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Successful Technology Change and ADKAR

A few of my friends and colleagues have been trained in the Prosci ADKAR method of change management. As a model, it’s a psychological perspective on how to approach change, where Microsoft’s approach for organizational change (as best expressed through the Service Adoption Specialist course on is more of a project management approach. Both approaches have their benefits – and we use both types of approaches when helping clients. The differing views are not so much competitive as they are complementary. You need to understand the psychology of what’s happening with individual users to get them to move towards adoption – and you need a strong project management framework to provide the engine to move the process forward.

The Project Management Approach

Any technology change project has a set of technology components that may include the development and deployment of the solution – or just the integration into the organization’s information technology environment. The part that’s often overlooked is the user adoption of these changes and how users are engaged with the idea that they want the change. Bringing these together in a way that allows organizations to crawl-walk-run is an important aspect of garnering adoption.

In the Beginning

In the beginning, the project is disorganized, with barely a goal to guide it. The faint light of the desired reality eventually coalesces into a project charter and objective for the project. It’s in this very primordial stage that it’s important to establish the business drivers that will indicate success. It’s not about installing the technology or enabling the service. It’s about creating the business value to the organization. This foundation is what the rest of the project is based on. Without it, you’ll struggle to get funding and adoption.

It’s in this stage that the cast of characters forming the team are identified and equipped for success. This is a mixture of reality assessment and skills building to ensure that when the team starts to climb the mountain of adoption, they’ll reach the pinnacle of success.

The work here feels like crawling, since little observable process is made towards the end goal that delivers value.

Playing for Perfection

In the next phase, there’s experimentation, pilots, and profound learning. It’s a time when the training needs are first identified and resolved, governance is generated, and communications are created. Here, too, progress seems slow, because it feels as if you’re driving on the road while you’re building it. However, it’s much better to have just one car on the road you’re building rather than an entire traffic jam of cars running over each other as they try to move forward.

In the development of any good road, there’s the need to establish service stations. In the context of technology, this means creating self-help and enabling the support teams to be successful at helping users use the solution once developed.

Go Forward and Scale

In this final phase of the process, the goal is to share the hard work that’s been done to get it visible to everyone. Here, the preparation and learning that’s happened in the preceding two phases show their true colors as disruptions and frustrations are both minimized.

It’s here that much of what is in the ADKAR model starts to become visible as awareness campaigns create desire and communications impart knowledge.

The ADKAR model

The ADKAR model consists of a series of stages:

  • Awareness – Knowing that the change is necessary
  • Desire – A desire to create the change
  • Knowledge – The knowledge of how to make the change
  • Ability – The ability to do the skills and behaviors that will bring about the lasting change.
  • Reinforcement – The commitment to make the change stick.

Before I review each of these individually, it’s important to note that this isn’t the only psychologically-focused change methodology. Kurt Lewin proposed a three-step model of unfreezing, changing, and refreezing. There’s a stages of change model created for smoking cessation. John Kotter has a model for organizational change that fits somewhere between the psychological model and the project management model. (You’ll find more about his approach in both Leading Change and The Heart of Change.)

It’s also important to note that much of our thinking about how to implement change comes from Everett Rogers and his book Diffusion of Innovations. Things like the adoption curves you’ve seen, with the early adopters and the laggards, are adapted from Rogers work. ADKAR itself could be seen as a derivative work, as Rogers had models and factors, including the Knowledge – Attitudes – Practices model. This explained that people can develop awareness and knowledge through mass media, but they frequently only change their attitudes when someone close to them says they believe in it, and it’s ultimately a personal decision for them to change their practice. This holds true in any change effort.

The problem with every model is how it breaks down when people attempt to implement it. It’s one thing to read about how to fly a plane and quite another to manipulate the yoke in your hands. The descriptions of the stages are frequently not enough. As we walk through each stage of the ADKAR model, I’ll provide some context about how we’re trying to help make the simple pieces more meaningful.


