The 7 Change Management Models You Need to Know About

Rana Bano
January 24, 2023
min read
January 22, 2024
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Learn how the main change management models can help organizations effectively plan and implement changes in a structured and efficient way.
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Just as change is constant in life, the same holds for organizations. 

Customers and business demands are changing. Technology is becoming more agile. The work environment is constantly evolving. How an organization responds to change can determine the success of projects or transformation initiatives. 

And this is where change management models come in. 

Change management models are designed to prepare you for change resistance, help you navigate turbulent transitions and guide you and your employees through implementing change successfully. 

Let’s look at some of the best change management models and steps to implement them for a smooth transition. 

What is a change management model?

A change management model is a structure that guides companies and HR managers as they undergo transitions and transformations to yield positive outcomes. It serves as a guide or compass to help navigate and institute organizational change management processes. 

Talking about change management, think of it as the actions that address the human side of organizational change by exploring key questions such as:

  • Who will the change affect?
  • How will the effect of the change be felt?
  • What will the change ultimately deliver and when?

Change management focuses on increasing acceptance and adoption of changes while reducing uncertainty, confusion and human angst that may come from new software adoption or process transformation.

Whether it involves training employees on new technology or improving operational performance through process standardization, change management models are essential for making implementation easier and ensuring that the changes are accepted and put into practice. 

What are the components of a change management model?

Each change management model is unique and different. However, you'll find that they share the same key components:

  • A vision or objective: There needs to be a clear and compelling motivation for changing the current business process. Your employees and external stakeholders must know the overall end goal of the change.
  • Measurability: Tracking the success of your change goes hand-in-hand with the vision for change. There should be visibility into how things progress and the key milestones signifying the achievement.
  • Ownership and accountability: Every aspect of the change management model must spell out who should do what, giving a chain of command on key decisions. With clear expectations on responsibility, reporting and follow-throughs, there’s less room for confusion and false assumptions. 
  • Communication plan: Change takes time. It's why everyone impacted by the change or involved in any change management activity must be kept in the loop regarding the progress, challenges, next steps, or delays. Positive change messaging demonstrates a win-win for the company and employees.
  • Roadmap: A roadmap outlines the details of the change management process so no tasks are left undone. The plan should include the timeline, deliverables, milestones, key steps, who will be involved and what will be required of them. 

💡 Scribe tip: The right tools and software make it easier for businesses to plan, map, manage, track and report all types of organizational change. Check out our list of the best free change management software and change management extensions ‎that can help with an easy transition for your entire organization.

What are the best change management models?

Over the years, numerous change management models have emerged, but the challenge is finding the best suited for your situation. Let’s look at 7 of the best ones and how you can apply them.

1. McKinsey’s 7-S model

The McKinsey model is a framework based on a company’s organizational design. It shows how the HR team can effectively manage organizational change by building a strategy around the interactions of 7 key elements. 

According to McKinsey’s model, every organization should incorporate these seven essential elements:

Hard elements (easiest to identify & control)

  • Strategy: The organization’s detailed plan for the change process, entailing what objectives should be achieved. 
  • Structure: A clear chain of command to avoid confusion and chaos. This consists of a division of business units and reporting structure.
  • Systems: Business processes or procedures for running operations. These involve the workflows and practices that directly impact productivity and decision-making.

Soft elements (more subjective & difficult to change

  • Skills: The employees’ competencies and capabilities.
  • Shared values: The accepted behavior, norms and core values as defined by the organization’s corporate culture and work ethic.
  • Staff: The size of the company’s existing workforce.
  • Style: Leadership style and management approach prevalent in the company. 

When to use this model

The 7-S model is more effective in helping organizations understand the status quo and what needs to be changed. It’s perfect for organizations that aren’t really sure of what’s wrong but know that something needs to be changed. 

As a company leader, you must identify which of the seven elements you need to realign to improve organizational performance or to maintain alignment during other changes, such as process transformation or software adoption.

