It’s not a secret that managing change is hard.

There are countless unexpected obstacles you might encounter, anything from your own team rebelling against you to failing at enforcing new business processes.

Even if you, as a manager, get everything right, a wild card element could cause the entire initiative to backfire.

Considering all this, it shouldn’t really surprising that over 70% of change initiatives fail.

So, you’re probably wondering, what can I do to prevent this? Should I just stop innovating and stick to what works right now? Well, not really.

Sometimes, companies that fail to change, end up failing completely. Where do you go for your video rentals these days? Exactly.

What you can do, though, is use one of the 6 change management models. It’s better to have a plan of action than jumping in head-first into a new initiative – and these models can help with that.

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There are 3 general types of change management models. You have models for organization-wide change, bottom-up (that is, creating change by altering and improving tasks or processes), and employee-focused (how to motivate them and gain buy-in).

For the best results, you’d use a mix of one model from each separate category.

Organization-Wide Change

These models are more macro-level. They’re focused on identifying potential improvements company-wide and enforcing them. They’re essential for large-scale organizations, but not as much for SMBs.

McKinsey 7-S Model

The McKinsey 7-S model is helpful prior to beginning a change management initiative. It helps you determine the “why” of change, rather than the “how.” You can use the 7-S model to figure out what changes you should be making, and then use the research results to get buy-in from company management.

Usually, you’re either going to use the model as a tool for general introspection (think, how the company is operating in general) or for analyzing a specific business strategy (the company wants to enter a new market. Does it have everything it needs to achieve that?).

The downside with the model, though, is that it’s hard and time-consuming. Unless your company is an SMB, you’ll need to do a lot of research to figure out how your organization functions. This might mean interviews and face-to-face meetings with department heads, employees, C-suite, etc.

McKinsey 7-S model is based on analyzing the 7 elements that make up your organization divided into 2 separate categories: Hard or Soft elements.

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Hard ElementsSoft Elements
StrategyShared Values

The hard elements are all the concrete stuff you can identify.  Think, procedures, IT systems, company general strategy, etc.

The soft elements are significantly harder to pinpoint. They’re more about company culture & your employees – something that’s hard to measure with metrics.

Before we explain how to actually use the model, we’ll go through each element individually.

Hard Elements

Strategy – The general strategy on how to get ahead the competition.

Structure – The hierarchy of the company. Who’s in charge of whom.

Systems –Tasks and processes your employees go through daily. Think, business rules & processes.

Soft Elements

Shared Values – Values of the company. Just about the same thing as company culture

Skills – The skills and core competencies of your employees

Style – Leadership style used by the company. Think, democratic, laissez-faire, etc.

Staff – Your employees & their roles-

How to Use McKinsey 7-S Model

According to the model, for your company to succeed, the elements we’ve just mentioned should be aligned with each other.

For example, if your “strategy” is penetrating a new market, you’ll need to see whether you have the right “skills” for it. You can’t enter a market that you have zero knowledge of. Hence, you’ll need to work towards making your “skills” aligned with “strategy.”

One way to do this is by creating 2 models. One describing every element as is, and the other as it should be.

This way, you’ll be able to pinpoint the exact changes you’ll have to make in order to reach your strategic objectives.

To help you create the model for yourself, you can ask yourself and your employees the following on each element …


  • What are the company goals, both in the short-term and long-term?
  • Are you in the right direction to achieving them? Is there empirical proof for this?
  • How do you plan on staying competitive?
  • Is the company keeping up with latest trends, technological developments, etc.


  • What’s the company hierarchy?
  • How is decision-making handled? Who gets a say in what? In some cases, centralized decision making allows for faster execution. It does, on the other hand, also stall innovation and ideation.
  • How do different departments coordinate? How are they organized and managed?
  • How do different teams coordinate? How are the organized and managed?
  • How do individual team members organize themselves & coordinate with each other?
  • How does everyone communicate with each other? With what frequency?


  • What are the core systems that make the organization tick? This applies to just about every business function – from IT to marketing.
  • Are the systems enforced? i.e, do your employees stick to procedures.
  • Who evaluates the systems? Is the monitoring efficient?
  • How & how often are the systems monitored or changed?

