Change is an inescapable force that drives corporate innovation, improves processes, and sustains growth. Yet, managing change effectively is a complex task that often poses significant organisational challenges. This is where change management models step in, providing structured frameworks to steer businesses through the complexities of transformation.

What is a change management model?

A change management model is a framework used by organisations to guide and structure the process of implementing change within the business. It offers a systematic approach for managing the transition of an organisation’s goals, processes, or technologies. The objective is to help employees and the organisation adapt to change and to encourage a smooth transition with minimal disruption to operations.

Change management models typically encompass steps or stages that guide the process from start to finish. These stages often include preparation for change, communication, training, support, and strategies for sustaining change.

Why are change models useful?

Change management models serve as roadmaps for businesses to effectively implement and integrate new initiatives, ensuring that changes are carried out smoothly, while minimising risks and confusion. These models provide guidance on engaging employees, addressing potential obstacles, and ensuring that the implemented changes are not only adopted but also sustained to deliver long-term benefits.

How to Select the Appropriate Change Management Model

Choosing the right change management model for your organisation is a decision that will have a major impact on what follows. When selecting a model, consider the following key factors:

  • Understand the type and scale of the change: Are you seeking a minor adjustment or a major transformation? Different models cater to different types of changes.
  • Organisational Culture: The chosen model must align with your organisation’s culture and values. A model that fits well with the existing culture is more likely to be accepted and successfully implemented.
  • Consider the needs and attitudes of all stakeholders. The model should facilitate effective communication and engagement with all groups affected by the change.
  • Assess the complexity and scope of the change: Some models are better suited for complex, large-scale changes, while others are more effective for simpler, smaller-scale initiatives.
  • Work out the resources (time, budget, human resources) you have at your disposal. Some models may require more resources than others.

7 Change Management Models

Here, we explore seven influential change management models that provide frameworks for effectively managing and implementing change within businesses.

Model 1: Lewin’s Change Management Model

Kurt Lewin’s Change Management Model is one of the most widely recognised and foundational models in the field. It is known for its simplicity and effectiveness, breaking down the change process into three key stages: Unfreeze, Change, and Refreeze.

  • Unfreeze: This stage involves preparing the organisation for change, breaking down the existing status quo, and building up the motivation for change. It’s about challenging and loosening the current mindsets and behaviours.
  • Change: During this phase, the actual transition takes place. It is where the organisation starts to move towards the new way of working. It’s a period of uncertainty and learning, requiring effective communication and support systems.
  • Refreeze: The final stage is about stabilising the organisation after the change and creating a new status quo. It ensures that the changes made are integrated into the organisation and become the new norm, with new policies, practices, and structures.

This model is particularly effective for understanding the human aspect of change and can be applied to various types of organisational changes, from small-scale adjustments to major transformations.

Model 2: McKinsey 7-S Model

The McKinsey 7-S Model, developed by McKinsey consultants in the 1980s, provides a holistic approach to organisational change. It emphasises the interconnectedness of seven key elements within an organisation: Strategy, Structure, Systems, Shared Values, Skills, Style, and Staff.

  • Strategy: This refers to the plan developed by the organisation to achieve its goals.
  • Structure: It’s about how the organisation is arranged, including hierarchies and departmental setups.
  • Systems: These are the daily activities and procedures that staff members engage in to get the job done.
  • Shared Values: At the core of the model, these are the guiding beliefs and principles of the organisation.
  • Skills: The capabilities and competencies of the organisation’s employees.
  • Style: The leadership approach and the way management interacts with the rest of the staff.
  • Staff: The employees and their general capabilities.

The McKinsey 7-S Model is particularly useful for understanding how various elements of an organisation work together and how a change in one area can impact others. It is ideal for complex, organisational-wide changes that require a comprehensive approach.

Model 3: Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

John Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model is a framework that focuses on specific aspects of change that lead to successful transformations. It emphasises the importance of a step-by-step approach, reducing resistance and increasing acceptance.

  • Create Urgency: Build a sense of urgency around the need for change to spark initial motivation.
  • Form a Powerful Coalition: Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change.
  • Create a Vision for Change: Develop a clear vision to direct the change effort.
  • Communicate the Vision: Ensure that the vision is effectively communicated to all stakeholders.
  • Remove Obstacles: Identify and remove barriers to change.
  • Create Short-Term Wins: Plan for and create short-term achievements that help to build momentum.
  • Build on the Change: Consolidate gains and produce more change, avoiding complacency.
  • Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture: Reinforce the changes by embedding them in the organisational culture.

