Change Management Models: Actionable Ways to Lead Organisational Change

To manage change, you must be able to recognize 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 key elements of change management that might make 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).

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Change management models – contents

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.

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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.

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  • 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.

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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.

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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 a specific focus on change from organizational leaders. In his seminal work, Leading Change, outlined the reasons for change failure and outlined a framework, Kotter’s Eights Steps, for effective organizational 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:

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(1) Establish a sense of urgency – organizations 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 the status quo.

(2) Create a coalition – putting together a group that supports the need for change and with enough power and organizational 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 organization 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 obtain their 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 behavior 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 recognizing 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 a better performance through customer and productivity-oriented behavior, more and better leadership, and more effective management; articulating the connections between new behaviors and organizational success; developing means to ensure leadership development and succession. The idea is to have new practices to 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.

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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 a 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.

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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 to 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 “institutionalizing” these new ways of working and acting. In the new world, the staff will 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 organizational change is made up of the changes made by the individuals who make it up. When each person reliably moves through the ADKAR stages the organization 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 are undertaken to tease out what’s in it for them.
  • Knowledge: Training, education is provided enabling people to adopt new ways of working
  • Ability: skill levels are enhanced and embedded with coaching, further education, and training
  • Reinforcement: systems and processes are adjusted in line with the new ways of working to help the change stick. Measurements are implemented and monitored to provide feedback to the staff and management.

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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 their change journey in 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 recognizing 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.”

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McKinsey 7S Framework

Framework scope: Organizational | Source | Further reading

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McKinsey 7s model was developed in the late 1970s by McKinsey consultants Tom Peters, Robert Waterman along with help from Julien Philips, Richard Pascale and Anthony G. Athos.

The model is useful in a wide range of organizational problems, but in particular, is best used for Operating Model change initiatives. Use it to understand the gaps between the current state and the future state. These gaps become the actin plan to bring alignment to the organizational structure the strategic goals.

The fundamental intent of the model is that all the seven areas are interconnected and a change in one area requires a change in the rest of the organization. 

The model is dived into “hard” and “soft” elements.

Hard elements:

  • Strategy: the framework the organizational leadership uses to make decisions on capital and resource allocation for the business. Define goals, critical success factors and roadmaps to achieve organizational goals. 
  • Structure: how the organization is structured and how leadership is cascaded.
  • Systems: the everyday application of know-how in processes, technology, and activities. 

Soft elements:

  • Shared values: all of the elements of the model are driven from and in the values of the organization. 
  • Style: how management leads. For example command and control; democratic; levels and scope of empowerment.
  • Staff: what workforce capabilities are required.
  • Skills: the specific skills of the workforce required to fulfill on the future.

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How to use the tool:

  1. Analyze the current state of the organization
  2. Diagnose the gaps against the desired future state
  3. Design organizational design to close the gaps
  4. Understand the implications and where change is required
  5. Make the changes
  6. Monitor and review through time

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The Burke – Litwin Change Model

Framework scope: Organizational | Source Further reading

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Like the McKinsey 7S model, The Burke-Litwin Model of Organisational Change is an organizational change management diagnosis model. 

By defining and establishing cause-and-effect relationships you can impact and influence the direction and scope of an organization.

This focus reflects on the organization’s ability to adapt to changes in the external environment. 

The model assumes 12 organizational elements and transformational factors; operational factors; and individual and personal factors; that determine a change within an organization.

1. External Environment

Organizations don’t exist in a vacuum and almost all change is driven from external factors. This could be due to the economy broadly, competition, technology disruptions, and regulation. Identifying and articulating the external factors is critical in driving inspiring people to adopt a positive stance towards a proposed change.

2. Mission and Strategy

Depending on the scope and nature of the change the organization’s mission and strategy may need changing. More often the change is aligned to the existing mission and strategy, articulating newly the core principles of the mission, strategy associated with organizational values.