Shared Values

  • What are your company values?
  • What are your team values? Are they aligned with the company values?
  • Do your employees reflect the values?


  • What’s the leadership style company-wide?
  • Does it defer from department to department?
  • Is the leadership style effective? How hands-on is it?
  • Do managers practice the leadership style asked by the C-suite?
  • Does your company have a culture of competition or collaboration? Does it foster or halter growth?


  • What positions does the company currently employ?
  • What core competencies do you have? Are you lacking any?
  • Are there any positions that need to be filled? What are they?


  • What’s your company known to excel in? Think, logistics, marketing, etc.
  • What are the skills that your employees have?
  • Are they qualified to do succeed at their job?
  • How do you assess the skills?
  • Are there any skills missing?

Lewin’s Change Management Model

While the 7-S model helps you figure out what to change or improve, Lewin’s change management model helps with the execution.

This model is specifically for helping you with large-scale change – something that will have a serious impact on how the organization operates. If you want to do something minor that’s team, department or process-wide, you can use the Deming Cycle (which we’ll get to in a bit).

The model is done in 3 different steps:

  • Unfreeze – Breaking down the status quo and letting the company employees know about changes to come.
  • Make Changes – You start moving towards the new direction: employing new tools, processes, etc. This is the experimentation stage where you figure out how to make the organization more efficient.
  • Refreeze – At this point, you’ve already solved the problem. In the refreeze phase, you take all the stuff you experimented with and apply it company-wide.

To help you go through each stage, we dissect them one by one…


Before you can start pushing for the change, you need to communicate the need for it within your company.

Your employees love the status quo – change is difficult and uncertain. This is especially true if you’re trying to make some major changes within the company.

For your employees, this might mean that their positions might become obsolete.

Your management team, on the other hand, might view this as a pointlessly risky initiative without any payoff.

So, you start of any change initiative with an “unfreeze.” You need to convince the organization that the change is happening for a reason. Usually, this is through empirical results – lower sales, poor finances, unsatisfied customers, etc.

More often than not, there are common questions you’ll need to address…

  • Why is the change being made?
  • What are the risks of maintaining the status quo?
  • What are the risks of carrying out the change initiative?
  • What does this mean for your average employee?

Once you’ve gained buy-in from the employees and the rest of the management, you can move on to the next step…

Make Changes

This is the part where you start executing your proposed changes. Your employees should now be aware of the need for change; some might even become your change champions & help with the execution.

In this phase, you’ll often end up experimenting with different processes and methodologies. This part is easier if your company documents its processes or uses some Business Process Management (BPM) software. In that case, all you have to do is update the documentation or process (for BPMS) and make your employees aware of the changes.

If you don’t, you’ll need to do this manually – reach out to the relevant employees and explain how a given process will function differently.

Whenever making adjustments to processes, though, you should always ask your employees for feedback. They are, after all, the ones who’ll be carrying out the new process. If changes are made with their feedback in mind, they’ll feel more involved with your initiative, and thus, more likely to cooperate.


Once you’ve identified all the changes you’ll be making, it’s time to “refreeze.” Meaning, you’ll need to make the new rules and habits stick.

Any changes you made in the “Make Changes” phase should become the new way of doing things. If you did the experimentation on a small scale, this is when you apply the changes company-wide.

To make sure that your employees are accepting of the change, you should incentivise them. Reward anyone that keeps up with the change. Or, punish anyone who doesn’t (depending on your approach).

Once you get to the point where the company is operating as before, with new changes as part of the status quo, you can finally say that the change management initiative was successful. This is something you should celebrate – your employees should be made aware that the hard times are over, and that their contribution to the initiative is appreciated.

Bottom-Up Approach

These methodologies are focused more on the process or goal-oriented changes.

The change management models we’ve discussed up to now were more about company-wide change. The ADKAR model and the Deming Cycle, on the other hand, help you carry out change ground-up, starting from singular processes and tasks, which eventually have an effect organization-wide.


