Change Management Models: Key Concepts and Definitions

change management models

Organizational change is a routine part of business today due to the rapid pace of operations, technological advances, and market shifts. Change is rarely easy, but it becomes even more challenging as an organization’s size and complexity increase.

Your business must determine the best way to implement changes once the need becomes apparent, which will require a strategic approach to change management. This guide provides an overview of the 10 best change management models to help your business adapt to new processes and policies while maintaining employee satisfaction.

What is change management?

Change management is the process of planning and implementing the changes needed to achieve a desired outcome by minimizing disruptions and resistance. It can be applied to an entire organization, a team within an organization, or an individual.

Importance of Change Management Models in Modern Business Strategies

Change management models provide businesses with best practices for a change project. These projects may use only one model or a combination of models to create a solid framework for effectively managing change.

Change projects are typically complex, expensive processes, so a trustworthy change management model is essential for obtaining stakeholder buy-in. In addition, a model allows organizations to quickly adapt existing workflows to implement each change, instead of creating a new one from scratch each time.

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Change Management Model List

Popular change management models include the following:

  • ADKAR change management model
  • Lewin’s change management model
  • Kotter’s process for leading change
  • Kübler-Ross change curve
  • McKinsey 7-S framework
  • Nudge theory
  • Bridges’ transition model
  • Satir change model
  • Maurer’s 3 Levels of Change Resistance
  • PDCA Cycle


The Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement (ADKAR) model was developed by Prosci founder Jeff Hiatt. The process requires adherence to these five goals:

  • Awareness of the need for change
  • Desire to participate in and support the change
  • Knowledge of how to change
  • Ability to implement required skills and behavior
  • Reinforcement to sustain the change

The ADKAR model allows business leaders to identify and address individual barriers to change, thereby ensuring their successful adoption. Businesses that undergo routine process changes or technological implementation see the greatest benefit from ADKAR.

Lewin’s Change Management Model

Kurt Lewin developed his change management model during the 1950s, which divides change processes into the following stages:

  1. Unfreeze. The preparation stage analyzes current processes, providing an accurate understanding of the changes needed to achieve the desired results. Change management communication is also part of this stage, allowing employees to prepare for the change.
  2. Change. The implementation phase that puts the change into practice while maintaining communication and support for involved employees.
  3. Refreeze. This phase helps organizations avoid reverting to their old processes by reviewing newly implemented ones through the use of key performance indicators (KPIs) and other metrics. This approach provides objective measurements of how well the new processes are reaching their goals.

Lewin’s model provides a clear framework for managing change and effectively addressing resistance to it. Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) undergoing significant changes to their organizational structure obtain the greatest benefit from this model.

Kotter’s Process for Leading Change

Harvard professor John Kotter developed his 8-step process for leading change, which primarily focuses on the psychology involved in change leadership. These steps consist of the following:

  1. Create a sense of urgency.
  2. Build a guiding coalition.
  3. Form a strategic vision.
  4. Enlist a volunteer army.
  5. Enable action by removing barriers.
  6. Generate short-term wins.
  7. Sustain acceleration.
  8. Institute change.

Kotter’s process for leading change includes a detailed road map for navigating complex changes. Businesses that benefit the most from it include those embarking on significant initiatives like cultural overhauls or digital transformations, regardless of the organization’s size.

The Kübler-Ross Change Curve

The Kübler-Ross change curve was created by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. It’s also known as the five stages of grief since it describes the process of experiencing loss. Leaders can apply this model to many types of organizational change, allowing them to better understand their employees’ responses. The five stages of the Kübler-Ross change curve are as follows:

  • Denial- Refusal to believe the situation
  • Anger- Recognition that things are different
  • Bargaining- Pushing for change to avoid completely accepting the change
  • Depression- Feeling hopeless about the change
  • Acceptance- Realizing there’s no other option

The Kübler-Ross change curve addresses these feelings head-on to keep employees from experiencing the worst parts of them. It helps leaders anticipate employees’ emotional reactions to change and manage them by fostering acceptance and resilience. The most suitable businesses for this change management model are those implementing major organizational changes, especially downsizing initiatives.

McKinsey 7-S Framework

McKinsey & Company developed the McKinsey 7-S model, which breaks change programs into the following components:

  1. Structure- The way in which a company is organized, including its chain of command and accountability relationships
  2. Strategy- A well-designed business plan that allows the company to achieve a sustainable competitive advantage while reinforcing its mission and values.
  3. Systems- Includes the organization’s business and technical infrastructure needed to establish workflows and make decisions
  4. Skills- The employees’ capabilities and competencies that enable the company to achieve its objectives
  5. Style- Attitude of the leaders in interactions and decision-making, establishing a code of conduct for employees
  6. Staff- Human resources related to talent management, including training, recruiting and rewards
  7. Shared Values- Mission and objectives that form the organization’s foundation and play a key role in aligning the key elements needed to maintain an effective organization

Breaking organizational changes into these components helps prevent leaders from overlooking important factors in change management. The McKinsey 7-S framework also helps leaders assess and align the components to support desired changes. Large organizations undergoing strategic transformations like mergers gain the greatest benefit from this change management model.

