Of all change management initiatives, only about 34% succeed.
Organizations that can’t handle change can expect to face serious difficulties. Companies that can’t adapt to changing circumstances risk either stagnating or burning out – and the resulting damage to morale can meaningfully impact your staff.
Change management frameworks give your company a clear change management strategy.
However small the change, the appropriate framework makes it smooth and meaningful for everyone involved.
As your organization grows and adapts, you can draw on processes that have worked in the past to repeat your successes and learn from your mistakes.
It’s a way to make your business more resilient in the long term.
So, whether you’re implementing a move to a new web browser or a pivot to skills-based hiring, this article shows you how to choose the change management framework that works best for managing change.
Table of contents
- What is a change management framework?
- How to identify the best change management framework to follow?
- 8 change management frameworks (+ templates and real-world applications)
- Make change management frameworks work for you
- ✅ Use personality testing to gauge your employees’ ability to change
What is a change management framework?
A change management framework is a systematic approach to managing organizational changes.
These frameworks aim to ensure that you implement change thoughtfully and thoroughly so your employees accept it and even welcome it.
To understand change, we can use the Kübler-Ross Change Curve. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross developed the Kübler-Ross model to understand grief, but it works just as well within the change management theory.
The five stages your company goes through while it adapts to change are:
You can use change management frameworks to manage any type of organizational change, from introducing new project management software to implementing a cultural change.
They provide a clear path through the change process, so you know what to do at every stage of the transition.
You can use plenty of change management frameworks because each has a unique approach. But ultimately, most change management frameworks have the same purpose. A good framework should steer your company through all of the following steps:
- Preparing your organization for change
- Planning each stage of the implementation process
- Implementing the change
- Embedding your new practices into policy and organizational culture
- Analyzing the progress and impacts of the change
How to identify the best change management framework to follow?
There’s no one-size-fits-all framework that suits every company’s needs.
To choose the appropriate framework, you need to take the specifics of your situation into account, including:
- The size of your company
- Your company culture
- The type of change you want to implement
- Your goals in implementing the change
There are plenty of frameworks out there to choose from.
Taking the time to understand the nature and purpose of your change program enables you to choose a framework that will be most meaningful for your company.
In this section, we explain how to gain that understanding. It takes time, but good preparation at this stage helps you make the most informed choice – increasing your chances of successful change management.
Identify and evaluate your stakeholders
Before you begin, you need to know who your stakeholders are. Who will be involved in the process of change? Who will be affected by it?
Once you have this information, you can evaluate their feelings about change. Are they skeptical about any change at work?
Do they have reservations about its implementation? Do they have high levels of trust in you, as change managers, to introduce change effectively?
Your answers to these questions could vary across your organization.
For example, in a company planning to introduce a new sales database, the staff who use the current system may worry about the time and effort involved in learning a new software package.
Meanwhile, the accounting staff doesn’t use the database themselves, but they could still have reservations about the cost of buying the new software and training.
Although they aren’t the primary stakeholders, they could foster skepticism about the change if they feel excluded or unheard.
If you identify concerns about resistance to change, you should get ahead of them.
Remember, some people have misgivings about change, but others are enthusiastic early adopters. You can coach these change agents on a 1:1 basis to spread acceptance.
All this information should inform your change efforts.
Define the nature and scale of the change
At this stage, you probably know the approximate shape of the change you want to bring about. Now it’s time to define it more clearly.
Think about what you want to happen and what its effects will be. Will they be confined to an individual or a team, or will they ripple throughout your organization?
This step informs how you communicate your vision for change to your employees and other stakeholders. If you understand the nature, scale, and impact of your planned change, you can express it clearly to those affected.
Breaking the change down into bite-size, manageable steps can help gain early buy-in from stakeholders. Celebrate each step you complete as a win to foster further support and boost morale company-wide.
On the other hand, an unclear vision can damage support for your proposed change. Stakeholders who aren’t sure what to expect or when are less likely to trust you to deliver what you propose.
If you seem uncertain or tentative, especially at this early stage, it can be devastating for buy-in.
There’s another reason to take this step early: It helps you to choose the most relevant change management framework.
Some frameworks are designed for smaller, more localized changes and others work on a broader scale. If you know how large your scope needs to be, you can choose your framework accordingly.
Determine the resources you’ll need
If you try to implement change without the right resources to support it, you will fail. You need to know what resources you need so the process moves seamlessly from beginning to end.
Think about your needs in all of the following areas:
- Staff and associated hiring costs
- Training and upskilling opportunities
Remember not to throw the baby out with the bath water. If you already have established processes or initiatives that can support your change process, they should become part of your new way of working.
If you aren’t sure what you need, it could help to look at case studies of change initiatives from organizations like yours.