ADKAR model is an approach that focuses on the individuals behind the change, rather than the change itself. It was developed by Jeffrey Hiatt, the founder of Prosci. The methodology is a set of 5 goals you need to achieve in order to bring about change. The goals are as follows…

  1. Awareness – Convincing your employees that there is a real need for change.
  2. Desire – Having your employees personally invested in the initiative & gaining their support.
  3. Knowledge – Arming the employees with the right tools and knowledge to help carry out the change.
  4. Ability – The ability to use the knowledge gained & apply it in practice.
  5. Reinforcement – Implementing a system that makes sure your employees stick to the new routine.

Here’s a bit more of an in-depth analysis of what each goal represents and how to achieve it…


As with most other change management models, the first step here is to raise awareness about the initiative.

Unless your employees are aware of why you’re making the changes, they’re most likely going to react in one of the following ways…

  • Stay Passive – Some of your staff might believe that everything is working just fine as-is. If they’re not fully convinced that the change is needed, they’re not going to support you.
  • Stick to the Old Habits – Even if you make all the right changes, your employees have to be convinced into sticking to them – and you don’t want this to be done begrudgingly. If they don’t like the new methods, they’ll keep using the old processes when no one’s looking.
  • Create Resistance – Worst case scenario, your employees will actively campaign against you & try to have the change initiative canceled.

So, to avoid all this, you need to talk with your staff. This doesn’t mean a quick company-wide email saying “hey, remember how we used to do things with Method X? Well, now we’re sticking to Method Y. So, good luck!”

You should talk to each individual employee that, in one way or another, is relevant to the initiative. You’re not giving a speech here, though. Talk to them in their own language – how is the change relevant to them, and why they should care.


Even if your employees are aware of why the change is happening, they might just not care personally.

In some cases, this can very much be a detriment, especially if the employees in question are critical for the change initiative. They could be, for example, part of a critical process you need to change.

To win them on your side, you’d need to appeal to either their emotional or logical side…

  • Appeal to Reason – Change is, in most cases, for a good cause. Your organization needs it to be done for whatever reason. Hence, by simply being direct about this with your employees can be a solution. For example, let’s say the company sales are down. You would either figure out how to change something within the organization to fix this (rational option for the employee), or have layoffs (irrational).
  • Appeal to Emotion – Sometimes, your employees might not actually have a real reason for being against you. It might be something based on emotion – an irrational fear of losing one’s job would be a good example here. You should try to find such reasons and calm your employee’s fears.


Once you’ve gone through the first two stages, you need to start thinking about the practical means of carrying out the change. At this point, your employees should be fully on board the change initiative.

They might, however, not have the knowledge to carry it out. You’ll need to teach them what their role in the change initiative is and what are the exact tasks they should carry out.


The fact that you know how something is done doesn’t mean that you’ll execute it flawlessly the first time around.

The knowledge has to be supplemented with the right skillset. As an example, let’s consider a scenario where you’re implementing some new software company-wide. Your employees might know what the software is, but they probably don’t know how to use it.

The “ability” can be gained through, training, workshops, etc. Anything that’s hands-on learning works very well here.


As with any other change management model, the final stage of ADKAR is reinforcement.  While the changes you made might be working right now, it doesn’t mean that they’ll stick.

Once you stop looking over your shoulder, employees tend to revert back to their old habits & completely forgetting about the new methods. In some cases, this isn’t even a conscious thing – the employees might simply forget something about the new process & just do it the way they’re used to it.

To reinforce your changes, you can offer rewards & bonuses to any employee that helps their department stick to using the new methodologies.

  Looking for a more detailed explanation of the ADKAR Model? Check out our full guide.

Deming Cycle (PDCA)

The Deming Cycle, also known as the Plan-Do-Check-Act cycle, is a methodology for process improvement.

