In the beginning there was ADKAR | The People Side of Change Management

ADKAR© was developed in 1996 by Jeff Hiatt, founder of Prosci Inc. and first presented in 1999 in the form of a white paper entitled “The Perfect Change” (orig. “The Perfect Change” © J. Hiatt 1999). About a whole decade later, after countless research and application projects, the book “ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government and our Community” was published in 2006. During this time, the model has empowered and motivated board members, managers and employees alike to implement successful change.

What exactly are the principles behind Prosci’s philosophy?

The secret of the success of ADKAR is so simple… Change succeeds only if the individual changes. These individual changes also lead to a successful transformation of the company. The transformation or change of the whole is therefore the sum of many small changes.

Change is only successful when employees accept new tools, techniques, processes, etc., implement them completely and maintain them long term. Only then can the ROI, the “Return On Investment”, clearly be shown. By driving individual changes forward, we will also master organizational changes.

There is no need for complex, costly methods, which are very time-consuming and are actually a science in themselves!

As a change manager, we need an easy-to-understand, simple and comprehensive tool or method that allows us to quickly identify gaps and barriers in the change process of the respective employee. Only then are we able to guide the employee through the change in a goal-oriented way.

But what does ADKAR mean?

ADKAR is an acronym composed of

  • Awareness of the need for change
  • Desire (the intrinsic desire) for a change
  • Knowledge about the upcoming change (what will change in concrete terms, which new behavior and working methods are necessary in the change and beyond)
  • Ability to really apply the new working techniques or the new behavior
  • Reinforcement of the “new” working and behavioral Patterns

Only when all these elements are present, an individual can be successful through change.

These elements are intentionally arranged in a sequence. Earlier elements must be reached sufficiently before the continuing elements can be realized. For example, building up knowledge about the way of change is ineffective if an individual is not aware of the need for change or does not have the desire to participate and support the change. ADKAR© has been used by thousands of people to drive more successful change because it provides the structure and sequence necessary for the individual to make a change.

Let’s take a closer look at the individual elements:


The first element of the ADKAR model is consciousness. More precisely, this is the awareness of the need for change. Change begins with understanding the “why”, including answers to some basic questions, such as

  • What is the nature of Change?
  • Why does the change take place?
  • What are the risks for me and the organization if I do not change?

If we do not understand why change is necessary, we have no awareness and our natural reaction is to resist change. In fact, Prosci’s studies show that lack of awareness is the greatest source of resistance for employees, managers and supervisors alike.


Ultimately, change requires that individuals make a personal decision to participate and support change. Since it requires a personal decision, desire is often the most difficult ADKAR element in an organizational change. However, managers can influence this decision by addressing the personal and organizational motivators for change. The “wish” addresses the “What’s in it for me?” or “What’s in it for me?”, in terms of change.


The knowledge element of the ADKAR model is often considered in training courses. Successful change requires the ability to use the new tools or skills after implementation and to know how to change. In many cases, simply attending training courses does not lead to sufficient knowledge. Practice, on-the-job support and additional work aids can help ensure that individuals have the knowledge they need to successfully implement change. Training without the prior awareness and desire is ineffective and can be frustrating rather than beneficial for employees. And by the way, cross-organizational training is not exactly cost-effective. In the worst case, we train multiple times.


After the knowledge, an employee must be able to demonstrate the new skills and behavior. It is possible that an employee understands the change on a theoretical level and even has the knowledge to make the change, but ultimately cannot demonstrate the required skills and behaviors. It is only at the capability level – when employees achieve the desired change with new skills and behaviors – that the change becomes alive and the business results are realized. (ROI)


The final element of the ADKAR model is reinforcement, a crucial step to ensure that the change is sustainable. Reinforcement includes measures, recognition, mechanisms and rewards that increase the likelihood that the change will continue. While reinforcement mechanisms may be in place before the change occurs, reinforcement occurs at the individual level as soon as the change is accepted (i.e. the ability is achieved). This does not mean that the employee has to be competent to receive reinforcement, but the employee must first show a certain ability in order for the behavior to be positively reinforced.

Just think about what this means for you in detail by means of a change project or a personal change. Did you know why the change was necessary? Did you have the desire to change? Did you know what was necessary to change? Could you demonstrate the skills that were necessary? Did you maintain the change?

I can tell you a story or two about my failing attempts to quit smoking

On that Note: Happy Changing.

Author: Patrick Wanner, Tiba Managementberatung Consulting

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