2. Kotter’s theory

Kotter’s theory is developed by a Harvard Business School Professor, John P. Kotter. He proposes that for change to be successful, organizations should go “buy into” the change following this 8-step change process: 

  • Establish a sense of urgency to motivate people.
  • Build a powerful team with leaders and change agents with diverse skills from different departments.
  • Develop a vision and strategy for what you want to accomplish.
  • Communicate the vision with everyone involved in the change management process and get them on board.
  • Remove obstacles and empower action.
  • Plan and create short-term wins to break your change management activity into achievable steps.
  • Build on the change.
  • Anchor the changes in corporate culture.

John Kotter’s change management model is one of the most commonly used. It focuses on the employee experience rather than the change itself by expertly transforming resistant employees into willing participants using the employee’s experience.

When to use this model

This model is ideal for companies undergoing HR digital transformation or adopting new software or technologies. The steps serve as a guide to build enthusiasm and drive understanding for the change.

Though Kotter outlined the steps linearly, it’s better to think of steps as a continuous cycle to ensure you maintain the momentum of change.

3. Lewin’s change management model

Lewin’s model is a 3-step approach to change that mirrors the process of melting and reshaping an ice cube. 

As such, Kurt Lewin breaks down the change process in an organization into three steps that aid the employees’ ability to adapt to change:

  • Unfreeze.
  • Change.
  • Refreeze.

First, you must “unfreeze” your current process and perceptions. This is the change preparation phase that involves creating awareness and explaining the need for the change. This helps the team approach the challenge ahead without bias.

Next, you implement the changes. This is the transitioning stage. It requires constant communication and engagement with the employees across all relevant channels. You need to allow time and training for the employees to get used to the change.

Finally, you “refreeze”. Just like ice molds, the organizational workforce has to move away from an old mold to fit into a new one. This is the last stage that locks the new process in place. It creates a sense of stability to prevent employees from reverting to the old process.

When to use this model

This model is suitable for cases where a business needs to change dramatically to be successful. It also works best for large organizations that want to avoid internal rumors and confusion about major changes. 

4. Kübler-Ross change curve

The Kübler-Ross change curve focuses on the social-emotional component of change management. It expands on the 5 stages of grief to describe employees’ emotions when adjusting to change.

The 5 stages are as follows:

  1. Denial — shock, fear, avoidance
  2. Anger — frustration, irritation
  3. Bargaining — negotiating to find a favorable solution
  4. Depression — overwhelmed, helpless, demoralized
  5. Acceptance — acknowledging that the change is happening

The curve can be used to predict how performance will likely be affected by the announcement and implementation of an organizational change. This model is great for managing employee reactions and empathizing with them throughout their journey to acceptance. 

When to use this model

This model forms a good foundation for a communication strategy that helps the HR team anticipate and prepare for employees’ reactions to change. With it, you can gain a better understanding of your employees' behaviors—and not just their actions—enabling you to accurately assess your company's situation when undergoing change.

5. ADKAR change management model

The ADKAR model is characterized by the outcome people at all levels of the organization need to achieve for an organizational change to be effective.

ADKAR is an acronym that stands for:

  • Awareness Understanding the need for a change
  • Desire Being part of the change, supporting and embracing it
  • Knowledge — Training employees on what the change entails and how to drive it
  • Ability — Skills required for implementing the change, initiating and getting things done. 
  • Reinforcement Maintaining and sustaining the change. 

The ADKAR model helps you think and plan for everything that needs to happen to achieve a successful change. 

When to use this model

Considering its outcome-oriented nature, this model is best suited for educating employees about a change before jumping into the training. It’s a very effective way to implement new software platforms to help your team successfully innovate and become more efficient.

6. Nudge theory of change management

Unlike the other models discussed above, nudge theory is less of a step-by-step process of implementing change. Rather, it’s about finding a compelling way to gently nudge your employees towards wanting the change on their own.

Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein’s idea behind the nudge theory suggests that users make a change without the need for strict enforcement or penalization for non-compliance. 

Some basic principles of nudge theory include:

  • Presenting the change as a choice.
  • Removing as many obstacles as possible to make employees comply.
  • Providing evidence to show the best options.
  • Celebrating small wins.
  • Highlighting the benefits of the change.

