Change Management WalkMe TeamUpdated February 10, 2023

These are the 5 Best Theories of Change Management

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These are the 5 Best Theories of Change Management

Navigating change is never easy, in personal life but especially in business. Yet more companies are undergoing enterprise-scale transformations than ever before. It’s easy to see why change initiatives are so popular as digitalization continues to change how businesses operate. Organizational change is vital in meeting the expectations of modern customers. 

So, why are businesses failing to achieve their desired results? Gartner’s research shows that ‘half of change initiatives fail, and only 34% are a clear success.’ What can we attribute to the shocking number of failed change projects? 

Experts believe the answer lies in change management. 

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In this guide to change management theory, we’ll explore what it takes to deliver on complex change initiatives. We’ll highlight popular change management models, explore the best theory for your organization, and five crucial elements of the change management process. 

What is Change Management?

When companies undergo large-scale transformations, they encounter resistance from employees and customers. Changing the status quo is uncomfortable for many people, but achieving lasting growth is necessary. Successful change initiatives increase employee productivity, enhance business processes and help companies adapt to future change.

Change management is a strategic approach to effecting organizational change. With comprehensive training and support, change management involves guiding employees through a transition or transformation. The process consists in addressing attitudes to change by focusing on employee resistance.

Change initiatives vary depending on the objectives of the company. Typically, a business attempts to increase efficiency across processes, technologies, and goals to grow the organization. 

What is a Change Management Theory?

What is a Change Management Theory

Changing the status quo is a complex process. Many organizations struggle to engage employees in organizational change. You need all the help you can get, which is why change management models are so important. 

Change management models provide strategic approaches to organizational change. They consist of methodologies, concepts, and theories for implementing change. A change management framework will help you overcome common obstacles and avoid pitfalls many companies fall into. 

Change management models rely on psychology, social dynamics, and business disciplines to help change practitioners tackle core issues of change management. There are change models to meet every organization’s goals: onboarding new hires, updating or replacing internal processes, or implementing new technology. 

Why are Change Theories Important?

Why are Change Theories Important

Companies often waste valuable investments in technology or processes because they don’t know how to achieve lasting change. It helps to have a guideline in place to ensure your company’s efforts pay off. 

Change managers often rely on proven strategies to ensure the highest level of employee engagement in the change process. Change management models are useful for company-wide transformations or departmental change initiatives. 

The best change management model is one that combines practice and theory to give change managers the materials they need to succeed in organizational change. A change management framework is essential for organizations looking to create a new status quo. 

The 5 Best Change Management Models 2022

The 5 Best Change Management Models 2022

When looking for the best change management model, it’s important to consider company goals. What is the purpose of your change initiative? Which areas need changing? Does your company culture encourage or discourage transformation?

These questions will help you find the best change management model to fit your organization’s needs. 

Let’s start by examining the oldest change model.

1. Lewin’s Change Management Model

Many experts consider Kurt Lewin as one of the forbears of change management, organizational development, and social psychology. His ideas have been critical in developing theories of change management. 

Lewin’s change management model is straightforward, yet its simplicity makes it powerful. Every change, he says, follows a 3-step process that starts by addressing existing mindsets.

These steps include:


First, a process must shift away from its current state. To accomplish this, it’s necessary to overcome inertia, bypass defense mechanisms, and dismantle current viewpoints.


The second stage is where the change occurs. It can involve confusion and uncertainty. The end goal is not always clear.


The final transition stage involves replacing the old ways of thinking and operating. During this stage, people begin to return to their comfort zone and feel more comfortable with this new status quo.

This model is frequently applied to change management and organizational change. The model itself is easy to grasp, making it easy for management to share with employees. Change practitioners who use this theory exclusively can leverage its simplicity, then create their roadmaps and tactics.

Organizations looking for step-by-step action plans might consider alternative management models.

2. Kotter’s 8-Step Model for Change

John Kotter is a leading authority in the change management industry. His change management framework is designed explicitly around organizational change.

