What Is The ADKAR Model And Why It Matters

  • The ADKAR model helps businesses institute successful change through motivated employee buy-in.
  • The ADKAR model consists of five core principles: awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement.
  • To drive change, the ADKAR model focuses on empowering and supporting employees throughout the transition. In theory, this makes employees more resilient to future change and ensures that they do not fall back into old habits.

The ADKAR model is a management tool designed to assist employees and businesses in transitioning through organizational change. To maximize the chances of employees embracing change, the ADKAR model was developed by author and engineer Jeff Hiatt in 2003. The model seeks to guide people through the change process and importantly, ensure that people do not revert to habitual ways of operating after some time has passed.

Understanding the ADKAR model

Within a business, change is usually met with resistance from employees. This means that the main determinant of successful change comes down to the acceptance of the employees concerned.

The five principles of the ADKAR model

ADKAR is an acronym of five principles that must be achieved to institute successful change. Let’s discuss these in more detail.

1. Awareness

Awareness entails informing employees of the need for change by providing context.

Context is important because many are simply afraid to step out of their comfort zone and need a concrete reason to do so.

To create awareness, some difficult conversations may be required.

Some uncomfortable facts may need to be shared so that people understand the problem and become more motivated to act.

Ultimately, employees need to be told that the status quo is not the most viable option moving forward.

2. Desire

Understanding the reasons for change is one thing, but wanting to change is another.

To increase desire among employees, they must understand the benefits.

For example, the automation of a production line may mean that certain employees have to learn new skills.

However, they are more likely to be open to learning if automation leads to increased output and a subsequent pay rise.

3. Knowledge

This principle of the ADKAR model involves training and education. Employees will be more open to change if they have a clear understanding of how their responsibilities, skills, and processes will be impacted.

The training must also be specific to the individual. If new software is being installed throughout an organization, this responsibility will fall to IT staff.

Once rolled out, however, the responsibility of learning to use the software falls on staff from other departments.

4. Ability

Knowledge is worthless without the capacity to apply it to the real world.

Ability, then, means that the employee can apply new skills or behaviors competently.

Hands-on training is one of the most effective ways that employees can show demonstrated ability in certain processes.

It also helps them start slowly with small wins to build confidence.

5. Reinforcement

Earlier, we mentioned the potential for employees to revert to old habits.

This can be negated by rewarding the continued practicing of new habits to increase motivation.

The presence of poor habits, on the other hand, should be addressed through private mediation.

As employees continue to settle into their new roles, continue to collect feedback.

There may still be some aspects of the change causing distress which were initially overlooked.

ADKAR model examples

Now that we’ve discussed the five core principles of the ADKAR model, we’ll provide a mixture of real-world and hypothetical examples detailing how this change process can be managed.

1 – Awareness

When McDonald’s introduced self-serve kiosks in its restaurants, it enabled customers to place an order without directly interacting with staff.

To alleviate concerns that some individuals would lose their jobs, the company employed change leaders with superior communication skills and emotional intelligence.

In more specific terms, McDonald’s employees were made aware that customers were increasingly wanting to serve themselves and that contactless payment was the future.

The interactive nature of the technology would also increase the amount of time customers spent in the restaurant and deliver a superior dining experience. 

Staff were also made aware that self-serve kiosks would make them more mobile and free them up to perform other tasks such as cleaning and table service.

In other words, there positions within the restaurant were still warranted.

2 – Desire

For the second principle of the ADKAR model, consider a marketing team that has been using the same CRM software for three years.

They have just been informed by a superior that the company will be investing in a more complex and feature-rich platform to better cater to the expanding business.

While employees can understand that a growing business needs more robust tools, most nevertheless remain adverse to adopting a new status quo.

In this case, creating a desire for change by outlining the benefits is key.

To that end, the company notes that the software will improve efficiency and allow it to charge more for its services.

Both these factors will increase employee salaries and bonuses.

3 – Knowledge

Training and education are critical to any change initiative since most employees fear the unknown.

If a company was switching to agile, for example, it stands to reason that the best results would come from hiring an agile coach.

Ideally, the coach should be able to design agile workflows and help employees learn and become comfortable with them.

They should understand the steep initial learning curve and motivate individuals to stick with agile long enough to understand its usefulness.

4 – Ability

Returning to the previous example, the agile coach and those responsible for managing the change should liaise with employees to determine if the new processes are being understood and implemented correctly. 

In this case, routine meetups and test sprints are a good place to identify common barriers and offer one-on-one support to those who are finding the transition process difficult.

