Change Management’s relatively long development provides us with useful models and structures on how to implement change within organizations. Before we can learn how to implement Change Management we should learn about the background and theory of Change Management as well as reflect on the relevant models that Change Managers use today. This chapter will explore just that in an easy-to-understand way.


Change Management: An overview

Change management is a term used for all approaches to preparing and supporting organizations in making an organizational change. Organizational change focuses on the stages that companies go through as they evolve, and it is unavoidable if companies want to survive and be successful. The principles of organizational change can be applied to both short- and long-term changes and changes big and small.

Change Management includes methods that optimize the use of resources, improve business processes, reallocate budget, as well as other things that significantly change how an organization operates.

What makes Change Management successful?

There are many models that one can follow when implementing Change Management, however, there are also some core elements that are needed in order for the Organizational change to be a success. These core elements focus on the attitudes and leadership that is essential for any Change Management implementation to be a success:

  • There must be a real need for change within the organization
  • Before any changes can take place, an assessment of the status quo should be done
  • The must be a clear vision and plan for the change
  • Good communication within an organization is critical for success
  • Methods for change must be adopted by the organization in order to have successful change
  • Crucial is also a true commitment from management throughout the organization
  • Measurable, concrete goals should be set in order to evaluate success.

Key Change Management Models

Change management has been built around different models that help practitioners implement change in a practical way within organizations. There are some core models that are considered the cornerstones of Change Management Theory, this section looks at some of those models.

Lewin’s Change Management model

Kurt Lewin’s Three Stages model, created in the 1950s remains relevant today. The model is a simple framework for understanding the process of organizational change and is called the Three-Stage Theory.

The theory behind this model is that change for an organization is a complicated journey which involves several stages of transition. These three stages are a way to visualise change and to make change management easy to implement:

Stage 1 - Unfreezing: This first stage involves improving the readiness as well as the willingness of people to change by fostering a realization for moving from the existing comfort zone to a transformed situation.

Stage 2 - Change: This stage can also be regarded as the stage of Transition or the stage of actual implementation of change. It involves the acceptance of the new ways of doing things. This is the stage in which the people are unfrozen, and the actual change is implemented.

Stage 3 - Freeze: During this stage, the people move from the stage of transition (change) to a much more stable state which we can regard as the state of equilibrium. The stage of Refreezing is the ultimate stage in which people accept or internalize the new ways of working or change, accept it as a part of their life and establish new relationships.

The McKinsey 7-S model

The model is based on the theory that, for an organization to perform well, these seven elements need to be aligned: structure, strategy, systems, skills, style, staff and shared values.

Whatever the type of change, the model can be used to understand how the organizational elements are interrelated, and so ensure that the wider impact of changes made in one area is taken into consideration.

Kotter’s theory

John Kotter introduced 8 Step Model of Change which he developed on the basis of research of 100 organizations which were going through some type of change. The 8 steps are:

  1. Creating an Urgency
  2. Forming Powerful Guiding Coalitions
  3. Developing a Vision and a Strategy.
  4. Communicating the Vision
  5. Removing Obstacles
  6. Creating Short-Term Wins
  7. Consolidating Gains
  8. Anchoring Change in the Corporate Culture

Nudge theory

The theory behind this model is that a nudge makes it more likely that an individual will make a particular choice, or behave in a particular way, by altering the environment so that automatic cognitive processes are triggered to favour the desired outcome.

An individual’s behaviour is not always in alignment with their intentions (termed a value-action gap). It is common knowledge that humans are not fully rational beings; that is, people will often do something that is not in their own self-interest, even when they are aware that their actions are not in their best interest.


The Prosci ADKAR Model is a goal-oriented change management model to guide individual and organizational change. ADKAR is an acronym that represents the five outcomes an individual must achieve for change to be successful: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, reinforcement.

When applied to organizational change, this model allows leaders and change management teams to focus their activities on what will drive individual change and therefore achieve organizational results. ADKAR provides clear goals and outcomes for change management activities. It also provides a simple, easy-to-use framework for everyone in the organization to think about change. Employees, managers and senior leaders alike can all use ADKAR to describe and discuss change together.

Challenges and limitations

There are, of course, some limitations and challenges when it comes to Change Management models. Some models are criticized for being too simple to actually achieve real change within an organization. Other models are considered to have limits because they do not take into account the power and political structures that are often apparent within organizations. Moreover, most models also ignore the feelings and experiences of employees, which can often be unpredictable, and only focus on results in an environment without variables.

Despite limitations, models can be useful. However, it is important that Change Managers remember that organizational change doesn’t happen in a vacuum and therefore the human experience of change should be taken into consideration when during organizational change.

Which model should I choose?

Regardless of the limitations, if you’re going to implement organizational change, then you probably want to follow a tried and tested model. So which one should you choose?

The shortest answer to this question is: whichever one you like. This is also not an exhaustive list, so there is still a lot out there to explore in terms of models. A more concrete answer to this question depends on the situation. If you’re a seasoned Change Manager you might already have a preferred model or models that you use.

However, if you’re new to Change Management, then researching more about the different models and then actually testing out some of these models in your organization will be able to help you to determine which models may or may not work for you and your organization.

This Article is part of a series about Digital Change Management.

Read the next chapter: What does Change Management look like in the Digital Age

See the whole guide: Change Management in the Digital Age