3. Leadership

Leadership is THE critical success factor in organizations. Any change will need an assessment of who will lead the change and if that person or organization has the necessary skills, capacity, and gravitas.

4. Organisational Culture

“Culture eats strategy for breakfast”, a phrase originated by Peter Drucker and made famous by Mark Fields, President at Ford. Culture assessments for the values, both explicit and implicit that drive and reinforce behavior. For change initiatives that emphasize people change (as opposed to, say, technology change), mapping this analysis to the Force Field Analysis is an excellent way to communicate insights gleaned here.

5. Structure

Here you’ll be assessing the organization’s structure. Is it flat, or hierarchial for example? What spans of control do people leaders have? Consider also decision making and accountability structures too. Such processes are often informal and can slow an organizations response to change dramatically.

6. Systems

Systems include technology, but also procedures and policies. 

7. Management Practice

In a study by Wharton University researcher Ethan Mollick he investigated to what degree do individual people in an organization contribute its success.

“After controlling for many factors, such as the genre of the game and the size of the project, I found that individual producers [managers] account for 22.3% of the variation in company revenue. Designers, by contrast, account for just 7.4% of the variation — a relatively marginal impact. For comparison, everything else that’s part of the firm, whether it’s senior managers or strategy or marketing, accounts for just 21.3% of the variation in firm performance.”

While top leadership commitment is necessary, it is not sufficient. The direction may be set at the top, but the behaviour is only changed with training, coaching and mentoring which needs to be reinforced and modeled daily.

8. Working Climate

In the more modern and comms language we would say “employee engagement”. Assessing to what degree is the workforce engaged. Research shows that an engaged workforce makes for a productive organization. 

9. Tasks and skills

I think about this section about the job description and how well the document description matches the reality. By reality, I mean both what an individual actually does day-to-day and what the organization actually needs. Often it’s completely mismatched – which unsurprising given how fast the market moves. So it becomes all the more important to understand to what degree a gap has opened.  

10. Individual values and needs

As individuals, we all have our own unique hierarchy of values, which evolve through time. This combined with the changing social mores of our time makes for fertile ground for the misalignment of the workforce and the goals of the organization. Look misalignment and build into change plans solutions to close the gap.

11. Motivational Level

Motivation is intrinsic, and this step, in my opinion, is closely related to point 10 (of course as the model implies they are closely related and impact each other dynamically). Motivation is often thought about being something leadership provides, but it can only come from within. If a workforce is apathetic, look for a misalignment in the values of the workforce and management. Work to link the values of the individual to that of the organization. Hire only people who you assess share your values and whose values have a stake in being a productive member of the team.

12. Individual and General Performance

This section considers the performance management and measurement of all levs of the organization: individual, department, and organization. There are many ways to measure this and it’s different for the type and culture of any given organization. But it has a profound effect; as the aphorism goes what gets measured gets done but I’d also add, what gets measured get’s gamed.

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How to use the model

I think of the Buek -Litwin tool as a powerful analysis tool that you can then map this analysis to the Force Field Analysis tool. This is an excellent way to communicate insights gleaned from the change model.

The model shows how the most influencing factor causing and driving change is the external environment and that the internal structure must realign to the new reality. In addition, the Burke – Litein model shows the complexity of the modern organization: it shows how each element dynamically impacts each other element.

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Roger’s Technology Adoption Curve 

Framework scope: Individual & Organisational | Source | Further reading

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The Rogers Adoption Curve is a model about how new innovative products, concepts, and ideas are embraced and adopted by groups. 

The Rogers Adoption Curve was conceived in 1957  by Joe M. Bohlen, George M. Beal and Everett M. Rogers at Iowa State University. 

Rogers went on to apply the idea in detail in his book Diffusion of Innovations.

The concept says that people within groups adopt new technologies fall into five categories, in a bell curve like distribution.

