model applies more accurately to teams, which tend to pass through these stages together.

  1. PDCA change management strategy

The Plan-Do-Check-Act strategy, also known as the Deming circle, is a change management framework that follows a loop for continuous improvement:

  • Plan: identify and analyze the underlying issues of the problem and create an assumption on how to solve them
  • Do: test the hypotheses by implementing them on a small-scale basis
  • Check: evaluating what the areas that need improvement are
  • Act: make changes based on feedback, limit obstacles that have been identified, and return to the planning stage for the next problem

As it is a recurring process of improvement, this model is applicable for both individual and organizational change, and is simple to implement on large or small scale.

  1. Kotter's theory

John Kotter's theory works like a checklist, with eight stages a company should go through when putting changes into effect:

  • Have a sense of urgency: staff should want the change to happen immediately
  • Build the dream team: value representation from leaders and key stakeholders
  • Form a strategic vision: ensure the unity of pursuing a common business goal
  • Involve and communicate: bring everyone together by talking about the benefits and concerns the upcoming changes might bring
  • Eliminate or reduce change barriers: remove inefficient processes and employee culture
  • Generate short-term wins: break up changes into smaller blocks to encourage celebrating small wins after facilitating the completion of each phase
  • Sustain acceleration: keep going after every win and focus on constant improvement
  • Preserve changes implemented: secure new changes by tying them into the company culture and existing work environment

While more detailed and encompassing, this change management theory is time consuming to implement, and works best for substantial organizational change.

  1. McKinsey 7S change model

This model of change management deals with seven interconnected areas in an organization:

  • Three 'hard' aspects: Strategy, Structure, and Systems
  • Three 'soft' aspects: Style, Staff, and Skills
  • The interconnecting aspect: Shared values
McKinsey 7s Framework

By bringing these seven aspects into alignment, any changes implemented in one area will have a domino effect spreading across the business. The process is complex and won't happen overnight, but effective for building a framework for continual improvement, similar to that seen in the Phoenix Project.

So, which change management model should you use?

While these are just eight of many change management theories out there, they are some of the most applicable to a range of companies. When selecting which model to use, bear in mind these three tips.

Choose the right fit for your company

Choosing the right change management model depends on your company's unique situation. In part, it depends on the size and organizational structure of the business, but also on the change resistance patterns you've encountered in the past. Managing change is not a one-size-fits-all approach, and you'll need to select a method that aligns with the existing vision and mission, systems, culture, and resources.

Keep an open mind

Even if you decide to apply one of the change management frameworks above, you have the opportunity to change track later if it is not working. Business leaders who are open to evaluating their decisions and adjusting them set better examples for their teams in how to respond to challenges and changes.

Involve your team

Be prepared to have crucial conversations with your team, so that you are aware of your employees' point of view on the changes they feel are needed, as well as how things are progressing as you start to implement change. The opportunity to be heard during the change process can reduce employee resistance, and lift the barriers to a successful change management process.


Successful organizational change depends on implementing the right change management model to achieve your strategic vision. Communicate with your team and other stakeholders throughout the process in a way that encourages their commitment to the changes you are implementing.

As you gain feedback on how your company responds to feedback, you can combine different aspects of these tried-and-tested change management methods, to create your company's own personalized change methodology.

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