The model consists of 8 steps:

  • Create a sense of urgency
  • Build a guiding coalition
  • Form a strategic vision and initiatives
  • Enlist a volunteer army
  • Enable action by removing barriers
  • Generate short-term wins
  • Sustain acceleration
  • Institute change

This change management model is helpful for those who want more than just theory. It provides a step-by-step checklist to maximize success. The first step, creating a sense of urgency, addresses the need for change early in the transformation. 

Kotter’s model works especially well for large-scale change, working in conjunction with organizational structure. 

The only downside is that this model focuses more on strategy than employees. Feedback is an essential element of change. Listening to employee voices and acting on feedback is critical to avoid employee frustration and resistance. Consider pairing Kotter’s model with other change models for maximum benefits. 

3. Prosci’s ADKAR Change Management Model

The ADKAR change management framework is another theory designed as a roadmap and execution plan. Like Kotter’s theory, this change management model combines theoretical and practical applications.

The ADKAR model consists of 5 stages:

  • Awareness of the need to change
  • Desire to support change
  • Knowledge of how to change
  • Ability to demonstrate skills and behavior
  • Reinforcement to make the change stick

Jeff Hiatt, the founder of Prosci, developed the theory. Today, Prosci teaches the ADKAR model to students, offers consulting services, and more. Anyone interested in applying this change management model can attend workshops and obtain change management certifications from Prosci.

The ADKAR change model is a favorite among people-centric organizations. It prioritizes a system that supports employees throughout the change program. By raising awareness of the need to change, you encourage participation from everyone. Employees need to see how they benefit from change and why they should actively work with the company to improve the transition. 

This method links knowledge and ability goals to achieve long-lasting change. The ADKAR model focuses on achieving change first, then training employees to tackle transformation head-on. This framework is great for addressing employee resistance.

4. Kübler-Ross Change Curve

The Kübler-Ross Change Curve is well-known for taking inspiration from the five stages of grief, initially defined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. The change model recognizes that people react emotionally to change. Business leaders often approach change logically and neglect emotions. 

The Kübler-Ross change model consists of five stages of grief:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance

Employees experience these stages out of order, sometimes even experiencing the same emotion multiple times throughout the process. Out of all the change management models, the Kübler-Ross Change Curve requires the most empathetic approach. Without communication and empathy, employees feel left out of the transformation. 

5. Bridges Transition Model

Bridges’ transition model takes a personal approach to change. It asks leaders to consider how change impacts people, reminding leaders that frustration is a natural part of the change. The Bridges change model involves breaking up the change journey into three stages. 

Ending, losing, and letting go

The first stage involves letting go of familiar ways of working. This process is complex and leads to a lot of resistance. As Bridges’ model suggests, asking employees to reach the neutral zone is easier. 

The neutral zone

Think of the neutral zone as a stepping stone between the old way of work and new processes and systems. It’s a safe place where employees can get a feel for the new status quo. It helps them let go of old methods gradually.

The new beginning

The new beginning represents a new familiar. Employees feel more comfortable using new systems, workflows, and processes. 

The Bridges Transition model is less strategic and more feelings-based, which many organizations prefer. This personal approach connects employees and management, allowing them to tackle transformation together. It guarantees a smoother transition from old to new. 

Which is the Best Change Management Model?

Which is the Best Change Management Model

Many factors determine the success of a change management project. Change management deals with multiple business areas, and juggling them can be overwhelming. 

Relying too much on change management models will remove your focus from other areas of change. When considering change management models for your business, consider the following:

  • What methods of change are already in place?
  • How will your organization’s structure impact change?
  • How do employees and management typically communicate?
  • What are the most significant barriers to change in your organization?

Many of the management models featured in this guide overlap in their strategies. We recommend a mixed approach. There’s nothing wrong with picking some aspects from one model and combining them with other management models. 

The ADKAR, Lewin’s, and Kotter’s management models are the most popular and proven models for change management, but that doesn’t mean they are the right choice for your organization. 

You must apply change management models to the needs of your company. For example, Kotter’s model focuses on the role of leadership in change management, while Lewin’s model looks at other driving forces behind organizational change.

Change management models are indispensable tools when deciding on the best plan for your organization. But if leaders don’t understand how to implement change management theories, their plans will fall apart. Successful organizations follow proven practices for implementing change. 

