Change management is more than communication and training

  • January 10, 2023
Mature businesswoman leading team meeting in office conference room

Have you ever worked for an organization that did a great job communicating an upcoming change initiative and provided training resources to support that change, but employees weren’t adopting it? Why is that?

In today’s fast-paced technology-based environment, employees must constantly learn new tools and processes to accomplish their work. Organizations need to do more than communicate that a change is happening, no matter the size of that change. While training is an important component of change management — one that helps teach a new skill or improve an existing one — it doesn’t guarantee adoption.

According to Gartner, only one-third of change initiatives succeed, and leaders expect more change to come. How can organizations implement change initiatives quickly and effectively with employee adoption while only focusing on communication and training?

Change management models can help

Many change management models exist. The most popular are Kotter’s Eight-step Plan, Lewin’s Change Management Model, The McKinsey 7S Model and the ADKAR model.  They all overlap in some respects but still differ significantly from others. It’s essential to determine what suits your organization’s needs.

This article focuses on the Prosci ADKAR Model — which centers on the five outcomes an individual needs to achieve for a change to be successful: Awareness, Desire, Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement.

The role of awareness and desire

The first two outcomes, Awareness and Desire, are critical to the success of change initiatives, but are often short-changed by organizations in practice. Let’s delve into why they’re so important.


Communicating the need for change and defining a training plan is fundamental to delivering a change strategy effectively, but failing to create awareness upfront can hurt you in the long run. What’s the difference between communication and awareness? Building awareness, as defined within ADKAR, is sharing the nature of the change and answering why the change is necessary.

An organization that excels at communicating change but fails to explain the “Why,” the “Benefits” and “What’s in it for me?” behind what drives the change is likely to experience a low employee adoption rate. According to a survey conducted by McKinsey & Company, it’s not enough to communicate the goal of a change; people need to understand what these goals mean for their day-to-day jobs and what they’ll be expected to do differently. If employees don’t connect to the change, their behaviors and work styles won’t adapt.

A great way to build awareness is through open dialogue on why the change is occurring and how it’ll be implemented. These Q&A sessions can be incorporated into existing team meetings or 1:1 sessions.

As important as building awareness is, it’s still not enough to secure adoption. Employees must also want the change. Thankfully, you can foster this desire.


Desire is defined in the ADKAR Model as the personal choice someone makes when they want to support and participate in a change. It inspires employees and drives them to collaborate on the change. 

One of the best ways to foster desire is to build a team of leaders to promote the upcoming change. Change leaders should be selected at the initial requirements-gathering stage and be involved throughout the change implementation process for positive and effective results.

Change leaders must be subject-matter experts, influential in your organization, demonstrate their support and sincerely advocate for the change to get buy-in from employees. It’s best to choose change leaders who can relate to how employees’ daily routines will be affected so they can provide specific support and guidance. Including change leaders throughout the change implementation process makes employees feel empowered, represented and confident in the organization’s direction, leadership and the new change. In contrast, a lack of defined change leaders can result in mistrust and low adoption issues when implementing a new change. 

Resistance to change is the enemy of desire 

Resistance to change is a major obstacle to fostering desire. Employees tend to resist change because they lack awareness and desire about the reason for the change.

It’s normal human behavior to initially have a negative perception of change. Change professionals should always prepare for resistance and be ready to address people’s emotional responses right away.

Resistance can be identified at the start of the change implementation process — the Stakeholder Analysis. During this stage, change professionals should probe key impacted stakeholders about the potential resistance they foresee with the initial announcement of the change. Once identified, resistance concerns can be addressed and incorporated into the communication strategy.

Change leaders play a significant role in reducing employee resistance. They’re responsible for initially explaining the need for change and providing guidance and resources to impacted employees during the change implementation process. They also act as a communication channel between employees and the change management team by sharing feedback that can prevent resistance.

Tracking and measuring employee resistance is essential to ensure adoption. It can be measured by tracking and comparing survey results gathered pre-training, post-training and post-launch and by tracking the use of the new platform.

Knowledge, ability and reinforcement

Employees will only adapt to a change if they have confidence in their abilities. The last three outcomes in the ADKAR model are Knowledge, Ability and Reinforcement, and they all focus on building employee confidence. Organizations tend to center their training on this stage.

For employees to embrace and sustain change, they need the Knowledge of how to change, the Ability to demonstrate their skills and behavior to change and the Reinforcement to keep the change in place.

An effective training plan provides employees with the tools needed to feel confident about their ability to adapt. Change professionals should allow enough time in their training timeline for hands-on practice to develop and test the new skills they’ve acquired and identify where reinforcement is needed.

Awareness and desire form a strong foundation for successful change

Organizations must move beyond basic communication and training tactics to realize faster and more widely adopted change initiatives. When organizations put the time and emphasis into building awareness and desire, they’ll be better equipped to inspire employees to embrace and sustain change. When this happens, everyone benefits.

— By Stephania Zamor

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