Employee Communications ~ 12 min

Change Management models: 8 proven strategies for success

Marketing Team, Experts in Employee Advocacy, Sociabble
Marketing Team Experts in Employee Advocacy

Change management models can help you to determine what the best path to take is when it comes to enacting transformation initiatives at your company. But how do you know which model is best for your organization? In this article, we’ll discuss the pros and cons of each.

Sooner or later, change management models become relevant for every organization, because every organization experiences change. Evolving and adapting with the times is critical for the health of a company—it’s what keeps it alive in turbulent times, and what allows it to grow to meet new demands and new markets.

But when change becomes not just inevitable but necessary, a question also arises: which model is best suited for the task? The fact is, there are a number of options. In this post, we’ll discuss eight. The one thing they all have in common, however, is the importance of employee communication. Without strong communication, almost any change-based initiative is doomed to fail.

What is change management theory?

Before we leap into the intricacies and subtle differences found in change management, it might be best to define what change management models actually are and how they can be categorized. At their essence, change management models are simply guides or instructions to help you successfully lead change.

No two change models are the same, but they all fall into one of these two groups:

  • Process focussed.

They focus more on the steps you take in order to obtain change, the actual process involved in achieving results.

  • People focussed.

They focus on the human response to change, and how to manage people’s reactions to the alterations they find in their tasks, routines, and environment.


Why is thinking about change management models important? Because organizations need to continuously adapt to fit their constantly transforming ecosystems and environments; they must keep pace with innovative trends and needs, and stand out against the competition. This is why change is not just important, but actually crucial, as sometimes it truly is a matter of survival.

How many change management models are there?

Now, to the truly interesting part: what are the models currently out there to help an organization guide its change management process? Well, there are quite a few, but we’ll focus on the eight most commonly used change management models, drawing examples from both of the main categories, and explain a bit about how each one works.

Process Focussed Change Management Models:

Model #1. Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

This model was developed by John Kotter, a Harvard professor, in an article in the Harvard Business Review back in 1995.

This method is based on 3 phases, with a total of 8 steps:

  • Phase 1

Create a climate for change, which corresponds to creating the conditions for shared understanding on why and how the company needs to conduct a change. This phase includes three steps that are: 1. create urgency 2. build a coalition and 3. create a vision.

  • Phase 2

Engage and enable the organization. This means engaging the team, so that they are willing and enthusiastic about effective change. There are 3 steps in this phase, which are: 4. communicate the vision, 5. empower others, and 6. create quick wins.

  • Phase 3

Implement and sustain. This is about building momentum, capitalizing on the first successes and fully implementing the change across the organization. The last steps of the Kotter model are: 7. build on change and 8. embed the change.


Model #2. Lewin’s Change Model

Kurt Lewin’s change model is also known as the “Unfreeze Change Refreeze Change” model. It is considered the founding pioneer of change management models, as it was developed back in the 1940s. The first phase consists of creating the desire to implement change and to “unfreeze” the status quo.

Then comes the phase to implement the necessary changes, and then solidify the new situation into the organization. The name of this method comes from the fact that Lewin used the example of turning a cube of ice into a cone of ice, and then applied it to organizational change management in general.


Model #3. PDCA Cycle Change Model

The PDCA method is appropriate for organizations that require continuous change. For instance, when needing to continuously improve products, services, or processes. It is a 4-stage cycle change model, that allows you to use it over and over again for continuous improvements. Each cycle begins with a Plan, where issues are identified and understood, and the best solutions are chosen.

Then in the Do stage, the solutions are implemented at a very small scale. After, during the Check stage, you verify if the solutions were as effective as expected. And lastly, in the Act phase, solutions are rolled out at scale, before beginning the whole PDCA cycle again.


Model #4. McKinsey 7S Framework Model

The McKinsey 7S model is not a pure process model, at it also contains “people focussed” elements. According to this model, there are seven fundamental elements in every organization: 3 hard elements (Strategy, Structure, and System), which are easier to control, and 4 soft elements (Shared Values, Staff, Style, and Skills) that are more difficult to change.

All these elements are interconnected, and when one changes, it has some effect on the other ones. This model is very much used in fast-growing companies, as it is useful for understanding and realigning these elements during growth, and for keeping activities running smoothly.


People Focussed Change Management Models:

Model #5. ADKAR Model of Change

The ADKAR model is different from other change management models because it focuses on change at the individual level, instead of at the organizational level. The assumption being that people must change first, before the organization changes behind them.

The name of this model is an acronym of 5 steps a person needs to take to be willing and able to change: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement. When combined, they make lasting change possible, first for the individual employee, and then for the organization as a whole.


Model #6. Nudge Theory

The Nudge Theory change model is based on the assumption that people can be encouraged, gently nudged to change, without forcing or obliging them to do so. It relies on the cognitive bias everyone has, in order to encourage employees to see the need for change for themselves, and then influence them in the desired direction—a bit like a parent would do with a child.

This method aims to get the full support of people working in an organization, in effect making them part of the change process itself.


Model #7. The Kübler-Ross Change Curve Model

The Kübler-Ross Change Curve model explains how people emotionally experience and react to change. It explains how employees’ motivation and performance increase or decrease during the whole change management process, according to their emotional reactions.