You can also ask your contacts for insight or look into any reports or studies on change processes.
Once you’ve completed this research, apply it to your own company and use it to estimate the resources you need. That estimate can inform your choice of an effective change management framework.
However you approach this question, you should use the answers to cost out your change initiative and produce a budget.
A budget shows stakeholders that you’ve thought out all the implications of your planned change and increases their confidence.
Seek third-party advice
Change management is a well-established discipline with many different, competing approaches. If you haven’t immersed yourself in it, it can feel overwhelming and hard to understand.
If you aren’t sure what to do, consider seeking advice from specialists. Change management consultants are experts in planning and implementing change and can help you assess all of the above factors in light of your company’s unique situation.
Third parties aren’t just a way to bring expertise to your change management process. They’re also a way to save valuable time in the early stages.
A consultant can gather the information you need much more quickly than you can. They can help you choose the best change management framework template for your needs.
Using an external consultant can also increase your stakeholders’ confidence. Bringing in an expert from outside the company shows that you’re serious about getting change right.
Given the sensitivity of introducing change to a workplace, that impression can greatly bolster morale.
Of course, bringing a third party on board is an extra cost. If you decide to take this approach, you need to account for it when budgeting your resources for your planned change.
Seeking out third-party advice pays for itself in the longer term. It helps you avoid the common pitfalls around implementing change, saving you the time and money to correct mistakes.
8 change management frameworks (+ templates and real-world applications)
By now, you should have all the information you need to choose a change management framework to guide your implementation. But with so many frameworks out there, choosing between them can be intimidating.
To help you make an informed decision, we’ve summarized 8 of the most popular change management frameworks and methodologies.
These summaries can guide you through each framework’s structure and main use cases.
We’ve also included examples, real-world applications, and crucial steps to ensure success when using each approach.
Change management frameworks at a glance
|Change management framework||Ideal use case|
|Lewin’s Change Management Model||Organizations with high stakeholder support and buy-in|
|Kotter’s 8-Step Model||Large companies with the time and resources to commit to each step|
|Prosci’s ADKAR Model||Companies with low stakeholder support and buy-in|
|Bridges’ Transition Model||Organizations concerned about managing employee response to change|
|McKinsey’s 7-S Framework||Companies looking to understand where and how to implement changes|
|The Competing Values Framework||Organizations planning to implement high-level cultural change|
|The Deming Cycle||Companies aiming to implement change on a small scale before expanding it|
|The Lean Six Sigma Methodology||Organizations that need to reduce or eliminate internal waste|
Lewin’s Change Management Model
Kurt Lewin was a social psychologist at the beginning of the 20th century. He gained respect as an early leading figure in change management. His Change Management Model still has wide applications today.
Lewin’s Change Management Model is a three-step process:
- Unfreeze existing perceptions and processes
- Change those processes and perceptions with training, education, and new processes
- Refreeze the new way of doing things
This model’s design is simple to understand and easy to implement. It focuses heavily on managing the change, rather than on stakeholders’ responses to change.
If you are facing pushback from stakeholders, consider supplementing Lewin’s model with another model that addresses stakeholder resistance directly.
But if you already have stakeholder buy-in, the clear structure of Lewin’s model is tried and true. Big-name organizations like Nissan have successfully applied Lewin’s model, whether to recover from dire financial straits or to navigate market changes.
These companies engaged directly with team members and stakeholders to create urgency around change. They then “refroze” a new way of working through rewards and incentives for employees.
Keys to success
- Foster a sense of dissatisfaction with the late status quo to speed up the unfreezing of your company’s existing business processes
- Engage all stakeholders early in the process to ensure a comprehensive shift in the organizational change management framework
- Use a system of rewards and incentives to refreeze a new status quo
Kotter’s 8-Step Model
John Kotter, a Harvard professor, developed The 8-Step Model in 1995. By design, it’s accessible to anyone, regardless of their expertise in change management.
The eight steps of Kotter’s model are as follows:
- Establish a sense of urgency for change
- Create the guiding coalition
- Establish a vision and strategy
- Enlist a volunteer army
- Empower (or enable) broad-based action
- Create short-term wins
- Sustain acceleration
- Anchor new approaches in the culture
The model specifically intends to encourage organizational change. It’s best suited to large organizations with the time and resources to implement each step.
It uses a top-down approach that focuses on driving change, so it doesn’t focus on the impact of those changes on employees.
Depending on your stakeholders’ level of buy-in, you need to use additional frameworks to keep them on board with your proposed change.
Kotter’s model is popular with large organizations. For example, global technology firm Ericsson used Kotter’s model to implement a move toward integrating 4G technology.
Without this change, the company would have lost significant market share to more agile, adaptable competitors.
