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Prosci’s ADKAR model is based on five key sequential steps: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability, and Reinforcement.  These steps are an expansion of Lewin’s model but represent a significant advancement in that it clarifies components of Lewin’s stages and makes them more transparent.

Confusing Awareness and Desire

When Lewin wrote of unfreezing, he was moving towards a model of understanding that people don’t change without a reason, and they need to know about those reasons to be willing to change.  Jeff Hiatt recognized that the desire to change was preceded by an awareness of the change.  Building on the work of Everett Rogers, Hiatt recognized that knowledge was one thing, but doing something was different.  To decide to make a change, people needed more than awareness.  They need a desire.

Too often, organizations make the mistake of making stakeholders aware of the change without working to instill in them a sense of desire about the change.  ADKAR specifically addresses the need to motivate through the introduction of desire.  Everyone who must change their behavior – or ask others to change their behavior – must also desire the change.  However, even desire isn’t enough to accomplish change.  For that, we must have knowledge and ability.

Knowledge and Ability

The next two parts of the ADKAR model correspond to Lewin’s Change and Transition phase.  Here, Hiatt again splits Lewin’s category into two steps.  The first step is acquiring knowledge about the change.  This is learning what behaviors must be changed, what the expected outcomes of the individual behavior changes are, and how these changes fit into the larger picture.  This knowledge is a crucial prerequisite to being able to make the change.

Hiatt was aware that knowledge exists at many levels and of the work of Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues, who established a hierarchy of educational objectives.  These objectives ranged from simple awareness of a concept up to the ability to synthesize and analyze new ideas based on the learning.  In the middle of the hierarchy of educational objectives is the level that allows people to apply what they’ve learned.

Ability to make the change takes many forms.  In some cases, it’s performance of a new task or skill.  In other cases, it’s stopping an activity or modifying it.  Ability is the first step, where people are actually changing their behavior.  This may be tentative at first, but with time, they reinforce their ability to do the changed behaviors.

However, many of us have started new behaviors only to have old behaviors raise their head again.  The first challenge, the first spike of stress, or the first fear about the new behaviors is often enough to push people back towards their old behaviors.  To prevent this from happening, an important reinforcement step is required.


Here, Hiatt renamed Lewin’s Refreezing to simply reinforcement.  The key to this phase is the recognition that change is a process.  After the new behaviors are established, they must be reinforced and supported to ensure that those behaviors remain the behaviors the organization uses until they’re supplanted by another change effort that seeks to further refine or improve them.

ADKAR Together

When you put these steps together, you’re left with a transition process that addresses the need to become cognizant of the change and why it’s necessary, you develop the knowledge and skills necessary to make the change, and you reinforce those behaviors to prevent regression.  The ADKAR method is an effective way to deliver change, and it provides more details about the process than Lewin’s model.