Kotter’s model is particularly useful in large-scale change efforts, offering a structured approach that helps ensure a thorough and thoughtful process, thus increasing the chances of success.

Model 4: ADKAR Model

The ADKAR Model, developed by Prosci, is a goal-oriented change management model that guides individual and organisational change. It focuses on the people aspect of change and is an acronym that stands for:

  • Awareness: Creating awareness of the need for change.
  • Desire: Fostering a desire to participate and support the change.
  • Knowledge: Providing the knowledge on how to change.
  • Ability: Developing the ability to implement new skills and behaviours.
  • Reinforcement: Reinforcing to sustain the change.

This model is particularly effective for managing change on an individual level within an organisation. It helps managers and change leaders to focus on the specific elements required to drive personal transitions, ensuring that each step is thoroughly addressed.

Model 5: The Bridges Transition Model

The Bridges Transition Model, created by William Bridges, focuses on the emotional and psychological transition individuals experience during change. This model emphasises that it’s not the change itself that people resist, but rather the psychological transition that accompanies it. The model identifies three stages:

  • Ending, Losing, and Letting Go: This phase involves dealing with the loss of the old ways and acknowledging the end of a particular period or process.
  • The Neutral Zone: A transitional, often challenging phase where the old is gone, but the new isn’t fully operational. It’s a time for exploration and innovation.
  • The New Beginning: This stage involves accepting and embracing the new process, system, or way of working. It’s marked by renewed energy and a sense of purpose.

The Bridges Transition Model is particularly useful in addressing the human side of change, providing a framework for supporting people in navigating the emotional journey of a transition.

Model 6: The Burke-Litwin Model

The Burke-Litwin Model is a complex model that links organisational and environmental factors with individual performance and satisfaction. This model identifies 12 factors that are interconnected and can affect change within an organisation:

  1. External Environment
  2. Mission and Strategy
  3. Leadership
  4. Organisational Culture
  5. Structure
  6. Management Practices
  7. Systems
  8. Work Unit Climate
  9. Task and Individual Skills
  10. Individual Needs and Values
  11. Motivation
  12. Performance

This model is especially effective in diagnosing and understanding the impact of changes on an organisation. By examining how these factors interact, leaders can better predict the outcomes of change initiatives and tailor their strategies to ensure the successful adoption of new practices or structures.

Model 7: The Kübler-Ross Change Curve

The Kübler-Ross Change Curve, originally developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in the context of grief and bereavement, has been adapted to understand how individuals emotionally process change in a business context. The model outlines five stages through which people typically pass in reaction to change:

  • Denial: Initial resistance to change due to discomfort or fear of the unknown.
  • Anger: Frustration and opposition as the reality of change sets in.
  • Bargaining: Looking for ways to avoid or minimise the impact of change.
  • Depression: Realisation of the inevitability of change, often leading to a low point in morale.
  • Acceptance: Embracing and working with the change, moving forward positively.

This model is particularly helpful for managers and change leaders in understanding and supporting their teams through the emotional aspects of a change process, fostering a more empathetic and effective approach to change management.

Integrating Change Management Theories into Leadership

While the models we’ve covered can have profound impacts, actually integrating them into leadership practices is essential for successful organisational transformation. Leaders play a pivotal role in shaping the response to change, setting the tone, and guiding their teams through the transition. To effectively integrate these theories, leaders should:

  • Embrace a Change-Oriented Mindset: Understand and internalise the principles of change management to lead by example.
  • Communicate Effectively: Keep lines of communication open, providing clear, consistent, and transparent information about changes and their impact.
  • Empower and Support Employees: Provide the necessary tools, training, and support to help employees adapt to change.
  • Demonstrate Empathy and Understanding: Recognise and address the emotional responses of team members to change.
  • Foster a Culture of Adaptability: Encourage a flexible and open-minded work environment where change is seen as an opportunity for growth.

By incorporating these principles into their leadership approach, leaders can effectively guide their organisations through the complexities of change, ensuring a smoother transition and better outcomes.

Conclusion: The Future of Change Management Models

As businesses continue to evolve in an increasingly complex technological environment, the role of change management models will only grow in importance. Leaders and organisations must stay abreast of these developments to ensure that their change management strategies remain effective and relevant.

In the coming years, we can expect to see a greater emphasis on digital transformation, data analytics, and AI in change management. These technologies will enable more nuanced and data-driven approaches to change, allowing for real-time insights and more personalised change strategies. Additionally, the human element of change management will continue to be a focal point, with an increased focus on emotional intelligence, employee engagement, and cultural alignment in change initiatives.

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