Awareness is more than just being aware that something exists. It’s an awareness that a change is needed. In most organizations, this step is confused with informing. The problem is that informing someone of a solution doesn’t help them understand what the problem is – even if they’re paying attention.

To help organizations improve their ability to get their employees to listen and understand that sending just one email won’t be enough to break through employees’ consciousness, we offer the whitepaper, “Effective Internal Communications Channels,” which helps explain the communication channel options as well as provides some tips on how to write communications so they are read.

Too often, particularly in IT, we jump to the solution before explaining the problem – or reminding people that the problem exists. We explain that we’re implementing Office 365 without helping them see the communications problems that plague the organization today or the frustration that we feel as we struggle to communicate with tools that fracture our conversations.


This naturally leads into desire. When we properly explain that a change is necessary, it naturally follows that this would lead to a desire to make the change. In fact, desire is often where we expose the proposed solution to the need and where everyone should want to go to the new “promised land” solution.

The problem is that most professionals haven’t ever really had to “sell” their ideas. The content that is created sounds more like education – which is what most folks have done in the past – and less like the exciting and engaging type of content that will create desire.

That’s why we created a set of engagement videos that organizations can license. They’re a set of premade videos for Office 365 that help to engage users in the idea of the change and show them the value they can get from the solution. It’s not about educating them on how exactly to do things in the new system – it’s about making them aware that it’s a possibility and creating a sense of longing for getting it.


A deep yearning to make the change may be too much to ask for, but an understanding of what is expected to be able to make the change is not. Knowledge is about knowing what is expected. We unconsciously go through our days doing whatever the existing strategy is – but a change is going to require a clear picture of what we’re going to need to do.

Here, we’ve provided a ton of guidance. For the change leader, we lay out a plan for what an intranet evolution should look like. We have an intranet roadmap that explains the phases of design to create an intranet. We even explain how to manage controlled documents, how to develop personas, and how to set up security.

For the users themselves, we offer The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users as a set of step-by-step instructions. The magic of this is the content becomes searchable and customizable in your environment, so they never have to leave your SharePoint environment to get the help they need. When backed up with our customizable quick reference cards, there’s a complete and unbroken path for users to be able to quickly and easily understand what is expected in the change.


Knowing is one thing. Doing is something else. Here, the goal is on action. John Kotter explains, in his models of change, that if you skip or skimp on a step, you’re likely to come back to it. Often, we find that lack of ability to do something results from an undiscovered knowledge problem or fear. We may think we know how to have a difficult conversation with a coworker but if we’ve never seen it done in our organization, we may not have enough courage to overcome our fear to be able to have those hard conversations.

Too often, we find that people know they’re supposed to upload a document to SharePoint or start a conversation in Teams, but they’re afraid of doing it wrong. That’s why every task in the Shepherd’s Guide includes a step-by-step video to reduce the anxiety about potentially doing it wrong.

For those organizations that want to provide some instructor-led training to their users, we offer licenses of instructor-led materials that can be adapted to the organization’s needs.

We also offer tools to the site owner to help them design their security in ways that are easy to maintain – and easy to help ensure users have the right access. In our “Site Collection Security Strategy” whitepaper, we explain the relationships between the various components and describe a strategy for making them work together.


One of the challenges with any change is sustaining it. We get busy, we get focused on other things, and we sometimes revert to old habits, ways of working, and familiar tools. Here, we help by providing a set of videos and articles that you can schedule to be sent to your user communities to help reinforce the change. The engagement videos can double as reinforcement videos reminding users of what the change was for. We also offer continuing skills for corporate communicators.

The key here, like the key to maintaining a diet, is creating something that can be made sustainable. Coupling scheduled sending and premade materials, it’s not only possible to keep the momentum going, but it’s easy. We’ve learned how to keep building engaging videos that are delivered each week through our initiatives like Discovered Truths, where we support an overall cultural change for the organization through simple, five-minute videos each week.

Better Together

When you’re looking for how to change your organization with the aid of technology successfully, you’ll want to look to change management methodologies as well as project management skills to ensure that you get the most value out of the investments you’re making.

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