Nudge Theory

Nudge theory is a change management model that focuses on overall mindset rather than providing a step-by-step guide for implementing change. It looks for ways to persuade employees into desiring change, as opposed to the traditional approach of senior executives issuing top-down change requests and expecting unquestioning compliance. Core principals of this change management theory include the following:

  • Thinking about the proposed changes from the employee’s point of view
  • Emphasizing the benefits of changes to employees
  • Treating proposed changes as recommendations instead of commands
  • Listening to employee feedback throughout the process

Nudge theory is most beneficial for organizations seeking to promote behavioral changes in employees or customers. It’s especially useful for implementing safety and sustainability initiatives.

Bridges Transition Model

Change consultant William Bridges created the Bridges transition model, which focuses on the emotional transitions people experience when accepting change. This model recognizes the following three stages of this process:

  • Ending, losing, and letting go: the first reaction to change for many people is resistance, discomfort, and fear.
  • The neutral zone: people often get stuck between letting go of the old process and accepting the new when a change occurs.
  • The new beginning: employees typically accept the new way of doing things once the change has been implemented, provided it’s handled well.

The Bridges model helps leaders understand and support employees along their emotional path of accepting change. Businesses that benefit from this model include those experiencing leadership transitions or significant restructuring like mergers.

Satir Change Model

Therapist Virginia Satir developed her own model for change management, based on trends she observed in the ways families experience change. However, it also applies to businesses, like the Kübler-Ross model. The Satir change model recognizes the following phases:

  • Late status quo- stable processes before implementing changes
  • Resistance- the first response people typically have when introducing change
  • Chaos- Confusion and resistance when first implementing change
  • Integration- Productivity begins to level out, indicating general acceptance of the changes
  • New status quo- Employees settle into the new normal

The Satir change model provides a framework for fostering collaboration, resulting in innovation and resilience during the change process. Businesses experiencing leadership changes and cultural transformations derive the greatest benefits from the Satir model.

Maurer’s 3 Levels of Change Resistance

The resistance to change model developed by Rick Maurer focuses on the reasons change projects fail, noting that this is often due to poor implementation strategies. It classifies resistance to change into the following three levels:

  • Level 1—“I don’t get it”- This level includes rational objections to change, which may be due to a lack of information, differences in the interpretation of data and misunderstandings about proposed changes. Leaders often consider all forms of resistance to be at this level, typically attributing them to a lack of information. However, this view is rarely accurate.
  • Level 2—“I don’t like it”- This level consists of change resistance based on emotions like the fear of losing face, control or status. Level 2 resistance is usually deep-seated, so it can trigger fight-or-flight responses. This reaction impairs decision-making and communication.
  • Level 3—“I don’t like you”- This level of change resistance is based on the organization’s leadership, usually as a result of previous negative experiences. Insufficient attention to this level can cause change resistance to become entrenched, even when people support the proposed changes.

Successfully implementing change initiatives under the Maurer model requires leaders to understand and address all three levels of resistance. They must make a compelling argument by explaining why the change is needed and tailoring communications to the specific audience.

Engage employees in the change process by emphasizing its benefits. In addition, leaders must build trust and invest in relationships by maintaining honesty, especially when making and keeping commitments. Finally, they should remain open to feedback and reconsider decisions if necessary.

The resistance to change model helps leaders identify challenges and develop strategies for overcoming them. The businesses that stand to gain the greatest benefits from this model include those undergoing significant change initiatives, where thorough understanding and management of the changes is crucial to success.

PDCA Cycle

W. Edwards Deming developed the plan-do-check-act (PDCA) cycle, also known as the Deming Cycle and Deming Wheel. This model is widely used to drive organizational change by continuously improving processes. Within the context of change management, the PDCA cycle has the following phases:

  • Plan. Organizations assess the need for change and establish objectives and goals to implement those changes. This phase also includes the development of a detailed change management plan, along with timelines and the allocation of appropriate resources. Change leaders must also secure support from stakeholders by ensuring the proposed changes align with business objectives.
  • Implement. Businesses implement their change management plan during this phase, including activity execution, communication with stakeholders and training employees. Change leaders should closely monitor progress in this phase to ensure the project meets its deadlines. They also need to address any concerns of stakeholders through regular communication.
  • Check. Organizations evaluate the progress and impact of their change initiatives in this phase. They monitor key performance indicators (KPIs) to identify deviations from planned outcomes and understand their causes. The Check phase also provides insight into the effectiveness of strategies and identifies areas for improvement.
  • Act. The Act phase includes corrective actions based on the Check phase’s findings. Leaders also adjust change management plans during this phase and may develop successful changes into standard procedures. Furthermore, the Act phase promotes continuous improvement by addressing problems based on lessons learned.

The PDCA cycle is so-named because the Plan phase begins again after the completion of the Act phase, either to improve performance or solve new problems. As a result, it helps organizations remain flexible while continuously improving change management tactics.

The PDCA cycle is a systematic approach for identifying, implementing, and evaluating changes, often used to improve operational performance. Therefore, its best uses involve the continuous improvement of processes.

Choose the right change management model for your business

No single change management model is the best across the board. While one model may make the most sense for your business, applying elements from multiple models when changing processes can also be beneficial. Pipefy’s business process automation (BPA) solution is a means by which your business can streamline processes and redirect resources toward innovation. Its user-friendly interface and rule-based automation logic empower your teams to customize workflows to streamline operations and improve performance while maintaining great experiences.

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