The curve begins with a phase of shock, then denial; then productivity goes down during the frustration and the depression period. However, it starts increasing again during the experiment and decision phases, and eventually it even rises to above the initial starting point during the last integration phase.


Model #8. The Satir Change Model

The Satir Change Model is in some ways related to the Kübler-Ross Change Curve, but it focuses more on performance. It was initially designed for family therapy, and then adopted for organizational change by companies. It aims to help people improve on how they react and cope with change.

At the heart of this model, there is the principle that things can only get better, even if it takes time and for a situation to sometimes get worse before getting better.


Which change management methodology is best?

Every leader of an organization in need of change, when facing change management, asks the same questions: How can I ensure my change initiatives are successful? What is the best method to choose? The stakes are high, and such questions and doubts are only natural.

Honestly, it depends on the particular circumstances regarding where the company operates, the momentum you choose to implement change, and of course, the company culture and the employees themselves. All of these are factors.

However, it is possible to combine elements of different change management models in order to achieve the change objectives. For example, adopt a Kotter model and then a PDCA model for implementing one of the 8 steps. You can get creative and see what works best.

What are the change management best practices?

Change management best practices encompass effective communication, stakeholder engagement, leadership support, clear goal setting, training and development, and continuous monitoring of progress.

Employee communication as a key element for success in change management

Whatever the change management model you choose, communication plays a crucial role on your strategy.

You will need to align employees with your vision, and to obtain it, you’ll will need to explain why you want to change things, and what you want to achieve with said changes. Aslo, you will need to explain how it will happen, as part of communicating your change management strategy to your employees. Lastly, you will need to communicate the benefits and the consequences of the change, and explain clearly how employees will be impacted.

Of course, you don’t want to address the people in your organization in the exact same way. To connect with all employees, it is important to identify personas. Employees react better when you’re speaking to their interests, roles, and likes. A generic message will receive a pretty generic response. You can learn more about employee communication in this guide.

To get the best engagement, tailor your messaging— and your story—for different segments of your workforce, and send separate messaging. It‘s also important to deliver a message through the right channel: some employees may not be equipped with an office terminal, so information will need to be available on their smartphones or other mobile devices. You need to find the best way to reach them.

Change management can be a long process. It’s critical for all employees to have access to important information and updates, but also to have the chance to give their feedback in order to be part of the initiative and to contribute and embrace the process. Surveys are ideal because not only can can verify how people react and adopt change throughout the process, but also to allow you to collect feedback and ideas from them, which can prove key.

Sociabble, for example, is an ideal employee communication platform to do all of the above. It is accessible both via desktop and mobile, giving all workers access. It’s also possibility to customize comms according to audience, to push important news with “must-read” notifications, and celebrate short term achievements with recognition features that award badges and peer-to-peer kudos.

Surveys are also possible with just a few clicks, targeting specific audiences, with the option to decide if answers are anonymous or not, with everything backed up by instant translation in virtually any language your employees may speak.


Effective communication applied to the Kotter change management model

At Sociabble, we’ve seen first-hand that we how think of and talk to employees during a change process is crucial. Too often, company’s neglect to address employees as separate individuals with distinct motivations, ways of processing content, and interests. Which is a major reason so much communication is ignored and not engaged with.

To capture the interest of employees, you have to earn their engagement. And one effective way to do this is to speak to what moves them. Rather than thinking of the employees as a single monolithic whole, there are ways to create personas and segment them by categories relevant to transformation initiatives.

In this white paper, available for free download here, we’ve conducted a deep dive into Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model and demonstrated how an effective communication strategy backed up by the right digital tools can take change management to a whole new level.

In it, you will find a step-by-step guide for ensuring effective and long-lasting change. By incorporating engaging storylines and narrative arcs to create a common sense of purpose and journey, and by then pairing these communications to the right set of digital tools, change becomes meaningful, beneficial, and permanent.

L’Occitane en Provence: A concrete example of successful change management boosted by effective communication

Started by Olivier Baussan in 1976, in the Provence region of France, the L’Occitane Group is an industry leader in the field of organic cosmetics. The company exists today in more than 90 different countries, with roughly 3,285 unique points of sale. And when a new brand strategy was announced, the organization needed a method to engage all of its employees across the globe, many of whom were frontline and retail workers, and inform them of the new brand direction—all with only two months to get ready.

And the solution? With a short window to launch the project, L’Occitane partnered with Sociabble to create a new employee communication platform, to communicate rapidly the new strategy of the brand, but also to build an effective system for the long-term, with objectives centered around content creation and employee advocacy, with a focus on frontline workers and retail employees.

This multi-faceted approach helped guarantee that the project was successfully implemented in a very short amount of time.

And thanks to its mobile capabilities, the platform was just as effective for frontline and retail workers who didn’t have access to a workstation or a professional email address. L’Occitane’s platform, created together with Sociabble, has become the core of the employee communication structure for the entire organization.


If you’re interested in learning more about how Sociabble can help your company achieve its employee and internal communication goals, we invite you to sign up for a free customized demo.

We’ve already partnered with dozens of companies all over the world, including industry leaders like Primark, Renault Group, and Coca-Cola. We’d love to chat!

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