The PDCA cycle is divided into 4 phases that help you analyze & improve a single process to perfection. This model isn’t a one-time initiative, however. It’s more of a loop – you keep re-using it for a single process until it’s performing as well as it could be. The 4 phases are…

  • Plan – Identify process inefficiencies. Come up with potential improvements or solutions.
  • Do – Implement your changes on a small scale. Unless you’re certain that the new process works better than the old, it’s simply too risky to use if company-wide.
  • Check – Benchmark your improvements. Is the new process performing better than the old? Is it going to work well in the long-term?
  • Act – If your proposed changes turn out to be a flop, you go back to the planning phase and start the whole thing all over again. Otherwise, scale it up & start using it in every department.

deming cycle pdca

In the context of change management, you can use the Deming Cycle to optimize a process that’s used often in your organization. Once you’ve perfected the process itself, you scale it & apply it company-wide.

This is, however, the main use-case with PDCA. If you’re planning on executing a major change that has more to do with the organization rather than its processes, you’re better off using either Lewin’s change management model or McKinsey’s 7-S.

To give you a better idea of how PDCA works, we’ll dig into each phase and explain what it involves…


This is where you identify potential improvements. You find inefficiencies within processes & propose suggestions on how to make them better.

Before you can actually improve the process, you need to have a good idea of what it consists of. Unless you’re the one working the process yourself, chances are that you’ll have to do some research.

An easy way to do this is to create a process flowchart.

partner onboarding workflow example

Then, you need to pinpoint what you could improve. Usually, there are 2 reasons for process improvement. Either you’re trying to solve some sort of a problem (something went wrong with the process) or you simply want to make the process more efficient.

If you’re trying to solve a problem, you could use a Root Cause Analysis, such as the 5 Whys method. The gist of it is that you keep asking yourself “why” until you find what’s causing the problem.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking to improve a process, you can ask yourself…

  • Are there any steps in the process that are more expensive than reasonable? For example, manufacturing line burning more money than the industry average.
  • Are the deadlines being frequently missed? Why?
  • What part of the process has the most impact on the end result (product quality, price, etc.)? Is there any way to improve this?


Once you’ve identified potential improvements, you can try putting them into practice.

This should be done on a small scale, however. At this point, everything is experimental – even the most brilliant idea can backfire. So, if you do this small-scale (that’s team-wide, single manufacturing line, etc.), you’re mitigating a lot of risks.


You should always benchmark your new process stats to the old process & see how it holds up. If it’s better, you can start scaling up and move on to the final PDCA step. If the results aren’t that good, you can start the cycle from the beginning.

It’s also important, however, to account for any risk. If the process is showing good results in the short-term, it doesn’t mean it’ll last.

So for example, you might improve your product output in the short-term, but later realize that the defect rates went up significantly.


At this point, you can, with certainty, say that the process improvement initiative was successful.

Now all you have to do is scale it up & ensure that the process is used company-wide.

One thing you should consider here, though, is that the Deming Cycle isn’t necessarily a one-time initiative. You can keep repeating the cycle until you’ve optimized your processes to perfection.

Employee-Focused Change

At the end of the day, your employees are who will make or break your change initiative. These change management models focus on winning over your company staff, rather than the change itself

Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model

Kotter’s model is a bit similar to ADKAR in a way that it puts the employees first. The difference, however, is that it’s more top-down.

Rather than winning over individual employees, it focuses on getting buy-in on a macro scale. The 8 steps here are…

  • Creating a Sense of Urgency
  • Building the Change Team
  • Formulating Your Vision
  • Communicating the Vision
  • Remove Barriers to Change
  • Creating Short-Term Wins
  • Maintaining Momentum
  • Establishing the New Status Quo

Step #1: Creating a Sense of Urgency

According to Kotter, you need to have more than 75% of buy-in from company management for the change management initiative to be successful.

So, as with most other change models, the first step is to communicate the need for change.

For this, first you need to have the basis – this can be anything from declining sales, to the competition innovating & adapting new tech.

This has to, of course, be distilled into a message. So, you should clarify…

  • Why is the company underperforming? Is it a serious threat? What could this potentially lead to in the future?
  • What’s the opportunity for change? What could the company be doing better?

You’d want to communicate all this to the company as a whole, not just the C-suite – the more buy-in you get, the more likely you are to succeed. So, start a discussion & encourage dialogue. The entire organization should feel responsible and part of the initiative.

Step #2: Building the Change Team

Knowing that something to change is never enough. You need to have a team that’ll help you lead the entire initiative.