The 8-Step Model enabled it to drive change throughout the company and to anchor the new way of working in the company’s culture. As a result, it eliminated roadblocks and implemented the change long-term.
Keys to success
- Kotter’s model relies on strong leadership from HR, so be ready to drive the process from beginning to end
- Don’t focus exclusively on technical quick fixes – vision and communication are also crucial
- Because Kotter’s model encompasses the entire organization, it’s vital to secure buy-in from stakeholders early in the process
Prosci’s ADKAR Model
Developed by Jeff Hiatt in 2003, the ADKAR model quickly became popular after adoption by Prosci, a change management consultancy firm.
ADKAR is an acronym referring to the following steps:
- Awareness: Show stakeholders why change is necessary
- Desire: Encourage stakeholders to support change by showing what it can do for them
- Knowledge: Implement the education and training necessary for a change
- Ability: Ensure that stakeholders have the means to handle the new way of working
- Reinforcement: Confirm that the newly-implemented changes continue to support the organization’s goals
ADKAR is a bottom-up approach focused on securing buy-in from employees and stakeholders.
It’s a great system for organizations concerned about how their employees might react to change. If your company is entrenched in its current operational ways, ADKAR could be the right tool for you.
But because of that focus on people, ADKAR is less helpful for planning the specifics of organizational change. It isn’t the best approach for companies trying to manage several moving parts during an upheaval.
That isn’t to say it’s only suitable for smaller companies. Microsoft uses ADKAR to ensure customer buy-in whenever it adapts its services to meet the market’s needs.
Because it’s simple to explain and applicable to any type of change, it’s a versatile way to shift the stakeholders’ mindsets and keep them on board.
Keys to success
- Don’t forget to pay attention to the practical side of change, too
- Remember, ADKAR’s steps are sequential – only move forward when your stakeholders are ready for the next stage
Bridges’ Transition Model
William Bridges developed Bridges’ Transition Model in 1991. Unlike other models, it focuses on transition – the psychological process people experience when responding to change – rather than change itself.
The Bridges model also addresses the drop in productivity that can result from moving to a new way of working. It’s a simple model built to address human, emotional reactions to change.
The model describes three stages:
- Ending: Manage the loss of the old way of doing things
- Neutral Zone: Adjust to the new way of working, adapting to new approaches, and developing new relationships and identities
- New Beginnings: Begin to settle into new approaches and establish a new identity
Although this model maps out a clear picture of the transition process, it doesn’t provide a framework for an organization’s change management plan. The Bridges model is best in combination with other approaches as a way to engage with stakeholders who are resistant to change.
For example, a well-established company with many long-term employees could use the Bridges model to ease the transition to new in-house software.
The model provides a framework for engaging with employees’ concerns about the change and ensuring they have the tools to adopt the new software with minimal disruption.
Keys to success
- Use additional frameworks in combination with this model to manage practical change implementation
- Respond to your employees’ actual needs instead of making assumptions
- Think carefully about how you communicate the need for change to your employees – “selling” them a new process can improve buy-in from the beginning
McKinsey 7-S Framework
A group of consultants working for McKinsey developed this framework in the 1980s.
You can use it for more than change management purposes – you can also use it to gain a deeper understanding of how your organization works.
Using the 7-S framework, you can evaluate each of the seven elements of your business:
|Element||Hard or soft?||Meaning|
|Strategy||Hard||Your company’s business plan and long-term goals|
|Structure||Hard||The way your company is organized|
|Systems||Hard||The infrastructure of your company|
|Shared Values||Soft||The mission, objective, and values of your company|
|Style||Soft||Your company’s management style, as modeled by senior leadership|
|Staff||Soft||Talent management, training, and recruiting|
|Skills||Soft||Your company’s capabilities and competencies|
Unlike many other models, the 7-S framework doesn’t outline an approach to change. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t useful as a change management tool.
Interrogating your company using this framework can reveal weaknesses and opportunities for improvement.
If you think your business needs to change but don’t necessarily know what that change needs to look like, the 7-S framework is the perfect place to start.
This approach worked well for McDonald’s, although it noted that not every element was equally important to its particular situation.
Keys to success
- Supplement the 7-S framework with an additional framework to guide any change you choose to implement
- Look out for inconsistencies between each element of this framework because they often point to areas where your organization can do better
- Be aware that not all elements of the 7-S framework are equally important for every company
The Competing Values Framework
First published in 1983 by R.E. Quinn and J. Rohrbaugh, the Competing Values Framework (CVF) aims to help organizations understand their culture.
