Change is the only constant reality of life and is observed not just in our personal life but also on the professional front. But do all of us know how to deal with change? No. Managing change and learning to adapt to it takes time, energy, efforts and training and this is the reason why several learned individuals around the globe have come up with properly structured and defined models to manage change.

In this article, we shall go through what change management is and about the various popular change management models that have been effectively and successfully been applied to businesses and industries with the aim of dealing with transition and change.

Major Approaches & Models of Change Management

© | Sergey Nivens

In this article, we provide 1) an overview on change management and explain 2) the major approaches and models of change management.


Change Management is the term that is used to refer to the change or transitioning people, groups, companies and projects from one state to another. When this term is applied to businesses and projects, it may refer to a process of transitioning the scope of the project in such a way that it can meet changing requirements and objectives. What happens is that after a certain point in time some changes may need to be introduced as far as functioning, operations, marketing, finance or the other aspects of a business are concerned so as to improve its chances of reaching its goals. Change management involves the application of structured methods and a pre-planned framework so as to steer business from its current state to a desired state.

The main benefit or advantage of the application of change management is that it helps to increase the chances of a business staying on its budget or schedule that in turn leads to higher ROI and realization of benefits. Amidst the high competition and fast paced world, it is important for every organization to move ahead by constantly bringing about useful and structured changes and adapting to new technology and methodologies to meet customer demand.


In order to manage change and implement change strategies, it is important to avoid implementing irrelevant or random methods and try to focus on a suitable plan of action. Change management is an ongoing process that takes time, expertise, dedication and efforts to implement and run. It requires the involvement of people or staff of the company and may also result in these people being affected by the changes too. Before adopting one of the many effective and popular change management approaches and models, an organization must first figure out why it needs the changes and how will the changes benefit it.

The following are some of the best strategies and approaches to implement change management.

1)   Lewin’s Change Management Model

Lewin’s Change Management Model is one of the most popular and effective models that make it possible for us to understand organizational and structured change. This model was designed and created by Kurt Lewin in the 1950s, and it still holds valid today. Lewin was a physicist and social scientist who explained the structured or organizational change through the changing states of a block of ice. His model consists of three main stages which are: unfreeze, change and refreeze. Let’s look at these stages in detail:

  • Unfreeze: The first stage of the process of change according to Lewin’s method involves the preparation for the change. This means that at this step, the organization must get prepared for the change and also for the fact that change is crucial and needed. This phase is important because most people around the world try to resist change, and it is important to break this status quo. The key here is to explain to people why the existing way needs to be changed and how change can bring about profit. This step also involves an organization looking into its core and re-examining it.
  • Change: This is the stage where the real transition or change takes place. The process may take time to happen as people usually spend time to embrace new happenings, developments, and changes. At this stage, good leadership and reassurance is important because these aspects not only lead to steer forward in the right direction but also make the process easier for staff or individuals who are involved in the process. Communication and time thus are the keys for this stage to take place successfully.
  • Refreeze: Now that the change has been accepted, embraced and implemented by people, the company or organization begins to become stable again. This is why the stage is referred to as refreeze. This is the time when the staff and processes begin to refreeze, and things start going back to their normal pace and routine. This step requires the help of the people to make sure changes are used all the time and implemented even after the objective has been achieved. Now with a sense of stability, employees get comfortable and confident of the acquired changes.

2)   McKinsey 7 S Model

McKinsey 7-S framework or model is one of those few models that have managed to persist even when others came in and went out of trend. It was developed by consultants working for McKinsey & Company in the 1980s and features seven steps or stages for managing change.


  • Strategy – Strategy is the plan created to get past the competition and reach the goals. This is the first stage of change according to McKinsey’s 7-S framework and involves the development of a step-by-step procedure or future plan.
  • Structure – Structure is the stage or attribute of this model that relates to the way in which the organization is divided or the structure it follows.
  • Systems – In order to get a task done, the way in which the day-to-day activities are performed is what this stage is related to.
  • Shared values – Shared values refer to the core or main values of an organization according to which it runs or works.
  • Style – The manner in which the changes and leadership are adopted or implemented is known as ‘style’.
  • Staff – The staff refers to the workforce or employees and their working capabilities.
  • Skills – The competencies as well as other skills possessed by the employees working in the organization.