The team should consist of employees from different departments, key stakeholders, management, etc. Usually, you’d need 2 types of team members…

  • Senior Management & Key Stakeholders – You’d want your team to be able to move fast. Hence, you should be able to get management approval for change requests ASAP.
  • Specialists – For any practical change you make, you’d need the right specialist to help carry it out. This can be process experts, change consultants, management from different departments, etc.

Step #3: Formulating the Vision

Once you’ve got a team & direction, you should already have several ideas on what the change initiative is about and how to start.

You should now formulate all that into a very concrete vision – for the initiative to succeed, you need to have a very specific direction with defined goals and tasks.

Here are several tips on how to do that…

  • Determine what your main vision for change is. Where is the company now, and where should it be after?
  • Create a step-by-step strategy. How are you executing this? What are the milestones? Goals?
  • What are the potential pitfalls of the project? Are there any important risks you should address?

Step #4: Communicating the Vision

Now that you know what your vision & plan is, you need to communicate it to everyone else.

As a given, you should make a formal announcement. That’s the most effective way of communicating the general vision. This shouldn’t be an abrupt announcement, however – you can’t just send out a mass email and call it a day.

Schedule a presentation & actually go in-depth about what you’re doing. Try to make it more of a dialogue than a one-way message, though. Your employees are bound to have a lot of questions and feedback. To get their buy-in in, you’ll need to adequately address their concerns.

The announcement, however, isn’t really enough. You should be advocating for the change in your day-to-day work. Talk about it whenever given the opportunity. If anyone approaches you with questions or criticism, don’t just shrug them off. Explain the idea in-depth and transform that employee into an advocate for the change.

Step #5: Removing Barriers to Change

At this point, you should already be going in the right direction. Your employees are convinced by your vision and are working hard to make the change happen.

There might be, however, certain barriers that prevent them from succeeding.

For example, your employees might not have the right skills to make some change to a given process. Or the new technology you adopted might be extremely hard to use without proper training.

Make sure to address any problems like this and arm your employees with the right tools to make things happen.

Regardless of what your issue might be, there are several possible ways to overcome it…

  • Appoint (Or Hire) Leaders – Find individuals that are capable of heading the change for specific business areas, or hire externally if there’s no one within the company
  • Incentivize Change – Whatever excuse your employees might be making, the real reason for inaction might be a lack of incentive. “Oh I tried, it didn’t work, I’ll get back to doing things the usual way.” You’d want to reward those who go the extra mile and make change work
  • Offer Trainings – If your employees don’t have the right skillset to execute something, you can always bring in external experts to train them.
  • Identify Resistors – Some individuals might be underperforming because they don’t believe in your vision. Identify them & change their mind

Step #6: Creating Short-Term Wins

Motivation never lasts.

Initially, you can have the entire organization hyped up about the change and willing to put a lot of work into it.

You need to maintain that momentum, however, your employees might start losing interest. To do that, you need to have some short-term wins.

So, rather than having one long-term goal, you should consider having an overarching goal split into smaller short-term goals. Quick wins will ensure that your employees stay motivated throughout the entire initiative, as well as earning you buy-in from the critics.

Here are several ideas on how to do that…

  • Start with the Cheaper Initiatives – You don’t want the costs stacking up from the very beginning. Starting from cheaper projects ensures that you’ll be winning buy-in for the more expensive, complicated stuff.
  • Spread Out Sure-Fire Projects – These are the improvements you’re 100% certain will be beneficial for the company & will be easy to execute. You’d want several of these in the very beginning of the project and some over time (to keep the team motivated through the whole project)
  • Reward Success – As a given, anyone that shows a track record of success should be rewarded. This will keep your teams motivated to keep going forward.

Step #7: Maintaining Momentum

Getting a handful of quick wins doesn’t mean that it’s time to celebrate.

You might have made some improvements, and some of your new projects might be working, but that doesn’t mean you’re done with the initiative.