5 Best Practices for Successful Organizational Change

Managing organizational change can seem like a daunting task. Large-scale changes require commitment, tenacity, and agility. But there are many essential change management elements to ensure lasting success.

Follow these proven practices to streamline your change program, from planning to implementation. Here are five best practices for successful organizational change.

Thoughtful Planning

Planning is vital to ensuring the change management process runs as smoothly as possible. Your plan should include goals, metrics, and how to implement change, including the change management frameworks you’ll use. 

The first step to creating a winning strategy is targeting the right business areas. Diving into change management without identifying impacted areas is a recipe for disaster. You must know what needs changing and why.

For example, a digital transformation specifically targets technology within a business. Digital transformation involves introducing new technology to improve an organization’s efficiency. So it makes sense to create a change management strategy centered around software implementation, for example. 

Consider how the change will impact employees, management, executives, and customers. Once you’ve outlined your business objectives, you can plan accordingly. Don’t forget to choose a suitable change management model based on your company’s needs. Do this at the early planning stage to gain the most benefits. 

Effective Communication 

Gartner’s survey of 6,500 employees discovered that ‘the best organizations rely on their workforce, not executives, to lead change.’ Despite this, many organizations fail to communicate with employees about their change initiative. 

The most successful organizations are transparent about company goals and share the plan for change with employees. They also create a sense of urgency, explaining why change is necessary. This motivates staff as they understand the direction of the company.

Don’t simply inform employees via an email announcement. Not everyone will experience change the same way, so provide teams and departments with relevant information. Create a strategic vision, communicate that vision, and execute accordingly. Most importantly, let everyone know why change is happening and how it will make their work more rewarding. 

Communication is also vital for obtaining executive buy-in. Shareholders must be aware of all the details of the change project. It’s essential to convey the scale of the change initiative, a plan for achieving positive returns on investments, and which change management theory will guide the process. Executives also want to see how you’ll measure the change program’s success.

Align Strategy with Culture

Large-scale transformations impact corporate culture, strategy, and business objectives. If you don’t align these areas, you risk an unbalanced transformation. Change management is most effective when using a holistic approach. 

For example, your organization has decided to integrate new software to increase efficiency. New technology is ineffective without proper training and staff competency. Without aligning people and processes, other areas of the business stall. 

Organizations fail to address the impact of change on their workforce. The strategy must sync with the structure and include employees, not exclude them. Senior management must be transparent with their system and share the company vision with employees.

Set clear goals for employees to follow and encourage collaboration to achieve those goals. Celebrate short-term wins to maintain enthusiasm for the transformation project. A change manager’s key responsibility is inspiring employees to embrace change. The only way to do this is to align a comprehensive strategic vision with company culture. 

Comprehensive Training

Companies often fail to provide adequate training throughout the change process. They prioritize onboarding but neglect ongoing training for existing employees. Employees benefit from ongoing support, especially when learning unfamiliar processes and tools.

Practical training reinforces positive attitudes to change, improves confidence, maximizes productivity, and boosts employee satisfaction. But how do you deliver training successfully?

Consider a flexible approach, customizing delivery based on team sizes and competency levels. Training must fit the needs of individuals, which means personalizing training materials to various skill levels to increase employee retention.

Monitor progress

Monitoring progress is not only helpful in motivating everyone involved with a change project, but it’s also crucial to developing the strategy. Change management KPIs and metrics will highlight weak areas of the strategy. By understanding what is working and what isn’t, leaders can make adjustments to the plan. 

Implement a system to collect data on productivity, customer satisfaction, and internal process efficiency. Another vital metric that indicates a successful transformation is employee satisfaction. If employees engage in new processes workflows, you know you’re on the right track. But how do you effectively measure employee satisfaction?

Establish a feedback mechanism to understand how your employees feel about change. Organizations often neglect the human side of change, but if you listen to those most affected, you can find the best approach to transformation.

For example, companies undergoing digital transformation often use digital adoption platforms (DAP). A digital adoption platform collects feedback throughout the training process. It also collects data on employee engagement and aids the learning of new software systems and processes. 

