Change Management Models: actionable ways to lead organisational change

To manage change, you must be able to recognise when change is required. To make effective actions and guide people though change you must understand and manage the “human variables”. This will gain support and commitment from those affected by the change. Having a good understanding of the change management models will help guide you through the process.

A change management model is really a “mental model” of human behaviour and people adjust to change and transition.

There are many models for change that have been published, with many overlapping concepts. This post examines a few of these. Use this guide to trigger ideas for what might be missing, the presence of which would make a difference, to your current or next change initiative.

What is a mental model: A definition
A mental model is a way of looking at the world. It’s an explanation for how a person looks at, views and interprets the world.

Mental models are the set of tools that you use to think. Each mental model offers a different framework that you can use to look at life (or at an individual problem).

Change management models – contents

Exclusive blog bonus: Find out about my own change management model with my 30+ page FREE ebook, The Fundamentals Of Change Management

Switch Framework

Framework scope: Individual | Source | Further reading

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The Switch framework is from the book Switch from Dan and Chip Heath. An excellent book that combines the discipline of psychology with behavioural economics to come up with a model of personal change.

The books’ chapters describe the framework well:

Direct the rider

  • Find the bright spots
  • Script the critical moves
  • Point to the destination

Motivate the elephant

  • Find the feelings
  • Shrink the change
  • Grow your people

Shape the path

  • Tweak the environment
  • Build habits
  • Rally the herd
  • Keep the switch going

The Heath brothers posit that our brains are governed by two systems: the rational and the emotional. And we need to speak to both in order move others through change.

William Bridges’s Transition Model

Framework scope: Individual | Source | Further reading

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The Transition Model is one of the oldest change management models, created by William Bridges, published in his book Managing Transitions 

Bridge proposed there are three stages of change. That the change process is a journey. As people progress through this journey they move from endings, through transitions to new beginnings. Bridge proposed that change happens all the time and it’s the internal process of transition that we can impact, rather than the circumstances.


  • When a change occurs, some things come to an end or things are done differently. These endings can be painful and confusing. People must come to terms with these feelings before they can move on.
  • If people are not able to let go of the past, they will take unnecessary points of resistance into the new situation.


These are the periods when people separate themselves from the old on their way towards the new. It’s a time of keen awareness of what is ending and what is beginning.

  • People are vulnerable and need support networks to help them move forward. This is the time for sorting out and getting the right emotional and attitudinal responses for success in the new situation.


  • People are now feeling good about the change and positive about the future.
  • True acceptance of the change can take place because uncertainty should have ended, people are now comfortable with new surroundings

The Productivity Dip

It is important to help people move through the three phases as soon as possible as productivity typically decreases through the Transition period.

This can also create a period of frustration and stress amongst team members as they learn new behaviours and adopt new processes etc.


Framework scope: Organisational | Source | Further reading

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ACT!FSL™ was developed by the Destra Consulting Group, LLC.  ACTS!FSL stands for “Accelerating Change and Transitions – Facilitation Skills for Leaders”

The ACT!FSL™ model highlights the ways in which an organisation can move from an “as-is” to a “to-be state” by executing a series of change enablers:

  • Leading the Way – leaders (either formal or informal) within the business are driving the change, and the change has the visible support of all required levels of the management structure
  • Focusing the Vision – ensuring all stakeholders have a clear picture of what the “to be” state looks like, and why we need to get there
  • Creating a Shared Urgency – ensuring all stakeholders share the understanding that the change needs to happen “now”. The focus is on a shared urgency rather than a single leader driving the change, and the urgent need for change must exceed its resistance.
  • Building Coalitions and Commitment – obtaining buy-in and commitment from the key stakeholder groups to remove barriers to implementation, and gain momentum
  • Sustaining Momentum – ensuring ongoing activity within a change initiative rather than allowing it to “sit on the back burner” – early wins, publicising victories, celebrating early adopters, monitoring resource requirements and vigorously communicating the known and unknown.
  • Aligning Systems and Structures – the overriding business model has been adjusted where required to support the new way of operating. Seven systems need alignment: staffing, training, measuring, rewarding, organisational design, communication and information technology.
  • Charting a Transition Road Map – a clear step-by-step approach to move from the “as-is” to the “to-be” process, giving visibility to all stakeholders and clear milestones along the way.

John Kotter’s Change Management Framework

Framework scope: Organisational | Source | Further reading

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For many John Kotter, a Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at the Harvard Business School,  is the father of change management models and the need for specific focus on change from organisational leaders. In his seminal work, Leading Change, outlined the reasons for change failure and outlined a framework, Kotter’s Eights Steps, for effective organisational change.

  • allowing too much complexity
  • failing to build a substantial coalition
  • not understanding the need for a clear vision
  • failing to clearly communicate the vision
  • permitting roadblocks against the vision
  • not planning and getting short-term wins
  • declaring victory too soon
  • not anchoring changes in corporate culture

To prevent making these mistakes, Kotter created the eight change phases model:

(1) Establish a sense of urgency – organisations and their employees are often complacent and do not take the need for change seriously. To overcome this inertia, examine the market and competitive realities, identify and discuss crises, potential crises or major opportunities – highlight the consequences of maintaining status quo.