We measure CVF along two axes: flexibility versus stability and internal versus external focus. These axes divide a circle into four quadrants:
- Clan (Flexible + Internal Focus) – focusing on teamwork, relationships, and employee empowerment
- Market (Stable + External Focus) – focusing on fast response, quantifiable success, and competition
- Adhocracy (Flexible + External Focus) – focusing on creativity, planning, and innovation
- Hierarchy (Stable + Internal Focus) – focusing on efficiency, structure, and bureaucracy
None of these quadrants are bad, but the quadrant your organization is in may not be the best fit for your goals. You can evaluate your position by learning more about your current quadrant and your “opposite” quadrant.
The CVF is a tool to guide high-level cultural change. It’s not ideal for implementing day-to-day changes, although working with the CVF points to smaller adjustments that could benefit your company’s culture.
For example, an organization suffering from high employee burnout could use the CVF to evaluate its internal culture.
Its stability and internal focus are creating a rigid, stifling atmosphere. By examining the opposite quadrant, its leaders can introduce more flexibility and reinvigorate the workers.
Keys to success
- Be honest with yourself as you evaluate your company culture
- Remember that the CVF can guide you toward changes in leadership style as well as organizational change
- Use additional frameworks to guide you through the practicalities of change
The Deming Cycle
The Deming Cycle was designed by William Edwards Deming in the 1950s, inspired by the scientific method. Deming’s experience as an engineer and his training in statistics gave him a clear perspective on process improvement.
The Deming Cycle is repeatable and requires four steps:
- Plan: Understand what you want to achieve
- Do: Test your plan on a small scale and use iterative changes to test variables
- Study: Assess whether your testing worked, and if so, why it worked
- Act: Implement your changes, and continue to track their performance over time
Because of its scientific, evidence-driven approach, the Deming Cycle offers organizations a way to try out improvement measures on a small scale before committing to a total overhaul.
You can test your proposed approach in a single department, appraise the results, and expand it further if it works.
If you have the time and the resources to commit to this iterative testing process, it can yield solid and well-informed results for your company.
The Deming Cycle is ideal for implementing processes like skills-based hiring, which can be test-driven easily on a small scale.
Try introducing skills-based hiring practices for a single division or team. After monitoring the results and appraising the benefits, you can act to implement your new approach on a larger scale.
Keys to success
- Applying the Deming cycle in the long term exposes your approach to more variables and makes it more resilient
- Starting small-scale testing creates room to engage stakeholders and adjust your approach early in the process
- If you document everything, you can build a coherent theory of how your business works in the long run
The Lean Six Sigma Methodology
Lean Six Sigma is a mixture of two approaches. Toyota devised the lean methodology in Japan in the 1940s, aiming to eliminate any steps that failed to add value to the production process.
Mikel Harry and Bill Smith, US-based Motorola engineers seeking to reduce production defects, established the Six Sigma strategy in the 1980s.
Lean Six Sigma aims to define, analyze, measure, control, and improve processes by eliminating waste. It uses the acronym DOWNTIME to identify these:
- Non-used talent
- Extra processing
This methodology uses kanban workflow management practices, kaizen employee engagement practices, and value stream mapping to identify sources of waste.
As a change management framework, it focuses on implementing changes that reduce internal waste and improve organizational efficiency.
For example, Kern County Government in California used Lean Six Sigma to create a 64% improvement in call center wait times. The process yielded the county $156,767 in savings.
The methodology helped it deliver better service and improve staff productivity. Most importantly, it left staff feeling empowered to achieve even better results in the future.
Lean Six Sigma is a versatile approach to organizational streamlining, applicable in industries ranging from manufacturing to government.
Because it’s so involved, practitioners need extensive training. If your business has the resources to train its HR leaders in Lean Six Sigma, it could make a real difference to your organizational efficiency.
Keys to success
- Lean Six Sigma focuses on the practicalities of change, so you should supplement it with a more people-focused framework to overcome any resistance to change
- Invest in proper training for your change managers and drivers if you plan to rely on Lean Six Sigma
Make change management frameworks work for you
Regardless of the management framework you choose, remember what they all have in common.
With an understanding of your employees, your organization, and your goals, you can make change stick in the long term.
If you want to focus specifically on strengthening your organization’s leadership, check out our guide to leadership development frameworks.
If you’re hoping to implement skills-based hiring through one of these frameworks, use our skills-based hiring best practices to make the most of the process.
And if you’re ready to gain a better understanding of how your employees react to change, try our 16 personalities test.
- “Change Management Statistics You Need to Know in 2023”. (October 31, 2022). WalkMe. Retrieved April 3, 2023. https://change.walkme.com/change-management-statistics/
- Shurrab, Hafez; Zec, Milos. (October 2013). “The Eight-Step Change Model in Practice: A Case Study on Ericsson”. ResearchGate. Retrieved April 3, 2023.