An example of nudge theory in action is companies using it to encourage people to contribute to their retirement plans. And where marketers move people through the sales funnel using several touchpoints to drive them to take action.

When to use this model

This model is most suitable for getting the full support of your employees instead of issuing change requests from senior executives and expecting them to fall in line. Think of it as gently guiding those involved towards an outcome that will improve their behavior, environment, or livelihood — all without forcing anyone.

7. Satir change model

The Satir change model is related to the Kubler-Ross change curve. It models how employees perform during the change by tracking these five phases:

  • Late status quo just starting out and experiencing small fluctuations in performance from time to time 
  • Resistance natural response when change is first introduced
  • Chaos when there’s still confusion and resistance during change implementation
  • Integration productivity starts to improve as employees begin to accept the change
  • New status quo productivity becomes stable as employees settle into the new normal

The Satir change model focuses on preparing employees for change. It aims to predict and respond to how the change implementation will impact your employees’ performance. 

When to use this model

This model is best used when teams are in a deadline-driven environment. Team leaders can set more flexible timelines and monitor employee productivity if they can predict when productivity is likely to decline. 

How to implement a change management model for a smooth transition

While the above change models are easy to adopt, there are some key steps every organization must take to ensure their preferred change management model is implemented smoothly:

Step 1. Communicate the need for change

You’ll want to communicate with your employees right from the start. Make them understand the problem and the pain, so they’ll realize why the change is necessary. 

Step 2: Seek employee feedback to generate solutions

People naturally like to be asked for their opinion. And when you implement the idea they’ve given, it becomes easy to buy them over. Once your employees feel the need for change, let them get involved in finding a solution. You can do this by sending out surveys or holding group discussions.

Step 3: Craft a plan for the change

Once you’ve gathered insights from your employees and feel they’re ready to embrace change, develop a realistic and thorough plan for bringing about the change. The plan should include your strategic goals, KPIs, project scope and stakeholders.

Step 4: Implement the changes & communicate the results

After the plan has been created, you can then go ahead and implement the change. The change initiative could be in the company structure, processes, or employee behaviors. Note that it’s critical to keep the implementation process as transparent as possible and communicate the results of the change initiative to your employees. This reminds them of why the change is being pursued.

Step 5: Document the process

Process documentation ensures that you have a repeatable process all employees can follow. It keeps things consistent and helps employees know exactly what to do when a new process rolls out.

But documenting processes can be time-consuming, overly complicated and impossible to monitor. That's why we recommend you use Scribe.

‎Use Scribe to create visual, step-by-step guides for your employees. Turn on the Scribe recorder and go about your change plan as you would. When done, turn off the recording. Scribe will automatically create a how-to guide, complete with screenshots, instructions and clicks, which you can later share with team members.

Here's how it works.

That's not all — Scribe also has a handy feature called Pages that lets you combine multiple scribes into one. Think of it as a comprehensive digital document demonstrating how to implement a change management model.

Here's a Page in action.

‎Check out Scribe to automate your process documentation — absolutely free.


Step 6: Train your employees

Once your process is documented, it’s time to begin employee training. Make the training a hands-on learning style so employees can better apply the new process and retain information.

Step 7: Monitor the procedure

After introducing a new process, it’s essential to monitor it to ensure your employees are implementing the change correctly. You can see what’s happening and make corrections if necessary. Frequent monitoring also creates accountability and makes your employees more likely to adopt the changes.

Step 8: Review progress and measure your results 

Measuring the results of your change initiative helps you understand if it was successful or not. Ask yourself questions like: 

  • Did we meet our set goals? 
  • If yes, can we replicate it elsewhere? 
  • If not, what went wrong and what can we do to improve the process? 

Analyzing your results offers valuable insights and lessons you can leverage for future change efforts.

Choose the right change management model for your team

Change management process is admittedly challenging for any business. But with careful planning and management, it can yield fruitful outcomes. 

The bottom line is to select the appropriate change management model that helps you strategize effectively, win employee and stakeholder buy-in, and realize change objectives faster. Do this right, and watch your company and its people thrive.

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