Navigating Change Successfully: Lessons from ADKAR

Change is a constant in today’s fast-paced world, yet many change efforts fail. Communication is essential for navigating change successfully. The ADKAR change framework is one of the most practical, hands-on approaches I’ve seen.

The Challenge

Change initiatives often face significant hurdles, and studies show that a large majority fail to achieve their intended outcomes. To address this challenge, we must prioritize clarity of vision and effective communication to align stakeholders and drive meaningful change.

Over the past year, I’ve worked closely with four districts and two non-profits, grappling with the complexities of change management. Initially, we focused on aligning around a few high-priority goals. We then realized the need to embrace progress monitoring and create a culture of continuous improvement.

The ADKAR Framework

One valuable resource in our quest for successful change management is the ADKAR framework developed by the Professional Science Institute. ADKAR stands for Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Application, and Reinforcement, representing the five essential stages of change. Their research says we typically move through these five stages sequentially.

The first stage: The Importance of Awareness

Awareness is about more than just sending out a few memos on change. Stakeholders require repeated opportunities to understand the why behind the change, how it aligns with the organization’s vision, the risks of not changing, and what it means for them individually.

Research suggests stakeholders must hear critical messages at least seven times before internalizing them. Moreover, communication should not be limited to written memos but should include face-to-face interactions and group meetings.

Strategies for Effective Communication

A project team should be established to coordinate and ensure effective communication during the Awareness stage. A Sponsorship Coalition should develop a strategic work plan that includes various communication channels, executive sponsorship, and coaching opportunities. Staff want to hear from the top about the WHY and the dangers of not changing. At the implementation stage, staff want to hear from their supervisors and receive support in applying the new learning.

Moving Forward

Successfully navigating the Awareness stage is just the first step in the change management journey. As we progress to the Desire stage and beyond, it’s essential to continue leveraging the principles of the ADKAR framework to drive meaningful change.

What matters most?

ADKAR Project teams say they would have done the following differently:

  • Communicate more frequently
  • Use multiple channels
  • More 2-way and 1-to-1s
  • Formal communications plan with feedback deliverables
  • More CEO sponsorship/visibility
  • Consistent messaging at all levels
  • More manager listening, coaching, and feedback

Spoiler Alert

The end of the book offers two priceless templates.  Template #1 is your road map to success—a dozen questions upon which to base your strategic communications.  Template #2 is diagnostic. A survey you can use to pinpoint where your organization is and what they need next to keep moving ahead.


Effective change management requires a deliberate focus on communication and stakeholder engagement. These ADKAR principles will help you navigate change successfully and build a culture of continuous improvement.

As Peter Senge aptly puts it,

When there is shared vision

People Learn

not because they have to,

not because they are told to,

but because they want to.


ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government and Our Community

by Jeffrey M. Hiatt | 4.6 Stars, 902 reviews

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Larry Nyland – Leadership Coach and Consultant.
Seattle Schools superintendent 2014-2018

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