For each success, you need to push further. Ask yourself…

  • What did you do right? Are there any ways you could further improve the process / project?
  • Are there any risks associated with the changes you’ve made? Is the new status quo going to last?
  • Is this the best your company can be? If you want to really get ahead of your competition, you should focus on continuous improvement – making on-going change a part of your company culture.

Step #8: Establishing the New Status Quo

To actually make your changes stick, they should become the new norm.

If your employees forget everything you’ve accomplished within a week, you’ll be right back to square one.

There are several ways to do this in practice…

  • Announce the Change – Let everyone know that the initiative was successful & recognize anyone that played a key part.
  • Document New Processes – Update all of your process documentation with the improvements and changes you made.
  • Enforce Changes – Use process management software to create digital processes. This forces your employees to stick to your new processes (and not revert back to the old).
  Grow your business while focusing on your employees using our full guide on Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model.

Bridges Transition Model

Unlike the rest of the change management models, Bridges’ approach specifically deals with your employee’s emotional response to change, rather than the strategy for making it happen.

That’s why it’s a “transition” model rather than a model for change. The word “change” change implies that it’s something that’s going to happen, regardless of how individuals feel about it. Transition, on the other hand, is what your employees go through during a change initiative. The model arms you with the knowledge you need to guide your employees emotionally through change & chaos.

As such, while the transition model can be very useful and insightful, it’s not something you use stand-alone. Rather, you’re better of using it on top of your main change methodology as a means of getting buy-in.

There are 3 stages in the transition model, with each being a type of emotional reaction from your employees…

  1. Ending, Losing, and Letting Go
  2. The Neutral Zone
  3. The New Beginning

To help you get a better idea of how each works, let’s dive into the details.

Stage #1: Ending, Losing, and Letting Go

When starting with the change initiative, your employees aren’t going to be too happy. As change is accompanied by uncertainty, they’ll be questioning everything…

  • Are their skills going to be relevant after the change?
  • Is their job at a risk of being automated?
  • Is the change going to harm the company & the individual employees?

As a given, you’ll be seeing a wide range of emotions from different employees – fear, panic, confusion, etc.

The only way to combat this stage is through communication. Chances are, for most of your employees, the fear is completely unfounded.

Convince them that what you’re doing is good for the company and that they should feel secure. Whenever you’re approached with questions or criticism, address their concerns and help them understand the positives of the change initiative.

Since you’re only an individual, having a group of change advocates could help you send the message further.

Stage #2: The Neutral Zone

This is the point where your employees are more “neutral” towards the initiative, rather than fearful or scared.

New processes or methodologies are being developed and put into practice, but nothing is set in stone yet. Employees aren’t exactly sure what they’re supposed to be doing, and there’s a lot of experimentation going on.

Because of all the uncertainty, your employees might become skeptical towards the change initiative.

In this stage, it’s important to keep motivating your employees. Show them short-term wins, build confidence that everything is going according to plan, and you’ll soon reach…

Stage #3: The New Beginning

At this stage, your employees are starting to see how everything falls in its place.

They’ve seen how the initiative is beneficial for the company, as well as what their role is in the new company direction.

This will make your employees more motivated than ever before, helping you push the change management initiative to its final stages.

You should make sure that this lasts, though. The employees who are putting in their best should be rewarded and recognized, setting an example for everyone else.

  Do you think Bridges’ Transition Model might be the right one for facilitating change in your company? Then take a look at our full guide on using Bridges’ Transition Model.


Now that you’ve got the change management models down, it’s time to really put it into practice.

Initially, this might be a bit scary. There’s a big difference between reading on how to do something and actually doing it, after all. And true, simply following a change management model doesn’t guarantee you success.

What it does do, however, is give you a sense of direction, making you significantly more likely to succeed.

Have you used any of the change management models? Was the initiative successful? Let us know down in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “6 Essential Change Management Models to Help Innovate & Grow

  1. Sarah Grant Reply

    Hi my name is Sarah Grant and I’m currently studying Masters in leadership through Southern Cross Uni. I’ve found this article very interesting and would like to use it as a reference in my assessment. Can I please have the full details re reference. Thank you

    1. Sure, Sarah – just quote the link to it, and use our brand as the author – Tallyfy

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