Benefits of this model

  • This model offers ways and methods to understand an organization and get a deep insight into the way it works.
  • This model integrates both the emotional as well as the practical components of change that is something that is important to create ways to enable employees deal with transition easily.
  • This model considers all parts to be important and equally worth addressing and thus does not leave out some aspects that may be of importance.
  • This model also offers directional factor to organizational change.

Disadvantages of this model

  • Since all the factors are interrelated and interdependent on one another, the failing of one part means failing of all and this is the greatest disadvantage of this model.
  • This model is complex as compared to the others and differences are not focused upon in it.
  • Organizations that have used this model have experienced more cases of failure, and this too can be considered as one negative associated with it.

3)   Kotter’s change management theory

Kotter’s change management theory is one of the most popular and adopted ones in the world. This theory has been devised by John P. Kotter, who is a Harvard Business School Professor and author of several books based on change management. This change management theory of his is divided into eight stages where each one of them focuses on a key principle that is associated with the response of people to change.


  • Increase urgency – This step involves creating a sense of urgency among the people so as to motivate them to move forward towards objectives.
  • Build the team – This step of Kotter’s change management theory is associated with getting the right people on the team by selecting a mix of skills, knowledge and commitment.
  • Get the vision correct – This stage is related to creating the correct vision by taking into account, not the just strategy but also creativity, emotional connect and objectives.
  • Communicate – Communication with people regarding change and its need is also an important part of the change management theory by Kotter.
  • Get things moving – In order to get things moving or empower action, one needs to get support, remove the roadblocks and implement feedback in a constructive way.
  • Focus on short term goals – Focusing on short term goals and dividing the ultimate goal into small and achievable parts is a good way to achieve success without too much pressure.
  • Don’t give up – Persistence is the key to success, and it is important not to give up while the process of change management is going on, no matter how tough things may seem.
  • Incorporate change – Besides managing change effectively, it is also important to reinforce it and make it a part of the workplace culture.

Benefits of this model

  • This is a step-by-step model that is easy to follow and incorporate.
  • The main idea behind it is to accept the change and prepare for it rather than changing itself.

Disadvantages of this model

  • Since it is a step-by-step model, no step can be skipped to reach the one after that.
  • The entire process given in this model can be very time-consuming.

4)   Nudge Theory

Nudge Theory or Nudge is a concept that finds use in behavioral science, economics, and political theory but can be applied to change management in organizations and businesses as well. This theory is mainly credited to Cass R. Sunstein and Richard H. Thaler. Nudging someone or encouraging and inspiring them to change is the basic essence of this theory. Nudge theory is not only helpful in exploring and understanding existing influences but also explaining them to either eliminate them or change them to an extent where positives may begin to be derived.

It is important to note that there are many unhelpful ‘nudges’ around which can either be deliberate or may just be accidental. What this theory mainly seeks is to work upon the management as well as the understanding of the many influences on human behavior that lead to the changing people. It focuses on the design of choices which is responsible for directing our preferences and influencing the choices that we make. What this theory says is that choices must be designed in such a way that it can be aligned with the way people think and decide.

As compared to other theories, Nudge Theory is more sophisticated in its approach and is radically different from other ways of transitioning. This theory eliminates traditional change methods like punishment enforcement and direct instructions. One of the main benefits of this theory is that it takes into account the difference in feelings, opinions, and knowledge of people and also considers the reality of the situation as well as the characteristics of human nature and behavior. It thus minimizes resistance from employees of a company and is very well applied in several industries.

5)   ADKAR model

ADKAR model or theory of change is a goal-oriented tool or model which makes it possible for the various change management teams to focus on those steps or activities that are directly related to the goals it wants to reach to. The goals, as well as the results derived and defined using this model, are cumulative and in a sequence. This means that while using this model, an individual must get each of the outcomes or results in a certain orderly fashion so that the change can be sustained and implemented. The model can be used by managers of change to find out the various holes or gaps in the process of change management so that effective training can be offered to the employees. The following are some of the things for which this model can be used:

  • To provide help and support to employees to go through the process of change or transitioning while the change management is taking place.
  • To diagnose and treat the resistance shown by employees towards change.
  • To come up with a successful and efficient plan for the professional as well as personal improvements of employees during the change.

