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The most common question I get when speaking with someone about change for the first time is which change model I use – followed quickly by which change model is best.  The truth is that it doesn’t matter which model you follow – whether it’s Lewin’s model, Prosci’s ADKAR model, Stages of Change (Transtheoretical Model), Bridges, Kotter, or anyone else’s model.  The truth is that every model fundamentally addresses the same challenge of accomplishing change – though admittedly they approach the process differently.

Look at the following graphic, which shows many of the popular models laid out against one another.

Here’s a quick summary of each model and its stages:

  • Lewin’s Freezing Model – The oldest model created by Kurt Lewin focuses on the fundamental need to make people open to change prior to attempting change and anchor to or refreeze around their new behavior.
  • Prosci ADKAR – This model expands to five steps and separates out awareness and desire from unfreezing in Lewin’s model. It also separates out knowledge and ability in the change and transition phase of Lewin’s model.
  • Stages of Change (Transtheoretical Model) – This model is officially called the Transtheoretical Model but is most frequently referred to as Stages of Change. It has been used primarily with addictions, particularly smoking.  This model tracks the ADKAR breakdown well, though it uses different names.
  • Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model – This model is based on steps and focuses on getting buy-in as a part of the unfreezing process.
  • Bridges Transition Model – This model adds the component of acknowledging the loss of change. While most models are focused explicitly on rational items, this model is focused more on emotions and less on steps.

In addition to these well-established models, many organizations have their own models that may or may not be based on one of these models.  Whether an organization uses an established model, a model they created, or some hybrid isn’t that important.  What’s important is that the model fits the environment it’s being used in.  Some organizations are more capable of processing with Bridges’ model while others need the more defined steps of Kotter’s approach.

Understanding Fit and Developing Skills

The problem is one of fit for the organization and the change being attempted.  If you’re looking to decide on a change model, the key question to ask isn’t which model is best but rather which model is the best fit for your organization.  Learning multiple models and the drives that make each of them work allows you to adapt and improvise during your change effort to increase your chances of success more quickly.

What you can learn no matter which change management model you use are the skills that allow all the models to work.  Learning how to work with your stakeholders, including getting buy-in and addressing conflict, can help you get and keep the critical support you need.  Learning inverted pyramid writing and how to write emotionally, including how to write teasers, makes it more likely your communications will get read and therefore the more likely that the change will be effective.

Change Skills are Key

Rather than asking which model is the right model, a better question may be what skills are necessary to be successful in your change initiative.