  • Innovators
  • Early Adopters
  • Early Majority
  • Late Majority
  • Laggards

The 5 Stages of Adoption

Innovators: these people are the ones who embrace an increased amount of risk, typically well educated, well off people. These are the types of people who try the beat version of apps and on the forefront of lifestyle habits.

Early Adopters:  this group of people are also risk-takers and educated, but more leadership orientated than innovators. In an organizational context think of this group as those who take initiative to lead and organize others.  They are informed, and more connected with their communities.

Early adopters are the movers and shakers. They push the idea out into broader culture. Where the innovators nurtured and matured the idea, these guys push it out of the nest.

Early Majority: These people are less risk-taking, tending to be more conventional with a willingness to accept new ideas. They’re active in their community, knowledgeable about social trends, and have an influence over their organization and department.

They are conscientious people who arrive to work on time. They’re not afraid of change, but they don’t go after it. Change comes to them.

Late Majority: These are the traditional, and less educated and less socially active. Generally and it’s not a surprise, this cohort skews older.

Change isn’t fun for them. Unlike the early majority, who lets the change come to them, the late majority is more likely to hide from and resist change. 

Laggards: generally the oldest and most traditionalist of the stages, this group actively fights change. They’re connected to their peers in an organization, but not in a way that positively encourages change. These are the dissenters. 

These are the types who eventually accept the change but grumble and complain until the very end until they’re forced to accept as they have no other option. 

How to use the Rogers Adoption Curve in change management

  1. First, identify your stakeholders. 
  2. Logically group the stakeholders into who might fit into the categories above. Remember you’re not labeling people and this isn’t a moral exercise. You’re just looking for where to begin your change rollout.
  3. Engage the innovators. These can become your change champions
  4. Engage the early adoptors. These will usually come from the formal middle and front line management, though not all of them.
  5. Begin tracking how much of the early majority being to adopt and accept the change.
  6. Keep on moving. The late majority and especially laggards will always be against you until the bitter end. Don’t let them get you down. Just find your early adopters and innovators.

The Rogers Adoption Curve is just one of many aspects of cultural change that you need to understand. Push the right idea on the wrong group (a group that doesn’t like change) and you’ll fail. The Rogers Adoption Curve helps you find the right group to adopt your ideas.

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Leavitt’s Diamond

Framework scope: Individual | Source | Further reading

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Leavitt’s diamond, also known as Leavitt’s System Model is an integrated model to organizational change management.
Leavitt’s diamond and organizational theory was developed by  Dr. Harold Leavitt professor at Claremont and Stanford Universities in 1965.

He proposed that every organizational system is made up of four main components: 

  • Structure
  • Tasks
  • People
  • Technology

And it is the interaction between these four components that determine the fate of an organization.

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According to this approach, before you bring about change in any one of the four components, you should evaluate the impact on the other three components. To implement change successfully, you need to find the right balance between all of them.


The structural component of Leavitt’s Diamond is about how individuals and teams are grouped in the organization. 

This is not only the hierarchical structure but also the relationships, communication patterns, and coordination between different management levels, departments, and employees. 

This would also include how authority and responsibility flow within the organization. The structure needs to be altered when changes are made to any other component of the diamond.

Key analysis questions:

  • What is the hierarchy in your work unit? Is the unit centralized or decentralized? 
  • Where is the control at each level? 
  • How are the work units divided? 
  • What is the geographical breakdown (if everything isn’t at one location)? 
  • How are duties divided? 
  • What is the workflow? 
  • What is the communication flow?


To deliver the value we must do something. And “something” in this model is “tasks”. The department team and individuals all perform tasks.

In an organizational change context, it’s important to understand what these tasks are in the current state and then compare these to what the tasks will be in the future state. 

By understanding this you can then develop communications and training programs to bridge the gap. In organizational restructures, perhaps where roles are made redundant or shifted to other departments it becomes critical to identify all the tasks and who and how they will be performed in the new environment.

Key analysis questions:

  • What is the staff expected to do? 
  • How do staff get work done? 
  • Why does the work unit exist?