5 – Reinforcement

Reinforcement is a matter of adopting a continuous improvement mindset and maintaining actions introduced under the fourth principle.

This may consist of weekly sessions where employees share positive and negative aspects of the change.

Less frequent sessions can mention time and cost savings or celebrate employee achievements.

Effective reinforcement techniques include new job titles, extra breaks, gift certificates, cake, free lunches, and competitions.

American SaaS company Zendesk introduced the “Champagne Campaign” to introduce a healthy sense of competition among its sales representatives.

Here, the first individual to reach a sales target is awarded a champagne bottle that is placed on their desk by the sales manager.

ADKAR vs. Kotter

Harvard Business School professor Dr. John Kotter has been a thought-leader on organizational change, and he developed Kotter’s 8-step change model, which helps business managers deal with organizational change. Kotter created the 8-step model to drive organizational transformation.

Like the ADKAR model, the Kotter change management model helps organizations drive change, yet it does that through developing a new vision and strategy.

Whereas the ADKAR model does it primarily through motivated employee buy-in.

The Kotter change management model indeed drives change through eight primary steps:

ADKAR vs Prosci

According to Prosci founder Jeff Hiatt, the secret to successful change “lies beyond the visible and busy activities that surround change. Successful change, at its core, is rooted in something much simpler: how to facilitate change with one person.”

The ADKAR model is one of the two foundational models within the Prosci method.

Indeed, beyond the ADKAR model, the Prosci moves through three key phases:


AIDA stands for attention, interest, desire, and action. That is a model that is used in marketing to describe the potential journey a customer might go through before purchasing a product or service. The AIDA model helps organizations focus their efforts when optimizing their marketing activities based on the customers’ journeys.

Compared to the ADKAR model which is used to drive change within the organization, the AIDA model is a marketing model used to drive action from outside the organization.

In other words, the AIDA model is focused on crafting compelling messages which make potential customers take action through four key steps:

Key takeaways

  • Purpose: The ADKAR model is a management tool designed to guide employees and businesses through successful organizational change by addressing resistance and ensuring employee acceptance.
  • Five Principles: The model consists of five core principles represented by the acronym ADKAR:
    • Awareness: Informing employees about the need for change by providing context and rationale.
    • Desire: Creating a desire for change by communicating the benefits and positive outcomes.
    • Knowledge: Providing training and education to ensure employees understand how the change will impact their roles.
    • Ability: Enabling employees to apply new skills and behaviors practically and with confidence.
    • Reinforcement: Rewarding and supporting employees to sustain new behaviors and overcome challenges.
  • Employee Buy-In: The ADKAR model focuses on motivated employee buy-in, which is crucial for successful change implementation and sustained acceptance.
  • Real-World Examples: The model is applicable in various scenarios, such as introducing new technology (e.g., self-serve kiosks), implementing software changes (e.g., CRM transition), adopting new methodologies (e.g., agile), and reinforcing positive behaviors (e.g., sales achievements).
  • Comparisons: The model can be compared to other change management approaches like Kotter’s 8-step model, Prosci’s approach, and AIDA marketing model. Each approach has its focus and application.
  • Continuous Improvement: The ADKAR model promotes a continuous improvement mindset by encouraging feedback collection, addressing challenges, and sustaining positive behaviors over time.
  • Employee Resilience: By following the ADKAR model, organizations can enhance employee resilience to future changes and prevent a return to old habits.
  • Transition Phases: The model emphasizes the importance of guiding employees through each phase of the change process, from creating awareness to reinforcing new behaviors.
  • Customization: The ADKAR model recognizes that employees have different roles and needs, advocating for customized training and support to ensure successful change adoption.
  • Long-Term Impact: Successfully implementing the ADKAR model can lead to sustained changes in an organization’s culture, processes, and behaviors over the long term.

What are the five principles of the ADKAR model?

The five principles of the ADKAR model are:

Connected Business Frameworks

Portfolio Management

Project portfolio management (PPM) is a systematic approach to selecting and managing a collection of projects aligned with organizational objectives. That is a business process of managing multiple projects which can be identified, prioritized, and managed within the organization. PPM helps organizations optimize their investments by allocating resources efficiently across all initiatives.

Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

Harvard Business School professor Dr. John Kotter has been a thought-leader on organizational change, and he developed Kotter’s 8-step change model, which helps business managers deal with organizational change. Kotter created the 8-step model to drive organizational transformation.

Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model

The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model was created by David Nadler and Michael Tushman at Columbia University. The Nadler-Tushman Congruence Model is a diagnostic tool that identifies problem areas within a company. In the context of business, congruence occurs when the goals of different people or interest groups coincide.

