Change Management

How to Lead People Through Change – Introduction to ADKAR®


January 11, 2022


Executive Summary 

ADKAR represents the five elements of change that must be achieved for that change to be a success. This article focuses on what key factors one should focus on, communicate, or think about to help lead people through these change elements to establish the change. 

Intro to OCM and ADKAR 

Ah, yes, another elusive acronym for us to add to our business vernacular. If you stay with me on the following blog series, I promise this one will become one of your favorites. Why? Because it is simple to understand and can make a big impact in helping achieve project success. 

Before we get into the details of ADKAR, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the importance of Organizational Change Management (OCM) and introduce you to the global leader in change management solutions, Prosci ®.  

What is Change Management

Prosci® defines change management as the process, tools, and techniques to manage the people side of change to achieve the required business outcome. Change management incorporates the organizational tools that can be utilized to help individuals make successful personal transitions resulting in the adoption and realization of change.

Change Management & Successful Organizational Transition

Change Management & Successful Organizational Transition

That statement of personal transition is a key part to understanding the methodology of change management. If you think about a project, there may be a significant percentage of the project’s success relying on a person changing how they work. For example, when implementing a new PPM tool, a project manager may need to change how they track and report their project plan, financials, risk & issues log, etc. If they have been doing the same process in Excel or Microsoft Project, they probably have some sort of an autopilot, and learning how to use a new system will be a disturbance to this autopilot. Some people may have a little blip, and others will have a colossal reaction to this adjustment. 


Note: Not to throw another acronym at you, but OCEAN or The Big Five Theory is one that I’ve been interested in lately as it relates to how people emotionally react to and process change based on their personality. The range where someone falls on each of the Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism spectrum could be an important tell of how they react to change.  


Change management is getting out in front of this disturbance – anticipating it – and planning to help people successfully journey through their current state to their future state. 

Importance of Change Management 

Prosci has 20 years of research into Change Management, and their surveys have consistently shown that you are six times more likely to meet or exceed your objectives when you implement change management. You are also more likely to stay on budget and achieve results ahead of schedule. 

You can learn more about the details and benefits of OCM in the Kolme Group blog: Managing Change: Absent Processes Hurting Your Projects Future or our webinar Change Management Fundamentals 

ADKAR – An Introduction

As mentioned, Prosci is the global leader of management solutions, and there are a lot of tools that Prosci has, but the one that I think complements project management the most is ADKAR since it focuses on an individual’s journey.  

ADKAR stands for:

  • Awareness  
  • Desire  
  • Knowledge 
  • Ability  
  • Reinforcement 

It represents the five elements of change that must be achieved for that change to be a success. There are a lot of ADKAR resources available outside of attending a Prosci training. Jeffrey M. Hiatt wrote ADKAR: A model for change in business, government, and our community. It’s a short, easy read that can be purchased online. Or, Kolme Group has a great article that describes how to coach individuals through each section of ADKAR in the blog article – Coaching Through Change.

Lead People Through Change – Awareness 

Our focus in this section is on the first milestone – Awareness 

In order to get people’s buy-in on the change, they must first understand the why. Awareness is all about helping people understand the “Why” of the change. 

Lead People Through Change – Awareness

Lead People Through Change – Awareness

Simon Sinek has a book and TED Talk called “Start with the Why” – How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action. He emphasizes that when you communicate the why (the purpose, the reason) rather than starting with the what (benefits/features), you are focusing on the part of the brain that controls decision-making. Nearing in on the “gut feeling” part that we tend to draw on when we are making a decision and our emotional reaction to it.   

According to Prosci, this message is best communicated by a trusted, visible, and active Sponsor within the organization, and this makes perfect sense. As Project Managers, we often lead the team on some pretty cool initiatives, but when the CEO takes center stage at a town hall and speaks to the heart about Why they are going in that direction, people take notice and listen.  

I’ve seen some great examples of how to generate buzz around a new application that was being rolled out. It started with a very friendly message, “have you heard the word” that started to gain everyone’s interest and excitement for what may be coming. One company I worked with had a great idea for Sponsor Roadshow where the team got a little cart and went around the office handing out ice cream as the Project Sponsor walked around and started planting the seed about a new department the organization was developing and the benefits it could offer to the organization. 

We do not want people to fill in the gaps themselves, which they will do. The rumor mill can be strong, and we want to own the message from the beginning by communicating the Why early on. 

Lead People Through Change – Desire 

Our focus in this section is on the second milestone – Desire 

A person needs to have the desire to participate in and support the change. This is a biggie. Without this, you may have delays, productivity may decline, and people may even leave the organization. It is also a very personal thing (as much as we wish we could!); we do not control other people’s choices.  

Hiatt mentions there are Four Factors that contribute to an individual’s desire to change: 

  • The Nature of the Change – Is this change an opportunity or threat, and the WIIFM (What’s In It For Me?) 
  • The organizational or environmental context – success (or non-successes) of past changes, other changes that may also be occurring, and the organization’s culture of change. 
  • An Individual’s Personal Situation – career aspirations, financial security, age/healthy, personal relationships in and out of work  
  • Intrinsic Motivation – what we value, our internal voice or internal compass.  

We discussed awareness in our last section, and desire tends to immediately follow that. We’ve all been there – your sponsor announces, “A Change is Coming!!” As soon as we log off the meeting invite, most of us are sending a ping to our manager, “Hey, just heard the news. Does this mean I have to (insert how I perceived the change will affect me here)?” 