(2) Create a coalition – putting together a group that supports the need for change and with enough power and organisational clout to lead the change and make things happen, getting the group together to work as part of a team

(3) Develop a clear vision – creating a vision to help direct the change effort by presenting a picture of what the organisation will look like after the change, developing strategies to achieve that vision. The goal of this step is to obtain stakeholder buy-in, so it is often useful to obtaintheir participation in articulating the vision.

(4) Share the vision – using every vehicle possible to constantly communicate the new vision and strategies, having the guiding coalition (Change Leaders) role model the behaviour expected of employees

(5) Empower people to clear obstacles – management should remove barriers that impede the change – provide resources and authority to make the change happen, change systems or structures that undermine the change vision, encourage risk taking and non-traditional ideas, activities or actions

(6) Create and secure short-term wins – breaking up the desired change into smaller steps to create a feeling of progress, planning for visible improvements in performance (or “wins”), visibly recognising people, leaders and/or managers who made wins possible

(7) Consolidate and keep moving – using increased credibility form the early “wins” to change all systems, structures and policies that do not fit together and don’t fit the transformation vision; hiring, promoting, and developing people who can implement the change vision, reinvigorating the process with new projects, themes and change agents

(8) Anchor the change – creating better performance through customer and productivity-oriented behaviour, more and better leadership, and more effective management; articulating the connections between new behaviours and organisational success; developing means to ensure leadership development and succession. The idea is to have new practices replace the old culture. This final step takes time and comes last in the change process.

According to Kotter, it is crucial to follow the eight phases of change in the exact sequence.

Lewin’s Change Management Model

Framework scope: Organisational | Source | Further reading

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Lewin’s Change Management Model, “Unfreeze – Change – Refreeze”, is perhaps the first of change management models developed. According to Wikipedia, “Kurt Lewin was a German-American psychologist, known as one of the modern pioneers of social, organizational, and applied psychology in the United States”

Lewin explained his change model using blocks of ice as a metaphor. Say you have cube of ice, but you’d like a cone of ice, in order to transform the shape you must “unfreeze”, or melt the ice, and then “refreeze” it in the new desired shape.

It’s a simplified three stage process, allows people to diagnose which stage they’re at. As Lewin put it, “Motivation for change must be generated before change can occur. One must be helped to re-examine many cherished assumptions about oneself and one’s relations to others.”

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In this stage, Lewin admonishes us to examine the assumptions or the “way things are done around here” I order to gain leverage on the status quo.

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The change stage involves a solution focus on new ways of working and beginning to work towards new approaches top problems. This stage requires the active participation of stakeholders and particularly those affected by the change.

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The refreeze stage calls for “institutionalising” these new ways of working and acting. In the new world, staff begin to feel confident and comfortable. Until the next cycle.

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ADKAR (Prosci)

Framework scope: Organisational | Source | Further reading

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ADKAR is an acronym that represents the five milestones an individual must achieve for change to be successful; awareness, desire, knowledge, ability and reinforcement. Developed by Jeff Hyatt of Prosci. Hyatt says organisational change is made up of the the changes made by the individuals who make it up. When each person reliably moves through the ADKAR stages the organisation can be said to have changed.

ADKAR is an acronym, that stands for:

  • Awareness: A general understands of the change. What is intended, when  and why.
  • Desire: The message is framed and activities undertaken to tease out what’s in it for them.
  • Knowledge: Training, education is provided enabling people to adopt the new ways of working
  • Ability: skill levels are enhanced and embedded with coaching, further education and training
  • Reinforcement: systems and processes are adjusted inline with the new ways of working to help the change stick. Measurements are implemented and monitored to provide feedback to the staff and management.

Kubler Ross Change Curve Model

Framework scope: Individual | Source | Further reading

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The ‘Kubler-Ross Change Curve’ model of individual change was developed in the late 1960’s. The following modules can be used to engage individuals through each of its phases, as well as develop broader organizational change capability.

  • Shock: Surprise and shock at the announcement. ‘This can’t be happening”, “Why would they do that?”
  • Denial: Disbelief, people will look for disconfirming evidence. “This can’t be true”, “It’ll blow over, it’s just another management fad.”
  • Anger: Frustration when recognising that things are or will be different “How can this happen to me?”, “Who’s to blame?”
  • Bargaining: Avoiding the cause, or making offers to improve next time. “I promise to do it differently now.”
  • Depression: resignation and lethargy. Low productivity on the job. “Why bother”, “Why go on.”
  • Acceptance: Integrating the changes, the individual lives and embraces a new world. “ It’s going to be okay”, “I may as well prepare for it.”


Thoughts into action

Putting all this together, here’s some steps you can take to dramatically improve your change efforts now:

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  • Acknowledge feelings and empathise
  • Give people as much information about the change as possible
  • Say what will NOT change
  • Treat the past with respect
  • Give compelling reasons for change (both upside of the change and the downside of not changing)
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  • Provide focus and direction
  • Strengthen people’s connections to each other
  • Open up two-way communications
  • Provide people with the specific role in the change process
  • Make heroes of early adopters
  • Provide visible symbols to reinforce change
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  • Ensure that individuals are recognised for their new behaviours
  • Where possible implement quickly, show results and celebrate successes
  • Adapt people and culture processes to support desired behaviours
  • Build feedback mechanisms
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 Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you about my own organisational change model, which you can read about here:

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