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Why Do You Need an Individual Change Model

When we think of change management, we typically envision the actions that we take – communicating, building sponsorship, managing resistance, etc. However, one of the keys to successfully managing change is the use of an individual change model. Understanding how an individual experiences change is critical for change management activities and interventions to be successful.


An individual model for change is necessary for organizational change management to be effective. It defines the outcomes or results that organizational activities are trying to achieve.

It is critical because:
  • Successful organizational change only results when individuals are successful at change – How valuable is a new process that no one adopts? How valuable is a new web-based tool that no one uses? How valuable is an ERP if no one is using it correctly? The answer to these questions is the essence of the fact that organizational change is only successful when each impacted individual makes their own successful transition. In fact, a poorly managed change can actually have severe adverse impacts. I remember hearing a story about a man working in a warehouse who was being told by the system that he could not ship product, despite the fact that it was sitting in front of him on the shelf. A customer was being deprived of a product because someone upstream had not used the new ERP system correctly. Any organizational initiative that impacts how people do their jobs is only as successful as each employee at making the personal change.
  • While we are all different, as human beings we respond to change fairly predictably – At first glance, your reaction might be “oh no, everybody is unique” – and you are correct. However, the way we as human beings respond to change is actually very similar. For instance, it is basic human nature to be curious about why a change is happening and what has resulted in the need for change.
  • An individual change model like ADKAR provides the key building blocks for successful individual change (and hence successful organizational change) – Following the two principles above, we can directly connect an individual change model to achieving organizational goals and objectives. What has sometimes been considered the “soft issues” is actually at the center of meeting the goals our projects and strategic initiatives. An effective individual change model, like Prosci’s ADKAR model, describes what successful change looks like from the individual’s perspective.


There are a number of risks to attempting change management without a solid foundation in how individuals go through change. This is perhaps one of the biggest risks of ‘recipe-driven’ change management approaches. We cannot think of change management as merely checking the box and moving forward. Because of principle 1 above, we must focus on how well each individual is moving through their own personal transition for change management to be successful.

Two major risks of trying change management without an individual change model::
  • We do the activities, but do not have the appropriate focus on the individuals undergoing change – The individual change model defines the outcome we are trying to achieve when we implement change. In the absences of this individual perspective, project teams run a significant risk of completing activities but not achieving results. In the face of significant resistance, a team might say “but we sent 43 communications” or “everyone went through the training program”. This is evidence of doing change management activities without a focus on what the activities were trying to achieve.
  • We have no way of knowing if we have succeeded – Since the individual change model describes the desired outcomes, it also establishes a framework to know if we have been successful. Without the individual change model, it is impossible to tell whether or not change management activities are achieving their desired results.


The ADKAR model has proven to be so effective that it is taught in Prosci’s 3-day certification, 1-day managers program and 4-6 hour executive sessions. Our clients have been very successful when they get each of these very different groups thinking about change in terms of ADKAR.

Speaking practically, there are several main applications of the individual change model:
  • Provides focus to organizational change management activities – Individual change models provide focus for the numerous change management activities we complete. For example, it is commonly accepted that communication is critically important to succeed at change. But what should we communicate about? In the absence of an individual change management model, project teams resort to telling others what they have been doing, describing the solution in detail. ADKAR reorients the focus of efforts from “communicating” to “building awareness”, or from “training” to “building knowledge”. This seemingly subtle shift in perspective is what differentiates mediocre change management from exceptional change management. It is what enables project and change teams to truly achieve results.
  • Gives direction measuring effectiveness and for corrective actions – How do we know if our change management activities are working? For change management teams, an individual change model like ADKAR allows them to collect data from different groups across the organization to 1) understand how effective their organizational change management activities have been and to 2) take corrective action. For example, if the team determines that awareness of the need for change is low, then adjustments can be made to the communication plans and sponsor plans to correct this situation. If, on the other hand, knowledge and ability are low, then adjustments to training and coaching plans can be made. Without a focus on the outcomes described in an individual change model, it is not always clear what actions should be taken to correct a situation. The individual change model provides a way to assess where the individuals in the organization are related to the change and how to help them move forward.
  • Gives managers and supervisors a real tool to use when coaching employees – An individual change model provides managers and supervisors with a tool for managing change at an individual level, the essence of coaching an employee through change. If we want our managers to have effective conversations with employees about a change, then we must equip them with the tools they need. Teaching them about ADKAR and how to use it with their employees prepares them to fulfill their role in making change successful.
  • Is an effective tool for both project and ‘non-project’ changes – Not all change in organizations take place in the context of a project. Each and every day, employees, supervisors, managers and senior leaders face change. An individual model of change gives them a tool that can be used to manage these ‘non-project’ changes.


This blog post was originally published by Tim Creasey in Prosci blog.


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