People in this model are the actual people and their skills, attitudes, and behaviors in the workforce. People bring all this as a context to perform their work (or tasks).

It’s important to understand the skills, behaviors, and attitudes people must have to succeed in the new environment. 

Key analysis questions:

  • What are their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors? 
  • What is their response to the proposed change? 
  • What are their skill levels? 
  • What are they trained to do? 
  • What are the rewards that motivate them? 
  • What is their work culture?


Technology is about the tools that people use to perform the tasks. 

Key analysis questions:

  • Key equipment and processes that enable and support your business functions, including computer systems, essential software, devices – anything that enables communication and workflow. 
  • Tools you can use to implement the proposed change, including things such as seminars and training materials.

How to use the tool

Use to building an integrated change strategy. You could use it to determine impacts, as well as the ‘design stage’ of your change management process.

First, understand the current state using the questions above. Understand how work gets done, by who and with what technology. 

Second, compare this to the vision of the future state. 

This will reveal the gaps, from here you can build your communication, training and any interventions required to support people and the organization to transition to the new ways of working.

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The Johari Window

Framework scope: Individual | Source | Further reading

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The Johari window is a method that helps individuals and teams appreciate the relationship dynamics they have with themselves and others. Often used at the individual level it’s also useful, and original also intended for use at the group level, too.

The creators were psychologists Joseph Luft and Harrington Ingham, who in 1955 devised the approach while studying group dynamics at the University of California Los Angeles.

The name Johari Window model ‘Johari’ comes from combining their first names, Joe and Harry. 

The Johari Window model is built on two key insights:

  1. Trust is built when you disclose information about yourself
  2. Soliciting feedback helps you learn about yourself and uncover what was previously “hidden” from your awareness. Or “blind spots”.

With the Johari Window, you can help team members to understand the value of self-disclosure, and encourage them to both give and accept, constructive feedback.

Done with empathy, this can help people build better, more trusting relationships with one another, solve issues, and improve working relationships between teams.

How the Johari window in organizational change

As indicated in the image, the model consists of portraying the varying degrees of the information held in common between two people or groups, as well as the methods to increase the size of the “window.”

  • Feedback on the x-axis (left to right)
  • Exploration on the y-axis (top to bottom)

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The Johari Window has four quadrants

  1. Open Area: this is the ‘space’ of what is known by the person about him/herself and is also known by others/
  2. Blind Spot: this is the area of what is unknown by the person about him/herself but which others can or do perceive.
  3. Hidden Area: this is what the person knows about him/herself that others do not know. 
  4. Undiscovered: what is unknown by the person about him/herself and is also unknown by others – unknown area or unknown self.

We have covered what the Johari window is and the theory behind it, but what is the actual use of the model? How do we apply it?

How to Use the Johari Window

  1. Explain the Johari window concept and process to your team, 
  2. Start small, ask the team to share small, insignificant items to help build disclosure and trust. The more the team opens up (sensibly) and disclose thoughts, feelings, goals, and ambitions, the more trust is built.
  3. Ensure you keep a safe space. Also, make sure that people open up and disclose what they want to. Uncovering deepest darkest secrets may not be advisable in a work setting. 
  4. Have rounds of feedback. This not only opens up the Blind Spot in the model but is a great tool for personal growth.
  5. You can cause incredible offense if you offer personal feedback to someone who’s not used to it. Be sensitive, and start gradually.
  6. Focus on feedback, shared discovery, self-disclosure and self-discovery to help the team develop understanding and grow together.
  7. Constructive feedback is a great method to use, so it is worth spending time to develop your constructive communication skills.

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Thoughts into action

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

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  • Acknowledge feelings and empathize
  • 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 a 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 recognized for their new behaviors
  • Where possible implement quickly, show results and celebrate successes
  • Adapt people and culture processes to support desired behaviors
  • Build feedback mechanisms
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 Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you about my own organizational change model, which you can read about here:
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