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Navigating Project Change: Kotter’s 8 Steps vs. ADKAR

The Art of Change Management

As businesses evolve and face new challenges, adapting to change becomes essential. Whether prompted by technological advancements, regulatory updates, shifts in the economy, or the emergence of new competitors, change is the one constant that organizations must embrace. Failing to do so can lead to stagnation and ultimately, failure. It is crucial for organizations to remain agile, continuously adapting their strategies to stay competitive and thrive in a dynamic market environment.

There are two types of change management that could be implemented depending on the organisation structure and purpose of the changes.

  • Adaptive changes are incremental adjustments that an organization makes over time to refine its products, processes, workflows, and strategies. Examples of adaptive changes include recruiting a new team member in response to growing demand or introducing a remote work policy to attract top talent.

  • Transformational changes are broader and more profound, marking a significant and sometimes abrupt shift from the usual way of doing things. Examples of transformational change include the launch of a new product line or business division, or the decision to pursue international expansion. These changes are strategic moves that can redefine the organization's trajectory.

Mastering the change management process is crucial to guide the organization through transitions effectively. Understanding this process allows you to gauge the potential impact of organizational changes and equip your teams for what lies ahead. A well-prepared team ensures alignment, fosters a supportive environment, and mobilizes everyone towards a shared objective.

Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model

Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model developed by Dr. John Kotter is a top-down change methodology which provides clear steps through the change process. It has the advantage of focusing on obtaining buy-in from key players to ensure success. These eight steps fall into three phases:

The first phase centres around creating the climate for change. This involves establishing a common understanding of the change you aim to achieve and the reasons behind your motivation to implement it. 

  1. Create urgency - Create a sense of urgency around the initiative that persuades others to take swift action. Your goal is to construct a persuasive argument for change so that individuals comprehend the necessity of the change. Concentrate on garnering substantial backing for your project so that the sense of urgency is collectively felt.

  2. Form a powerful coalition – Form a team possessing sufficient influence to lead the change effort and encourage the group to work as a team. This is a vital component of enduring change that is frequently overlooked.

  3. Create a vision for change – Establish a guiding vision to steer the change initiative and formulate strategies to realise that vision.

The second phase focuses on engaging and enabling the organisation to affect change.

4. Communicate the vision - Employ various techniques to disseminate the vision and strategies. Communicate using a combination of in-person briefings, individual meetings, emails, intranet, etc., to emphasize the key points. A detailed communications plan will serve as a management instrument for tracking advancement.

5. Empower action - Eliminate barriers to change. Modify systems or structures that contradict the vision. Promote risk-taking and unconventional ideas, activities, and actions. Throughout the execution of changes, it’s essential to provide support at all levels to ensure tasks stay on course and corrective measures are implemented as soon as possible.

6. Create quick wins - Devise a plan for noticeable performance enhancements. Put these enhancements into action. Acknowledge and incentivize employees who contribute to these initial improvements.

Phase 3 ensures momentum is generated and sustained, pressing ahead after the initial successes to thoroughly integrate the changes within your organisation.

7. Build on the change - Recruit, nurture, and advance employees who can execute the vision. Revitalize the process with fresh projects, concepts, and initiatives.

8. Make it stick - Express the links between the newly adopted behaviours and the success of the organisation. Establish methods to guarantee the progression and succession of leadership.

Overview of ADKAR model

ADKAR is a change management model developed by Jeff Hiatt that stands out from the rest because it recognises the individual as crucial to change success. Instigating change at the individual level drives organisational change. ADKAR is a five-step process where each step builds on the previous and is named for its outcome:

  • Awareness is the initial step ensuring everyone recognises the necessity for change.

  • Desire is wanting to engage in and endorse the change. This can be achieved when individuals feel dissatisfied with the current state of the organisation and understand the negative consequences of maintaining the status quo.

  • Knowledge is where you make sure every individual knows how to implement the change and the future skills and behaviour they need to adopt once the change is in place.

  • Ability is the capacity to put new skills and behaviours into action. Individuals need to be supported to acquire and practise the desired behaviour.

  • Reinforcement is where the change is reinforced within each individual so behaviours can be embedded.

Kotter vs. ADKAR


Kotter’s Model


Foundational Principles

Top-Down approach

Bottom-Up approach

Process Steps

8 steps process

5 steps process

Focus Area

Strategic level

Individual level


Transformational changes

Adaptive changes


Kotter's Model, employing a top-down approach, is strategically oriented and unfolds in an 8-step process, making it well-suited for transformational changes that require comprehensive shifts at the organizational level. In contrast, the ADKAR Model advocates a bottom-up approach, focusing on individual change through a concise 5-step process, ideal for adaptive changes where incremental improvements are necessary. While Kotter's Model emphasizes the role of leadership in driving change from the top and embedding it into the corporate culture, ADKAR prioritizes individual awareness, desire, knowledge, ability, and reinforcement, underscoring the personal journey through change which collectively contributes to organizational success. These models offer different lenses through which to view and manage change, one looking at the strategic blueprint of the organization, and the other at the human elements within it.

Microsoft's Mastery of the ADKAR Model

Microsoft's Customer Success teams have masterfully implemented the ADKAR model to transform how they support and interact with their customers, enhancing both buy-in and the successful adoption of new technologies. By building awareness of the necessity for change management, Microsoft uses simple, relatable exercises—like switching handwriting hands—to make individuals conscious of their natural resistance to change. This approach helps customers understand the discomfort associated with new technologies and prepares them for a smoother transition.

The teams then support these insights with solid statistical evidence, highlighting the risks of not adopting change management practices, thus strengthening the desire among customers to engage more deeply with Microsoft's solutions. As awareness and desire are established, the focus shifts to increasing knowledge and ability, with Microsoft consulting teams stepping in to provide essential expertise and support.

Throughout this journey, Microsoft identifies and addresses common obstacles, particularly the lack of effective sponsorship, which can derail projects. The ADKAR model's structure aids Customer Success Managers in pinpointing these challenges and developing targeted strategies to overcome them. By implementing ADKAR, Microsoft has not only enhanced its customer support but also ensured the enduring success and value of its customer engagements. This strategic approach has proven instrumental in achieving higher project success rates and customer satisfaction.

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