ADKAR Model basically stands for

  • Awareness – of the need and requirement for change
  • Desire – to bring about change and be a participant in it
  • Knowledge – of how to bring about this change
  • Ability – to incorporate the change on a regular basis
  • Reinforcement – to keep it implemented and reinforced later on as well.

Benefits of ADKAR Model

  • The model offers the capability of Identification and evaluation of the reasons why changes made are not working and why desired results are not being obtained.
  • The model makes it possible for one to break the changes into different parts and then figure out the point where change may not be as effective as planned.
  • It offers both business dimension of change as well as people dimension of change.

6)    Bridges’ Transition Model

Bridges‘ transition model was developed by William Bridges who is a change consultant, and this theory came into the eye of the public after it was published in the book “Managing transitions”. The specialty of this model or theory is that it concentrates and focusses upon transition and not change as such. The difference between transition and change may be subtle, but it is important to understand it. Where transition on one hand is internal, change on the other is something that happens to people, even when they don’t realize it. Transition is something that happens to people when they are going through the change. Change can be instant, transition may take time.

The model focuses on three main stages that are given as follows:

  • Ending, Losing, and Letting Go – When people are first introduced to change, they may enter this first stage that is marked with resistance and emotional discomfort. Some of the emotions experienced at this stage include fear, resentment, anger, denial, sadness, frustration and most of all-disorientation. One has to realize that he/she is coming near to a certain end so as to accept new beginnings.
  • The Neutral Zone – This is the stage of uncertainty, impatience, and confusion. This stage can be considered as the bridge between the old and the new when people are still attached to the old but trying to adapt to the new. This stage is associated with low morale and reduced productivity, and one may experience anxiety and skepticism as well when going through this stage. But despite this, the neutral zone may also include innovation, renewal and a burst of creativity.
  • The New Beginning – When the neutral phase is passed through support and guidance, the stage of acceptance and energy enters the picture. At this level, people begin to embrace the change and understand its importance. They are beginning to build the skills needed to reach the new goals and may start to experience benefits of the change already. It is associated with high levels of energy, new commitment and a zest to learn.

7)   Kübler-Ross Five Stage Model

The Kübler-Ross five stage model was developed by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross after she pursued her research on the dying and death. This model is also thus known as the Grief Model as it talks about the various emotional states and stages a person goes through when he/she discovers that he/she may be nearing their end. The model can also be applied to other life situations such as loss of job, changes in work and other less serious health conditions. The model helps to understand and deal with personal trauma and has been widely accepted worldwide. The following are the various stages that are associated with the Kübler-Ross model:

  • Denial – Denial is the first stage of the model and is a stage when one is unable to accept the news. It is like a buffer or defense that a person tends to create due to the inability to absorb the news. One may experience shock as well as a sense of numbness during this stage and this happens because every person shows resistance towards change and may not want to believe what is happening.
  • Anger – When the news actually gets absorbed, then the first reaction is usually that of anger. The denial converts into anger when one realizes that the change will actually affect them and is for real. One starts looking for someone to blame during this stage. For different people, there can be different ways of directing anger.
  • Bargaining – The next step or stage involves bargaining so as to avail the best possible solution out of the situation or circumstance. Bargaining is a way for people to avoid ending up with the worst case scenario and is a natural reaction to avoid the extreme change.
  • Depression – When one realizes that bargaining isn’t working, he/she may end up getting depressed and may lose all faith. This is the phase when one is not bothered by anything and moves into a sad and hopeless state of mind. There are many ways to observe or identify depression and some of them include low energy, non-commitment, low motivation and lack of any kind of excitement or happiness.
  • Acceptance – When one realizes that there is no point in being depressed or fighting change, he/she may finally accept what is happening and may begin to resign to it. There are different ways in people handle this stage. While some may begin to explore the options left with them to make the most of the situation, others may just feel that no option is left for them and may just resign to destiny.

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