10 change management models to use in the workplace

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 29 November 2022

Published 3 January 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Businesses frequently change direction and embark on new ventures. When an organisation goes through a transition, it's useful to use a coordinated approach to smooth out the process. Change management models outline the process and help employees, team members and managers to implement these changes. In this article, we discuss what a change management model is, outline the advantages of using one and share 10 models with proven results for an organisation's transition.

Related: The importance of change management for businesses

What are change management models?

Change management models offer advice to help businesses plan and apply the processes of change more effectively. The way an organisation incorporates innovation has a big impact on its success which is why experts designed these models to bring about a successful transition. Discovering how other companies have transitioned successfully can help your organisation thrive too.

When it's obvious that your organisation has to make changes, it's a good idea to take a strategic approach and find out how other companies have made similar transitions. For example, a business may decide they want to switch to a new type of online customer service. A change management model helps team members embrace this new service. Experts developed these models, which offer definitive guidelines to plan and implement successful changes.

Related: Project management skills and how to improve them

Why is it important to use change management models?

Changes in office processes can be disruptive and may lead to loss of productivity and employee motivation if they aren't well managed. Following a specific plan, whether that's one of these models or a combination of methods, ensures your employees follow the same guidelines. Good planning helps you avoid unexpected costs and unforeseen issues.

10 change management models to consider

The following is a list of proven change management models. Experts designed some of these models for large-scale organisational changes and others for smaller business transitions. After evaluating these models, you may decide that embracing one model or taking elements from different models is the right approach for your organisation:

1. Lewin's change management model

Physicist Kurt Lewin developed Lewin's theory of change management in the 1940s. It involved three steps, which he compared to melting ice cubes:

  1. Unfreeze: In the 'unfreeze' stage, the organisation assesses its current processes and prepares for the upcoming transition and ensures everyone understands why changes are necessary. The team approaches challenges and duties with a new frame of mind. The first step addresses any employee concerns, whether in their new roles or the tasks the company assigns to managers.

  2. Change: In the 'change' phase, staff and managers work together to implement these changes. They use clear communication and plan specific processes.

  3. Refreeze: Once the company implements the changes, the new status quo goes into refreeze. This maintains the new organisational structure and ensures the company keeps the new initiatives specified in the plans.

This model spreads the 'change' phase out so there is time to overcome resistance. One of the benefits of this model is that the 'unfreeze' step analyses your organisation's processes. This can reveal mistakes made in the past which still have an impact on the success of your business today. It's a useful model for making organisational or whole team changes.

Related: Lewin’s change theory model and how it can assist businesses

2. McKinsey 7-S model

This is a complex model which is useful for difficult transitions involving the whole organisation. McKinsey & Company consultants developed this programme, which distributes changes into seven components and assesses these elements by how they work together. Ranked in no particular order, the seven 'S's are:

  • strategy

  • structure

  • systems

  • shared values

  • style

  • staff

  • skills

According to the model, strategy, structure and system are the 'hard elements' which are easier to control. Shared values such as staff, style and skills make up the 'soft elements' which are more difficult to administer. The seven elements represent each part of an organisation's processes, from the employees to company culture. This model helps identify changes that would benefit the business.

Related: Business development skills: Definition and examples

3. Kubler-Ross change curve

This model acknowledges that organisational change can trigger emotional responses among employees. Based on the five stages of grief, which the psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross outlined, the model breaks down each stage of transition and assesses how employees react to those changes. The five stages are:

  1. denial

  2. anger

  3. bargaining

  4. depression

  5. acceptance

The idea is that employees may experience these feelings during big changes. It's important to keep a channel of communication open so members of staff feel that their emotions count towards the final result. It's an effective model for small companies where employees can discuss any issues they have. You may want to use this model in tandem with another framework that defines solid steps to reaching your goal.

Related: How To Overcome Resistance To Change at Work in 6 Steps

4. Kotter's 8-step change model

Harvard business professor, John P. Kotter developed this change model which focuses on the psychology of a company's employees. The eight steps of Kotter's model are:

  1. Creating a sense of urgency

  2. Building strong coalitions

  3. Forming strategic visions

  4. Getting everyone involved

  5. Enabling action by removing obstacles

  6. Generating short-term achievements

  7. Sustaining the changes

  8. Instituting the changes

The model ensures that employees understand why change is necessary and can be useful if employees show signs of resistance. The framework helps build trust and encourages teamwork. By setting out clear objectives, it can bring staff together to support each other as a team.

Related: What is Kotter's Change Model? (A step-by-step explanation)

5. The ADKAR model

Prosci founder Jeff Hiatt created this model to facilitate change on an individual basis. ADKAR is an acronym for the five stages an individual experiences when going through a successful change:

  1. Awareness: that change has to happen

  2. Desire: build enthusiasm for the change

  3. Knowledge: individuals know what you expect of them in the change process

  4. Ability: employees have the training they require to carry out the changes

  5. Reinforcement: ensure employees have everything necessary to keep these changes

This model focuses on starting a discussion with employees about the reasons why changes are necessary. It values clear instructions about how to implement changes and what employees can expect. It also allows employees to participate in the process which helps them feel valued.

Related: What is the ADKAR model and how does it work?

6. Deming Cycle (PDCA)

Dr Williams Edwards Deming in the 1950s devised this model, which is also known as the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle. This model concentrates on continuous improvement and development. The four phases are:

  1. Plan: this stage looks at the necessary changes and how to implement them.

  2. Do: the plan moves forward and everyone involved starts to make the changes.

  3. Check: this stage checks each process and looks at how they're affecting employees and business practices.

  4. Act: this looks at the continuous improvements and how employees have embraced them.

This model supports a periodic process of implementing company changes while assessing growth and development. It plans for continuous improvement through these changes.

Related: How to use the PDCA cycle (with benefits and example)

7. The Satir Change Model

Family therapist Virginia Satir created this model, which is similar to Kubler-Ross's in that it looks at the emotional journey taken by employees when going through changes. It can be split into five phases:

  1. late Status Quo

  2. resistance

  3. chaos

  4. integration

  5. new status quo

This model looks at how to avoid the frustration employees feel when faced with new policies and working patterns. It believes many changes don't work out because of resistance and communication shortfalls. Therefore it focuses on preparing employees for these changes and how you can sustain them.

8. Nudge Theory

This is less of a step-by-step model and more of a way of working that encourages a new mindset. This theory, based on a book by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein called 'Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth and Happiness', is about discovering how changes can benefit employees and the wider company. Management nudges employees to make changes for themselves. Additionally, this theory encourages management to embrace feedback from employees.

Related: Types of employee training programmes (with benefits)

9. Maurer 3 Levels of Resistance

This model is unique because it looks at the obstacles to change. Change management coach Rick Maurer developed the model, which focuses on the issues that contribute to a failed change. He believes there are three levels of resistance:

  1. I don't get it: People often reject ideas they don't understand. If you explain why change is necessary, they're much more likely to embrace it.

  2. I don't like it: Employees resist changes if they believe they aren't in their interests. Careful preparation and training can help.

  3. I don't like you: If employees believe in you and your judgements, they're far more likely to support your ideas.

10. Bridges Transition Model

The core of the Bridges model is the emotional transition employees experience in accepting changes. Change consultant William Bridges developed this model, which breaks this transition into three phases:

  1. Ending, losing and letting go: Fear is the first reaction of many people as they resist change.

  2. The neutral zone: As the business changes, employees feel they're in between the old and the new.

  3. The new beginning: Employees feel able to accept these changes and start to embrace new ways of working.

Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.

Explore more articles