Monitoring tools like these help leaders adjust the process, minimize resistance and increase employee engagement. Consider the most practical and effective change management tools for the best results. 

Continuously Improve

Change doesn’t happen overnight. Many companies give up on change initiatives because they don’t see results quickly enough. Patience is crucial to any successful change project. 

Even when organizations achieve the desired results, they forget about change management and quickly resort to old ways. It’s important to remember that change is constant. For employees and executives alike, the learning process doesn’t end. 

In the digital age, change comes quickly, and companies that don’t prepare soon find themselves overwhelmed. Keeping up with evolving customer demands means fostering lasting adaptability. Many companies now view change as inevitable and hire permanent change management roles to prepare for the future. 

Change attitudes to change at the foundational level and always look for areas of improvement. Could certain processes be more efficient? Can employees be more productive? These questions drive constant change in the most successful enterprises. 

What are the Four Change Management Styles?

What are the Four Change Management Styles

These four change management strategies help organizations transform their business. To see organizational growth, you must apply the correct change management style. Every element of your plan should be specific to the type of change you want to affect. 

Which change style is best for you? Strategic, people-centric, structural, or remedial?

1. Strategic transformational change

Strategic transformations focus on the organization’s strategy, structure, systems, and processes. They can be large-scale changes that redefine the company or small-scale changes such as updating software or processes. The strategy you use will determine the success of the transformation. 

Strategic transformations prioritize the planning stage. It’s all about identifying the long-term goal and structuring your plan around that goal. The more an organization prepares, the higher the success rate. 

You’ll also need to adjust the plan when necessary to achieve the best results. Listen to employee voices and make adjustments based on their feedback. Update your strategy accordingly if the company mission changes. For example, if executives decide to integrate new software during a large-scale transformation, you must incorporate that change into your strategy. 

2. People-centric organizational change

People are the core of most organizational changes. The result affects employees and customers no matter which business area you decide to update or transform. The people-centric organizational change focuses explicitly on transforming people. 

This change could include an updated process for onboarding new hires or a new training strategy. These strategies often employ a change model like the Kübler-Ross Change Curve. Change leaders look for positive emotional reactions to change. They use metrics for success, such as employee or customer satisfaction. 

People-centric change strategies need an empathetic approach. For example, onboarding new hires require comprehensive training materials and firm guidance. A crucial part of influencing engagement is empathizing with new employees. 

Learning a new system or process is challenging, and you must motivate new employees. Explain why they are crucial to the team, the value of their skills, and how you will integrate them into the workforce. 

3. Structural change

Structural change strategies involve restructuring the organization to increase efficiency. It affects management and team structure, department responsibilities, and employee organization. Many of these changes sync up with people-centric change strategies, as organizational restructuring affects everyone in the company. 

Examples of structure change include mergers, acquisitions, and the introduction of new departments or teams. Structural changes can have a massive impact on employee motivation. It involves removing any redundancies across the board, changing business objectives, and training on new technology. Managing expectations is crucial to ensuring employees don’t feel left out. 

4. Remedial change

Remedial changes are how companies respond to problems. It involves identifying a problem and creating a strategy based on a solution. These changes often require fast action to minimize disruptions. 

Companies don’t necessarily plan for remedial changes, but it is important to have the capacity to deal with them. Adaptability is a result of successful change management. It means preparing employees and management to adapt to new ways of work. Change leaders must nurture a company culture that accepts change quickly, making remedial change strategies more effective. 

Achieving Lasting Growth Takes Time

Harvard Business Review shared key insights from leaders at Infosys based on a survey of 1,000 global corporate leaders. Infosys discovered that a persistent set of small, orchestrated changes is the best approach to drive extensive and lasting change at an organization.

Over time, small incremental changes add up to large-scale organizational change. Not only do companies experience a higher level of change, but they also find it easier to engage employees in change initiatives.

This approach involves forming corporate habits over time and driving successful change through small milestones. Employees feel more motivated, and leaders can more easily manage disruptions. This approach to transformation also allows a company to adjust its goals and strategy to align with shifting customer demands over time.

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