McKinsey’s Seven Degrees of Freedom

McKinsey’s Seven Degrees of Freedom for Growth is a strategy tool. Developed by partners at McKinsey and Company, the tool helps businesses understand which opportunities will contribute to expansion, and therefore it helps to prioritize those initiatives.

Mintzberg’s 5Ps

Mintzberg’s 5Ps of Strategy is a strategy development model that examines five different perspectives (plan, ploy, pattern, position, perspective) to develop a successful business strategy. A sixth perspective has been developed over the years, called Practice, which was created to help businesses execute their strategies.

COSO Framework

The COSO framework is a means of designing, implementing, and evaluating control within an organization. The COSO framework’s five components are control environment, risk assessment, control activities, information and communication, and monitoring activities. As a fraud risk management tool, businesses can design, implement, and evaluate internal control procedures.

TOWS Matrix

The TOWS Matrix is an acronym for Threats, Opportunities, Weaknesses, and Strengths. The matrix is a variation on the SWOT Analysis, and it seeks to address criticisms of the SWOT Analysis regarding its inability to show relationships between the various categories.

Lewin’s Change Management

Lewin’s change management model helps businesses manage the uncertainty and resistance associated with change. Kurt Lewin, one of the first academics to focus his research on group dynamics, developed a three-stage model. He proposed that the behavior of individuals happened as a function of group behavior.

Organizational Structure Case Studies

Airbnb Organizational Structure

Airbnb follows a holacracy model, or a sort of flat organizational structure, where teams are organized for projects, to move quickly and iterate fast, thus keeping a lean and flexible approach. Airbnb also moved to a hybrid model where employees can work from anywhere and meet on a quarterly basis to plan ahead, and connect to each other.

eBay Organizational Structure

eBay was until recently a multi-divisional (M-form) organization with semi-autonomous units grouped according to the services they provided. Today, eBay has a single division called Marketplace, which includes eBay and its international iterations.

IBM Organizational Structure

IBM has an organizational structure characterized by product-based divisions, enabling its strategy to develop innovative and competitive products in multiple markets. IBM is also characterized by function-based segments that support product development and innovation for each product-based division, which include Global Markets, Integrated Supply Chain, Research, Development, and Intellectual Property.

Sony Organizational Structure

Sony has a matrix organizational structure primarily based on function-based groups and product/business divisions. The structure also incorporates geographical divisions. In 2021, Sony announced the overhauling of its organizational structure, changing its name from Sony Corporation to Sony Group Corporation to better identify itself as the headquarters of the Sony group of companies skewing the company toward product divisions.

Facebook Organizational Structure

Facebook is characterized by a multi-faceted matrix organizational structure. The company utilizes a flat organizational structure in combination with corporate function-based teams and product-based or geographic divisions. The flat organization structure is organized around the leadership of Mark Zuckerberg, and the key executives around him. On the other hand, the function-based teams based on the main corporate functions (like HR, product management, investor relations, and so on).

Google Organizational Structure

Google (Alphabet) has a cross-functional (team-based) organizational structure known as a matrix structure with some degree of flatness. Over the years, as the company scaled and it became a tech giant, its organizational structure is morphing more into a centralized organization.

Tesla Organizational Structure

Tesla is characterized by a functional organizational structure with aspects of a hierarchical structure. Tesla does employ functional centers that cover all business activities, including finance, sales, marketing, technology, engineering, design, and the offices of the CEO and chairperson. Tesla’s headquarters in Austin, Texas, decide the strategic direction of the company, with international operations given little autonomy.

McDonald’s Organizational Structure

McDonald’s has a divisional organizational structure where each division – based on geographical location – is assigned operational responsibilities and strategic objectives. The main geographical divisions are the US, internationally operated markets, and international developmental licensed markets. And on the other hand, the hierarchical leadership structure is organized around regional and functional divisions.

Walmart Organizational Structure

Walmart has a hybrid hierarchical-functional organizational structure, otherwise referred to as a matrix structure that combines multiple approaches. On the one hand, Walmart follows a hierarchical structure, where the current CEO Doug McMillon is the only employee without a direct superior, and directives are sent from top-level management. On the other hand, the function-based structure of Walmart is used to categorize employees according to their particular skills and experience.

Microsoft Organizational Structure

Microsoft has a product-type divisional organizational structure based on functions and engineering groups. As the company scaled over time it also became more hierarchical, however still keeping its hybrid approach between functions, engineering groups, and management.

Read Next: Organizational Structure

Read Also: Business Model

About The Author

Scroll to Top