Because of this common reflex, Prosci recommends that the desired messaging is best communicated by the Direct Manager. They are closer to their staff and their everyday duties, so they can help them understand the specific WIIFM. 

 “As you heard, we are getting a new PPM tool. This is really going to help you save time when you submit your project status reports because it has a one-click button that aggregates all the data. No more late Friday emails asking where your status reports are! We’ll all be able to log off on time to attend the company Happy Hour.” 

Of course, it is worth noting that the manager needs to have gone through their own ADKAR journey before they can properly help their staff consume the information. If they are just finding out about the change as their staff, then this is a recipe for disaster. As change practitioners, we need to help the manager by first getting them through their own ADKAR journey and then preparing them and giving room for them to lead their staff through the change. They will need our support to identify and manage resistance and how to provide clear communications on the benefits of the change initiative.   

Lead People Through Change – Knowledge and Ability 

Lead People Through Change – Knowledge and Ability

Lead People Through Change – Knowledge and Ability

This section focuses on the third and fourth milestones – Knowledge and Ability. They are related to each other, so I like to cover them together.  


Knowledge is about each person understanding how to change. This would be the education and training on the new tool, their processes, and their understanding of any new expectations, whether it be a new role or new responsibility. Depending on your change initiative, this could be as simple as providing a new URL link or as complex as an entirely new office location, reporting structure, and office procedures. But, even with the range of complexity, this ADKAR milestone is where I think, as Project Managers, we are the most familiar and comfortable with, as we typically cover aspects of this during our UAT (User Acceptance Testing) and Training sessions.  

I have seen some really cool examples when it comes to how to deliver knowledge. Gamification techniques can be used to tap into the reward center of our brains and provide positive reinforcement as a fun and interactive way to help people gain new knowledge.  

Kolme Group has a blog about using game theory for time-tracking that goes into detail about game mechanics if you want to learn more about gamification.  

There are a lot of additional resources available to help deliver knowledge, including creating interactive quizzes, live train-the-trainer sessions, on-demand training videos, and even using a pilot group to help create early adopters or help discover power users and champions.  

Keep in mind we do not want to take any previous knowledge for granted or make assumptions about their current knowledge level. Sometimes offering a “foundation” class to make sure everyone is on the same baseline of understanding can help before delivering new information.  


Ability is the fourth ADKAR milestone. This is the person’s skills as they relate to the future state. They may have the awareness, they are on board about the change, and they have been trained – but do they have the ability? Meaning. Do they have the intellectual capability, the physical ability, an SME (Subject Matter Expert) or mentor support, and the time to learn what is needed for the successful change?  

One example that helps describe this ADKAR milestone is if there was a change for a company to shift from an hour lunch to a half-hour lunch. This may seem like a simple change, but what if the person takes public transport or drops their kids off at school — getting off a half hour earlier or coming in a half hour later is not an option for them? 

I think we have all had some personal experience with this when it comes to COVID and having to work remotely. I may be on board to work remotely because I understand why (we have a pandemic), I have the desire (I don’t want to get COVID or infect others), I have the knowledge (I have been trained on how to login remote) but do I have good internet and a place to set up my workstation at home?  

Also, sometimes, it may take people different amounts of time to learn something new. We all know the type of person (I’m one of them) that needs a little bit of time to process and try it on their own to help settle their new understanding of the process. They have gone through training, so they have the knowledge of how to do it, but they may need a few weeks of using the new tool to develop their competency and ability to actually use it. 

Projects that have a quick go-live and do not account for this may can put a person’s Ability milestone at risk.  

Lead People Through Change –  Reinforcement 

The focus in this section is on the last milestone – Reinforcement.  

Reinforcement is the person continuing and sustaining the change. During this phase, you continue to manage resistance, implement corrective actions, and celebrate success.  

It is also important to collect and analyze feedback because creating a good feedback loop, where people have a voice on what is working well and can provide areas of improvement, will help them feel empowered to continue to support the change.  

I’ve seen some great success with companies that have channels where they can recognize employees that are doing well with the change or can be honored for adapting. Sometimes being given a formal reward, including becoming certified or even a promotion. At one company, it was called “Find the Good and Praise it” (FTFAPI), and at another, it was known as giving someone a “High-Five.” Both were easy actions, all a person had to do was submit a praise, and that praise was shared with the company. 

Unfortunately, some changes may result in employee turnover. Monitoring this effectively can help shape how the organizational approaches to change and strengthen the culture (or weaken it if it is not dealt with). This goes back to the Desire section where we mentioned the organizational or environmental context factor which can affect the desire ADKAR milestone based on the success (or non-successes) of past changes, other changes that may be also occurring in the organization, and the organization’s culture of change.  

Yes, it is a cyclical journey, and everyone will go through each milestone with each change they encounter. It’s up to us as change practitioners (or project managers with our change management hat on) to help educate our Sponsors, Mid-Line managers, and Team Members on how to effectively manage through each milestone by educating them that this is a process and we have the resources available to help them through it.  

What’s Next?

At Kolme Group, we want to help you get the best out of implementing your business change management efforts and help your team focus on the main business priorities.  We see great value in using the ADKAR methodology to make your business and team thrive for the best!

Don’t hesitate to contact us to learn more about our Services and how we can help you.

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