Why Prosci and ADKAR Model are Not Enough to Ensure Organizational Change Management Success

Written By: Eric Kimberling
Date: April 15, 2021

Oftentimes when people think of Prosci and ADKAR they think about organizational change management. They also think these are interchangeable terms, but what we often find is that Prosci and ADKAR is not nearly enough to drive change. Today I will cover what's really important to change management efforts.

Just as a caveat, and as a disclaimer, I am not pro-certified. I've hired a lot of people and work with a lot of different clients that are in fact pro certified.

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The Weakness of the Prosci and ADKAR Model

This model is not nearly enough to drive effective change. What I mean by that is that oftentimes, change practitioners and organizations going through change think that Prosci is going to give them the fundamental starting point that is needed to drive change.

It certainly can't hurt to have the Prosci certification and understand the ADKAR model. But, it creates a false sense of confidence that somehow a weeklong training course is going to replicate years and decades of the actual transformation experience. It's really about understanding things outside of organizational change management that are very critical in making those changes stick.

Another challenge with Prosci is that ADKAR is focusing on the actions and the behavior we want to see from the change program before we've even necessarily defined what our end business results. Essentially, we are focusing on the actions, not the end goals of what we're trying to achieve.

Questions to Consider:

  • Effective change begins with understanding, but what is the end state?
  • What is it we're trying to get at first?
  • What's that tangible business value we're trying to get out of whatever change we're going through?

It's not about feeling good or communicating general feelings. It's about figuring out what are the activities that are going to help us drive measurable business value.

So… What do we do? Do we just abandon our change efforts? Do we throw away our Prosci certification?

Not quite, what we want to do is augment what we already know about change management and Prosci, in general, to focus on what we can add to this certification to make ourselves more successful in our change journeys.

Organizational Assessment

The first thing to be aware of is that it is premature to activate the ADKAR model if change goals are not identified yet. Every client we work with is unique. They have a different culture, goals, and objectives. The transformation they're about to embark on is very individual.

Every company has particular pitfalls and organizational landmines that they have to deal with. We help them through that and to do so we need to assess the landscape understand:

  • What are those drawbacks?
  • What's the potential resistance for change?
  • What are the sources of the resistance for change?
  • How are we going to overcome that change?

All these considerations need to be defined first. The organizational readiness assessment is a key first step in a successful change plan.

How to Build a Successful Change Plan

Typically, what we do is we'll do a two-prong approach.

  1. Quantitative organizational survey, combined with qualitative focus groups to get a better understanding of what the culture is. We may ask ourselves some important questions like:
    • What are those likely sources of resistance going to be?
    • What are the alleged enablers of change?

Ultimately, the answers to these questions provide the inputs need to define the best organizational change strategy solutions, given the culture and unique landscape, and specific transformation strategy. We've got to determine what's best for this project and the only way to do that and define which tools needed is to conduct that organizational assessment.

Once we've assessed the organization, we understand where we are today, where the snags are, and what our team strategy at a high-level might be.

  • Do to help define how to secure internal alignment?
  • How are we going to make sure we have executive alignment on what this change is?
  • What are the transformation goals and objectives and importantly, what are those business drivers in the measurable results we're trying to get out?
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Defining Your Future State

The next thing we need to do to augment Prosci and ADKAR methodologies is to define what our future state business processes and operating model are going to be.

What is it that we're going to change from a workflow perspective or from a business operation perspective? If we're improving our supply chain, what's that going to look like? If we're standardizing and consolidating into a shared service model, what does that look like?

There are a lot of questions that need to be answered before we can start talking about how we're going to enable the change and how we're going to affect the change.
I've recently written an article, that's called “The Trojan Horse Approach To Organizational Change Management.” This is an important concept because what we found in our consulting practice is that change efforts are most effective when we don't have a standalone separate change, team, or change group.

Change should be embedded throughout the organization and throughout the change effort. So people that are, for example, defining business process improvements, should ideally be equipped and enabled to enable those changes and fuel and adapt those changes to the organization. Rather than passing the business process changes over the wall to the change management team.

We should figure out how we're going to enable people to accept that change. This is also true for our own consulting practice, the most effective change consultants we have are the ones that aren't actually change management consultants. They are broader business consultants that happen to have a strong change methodology and toolset but they can also do other useful things. They can re-engineer business processes, they can program manage, they can manage other aspects of the technical and people and process components of the transformation.

Essentially, embedding organizational change management into the overall effort is very important, and that all starts with defining your business processes and workflows and what you want that future state operating model to be.
Within that operating model, future state, we also want to identify what the change impacts are, and how people deal with change. Not at the corporate big picture level necessarily, but at the individual, workgroup department, and ultimately, individual employee level - how are people affected? Once we understand the difference between where people are today and where they are going tomorrow, we can identify the most effective toolset methodology to help get them there.

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Organizational Design

An often-overlooked aspect of procedure-driven organizational change programs is the whole concept of organizational design. This involves really rolling up our sleeves and analyzing roles and responsibilities, job descriptions, and how the organization is designed in general. This is important because this structure is likely going to change as part of your transformation.

Unfortunately, not enough businesses think about this until it’s too late. They become focused on about how technology will change the business. Companies might consider how business processes are going to change. However, they very rarely are thinking about how the organization should be designed to support that change. Without having that input included in our change program, we're not going to be successful - whether it's Prosci certified or not. We need to have this information as a prerequisite to understanding how our organization is going to be designed.

  • What are the impacts of the people? What are the risks?
  • What sort of resistance will we see?

How are we going to transition people into different jobs, and in some cases, maybe even out of the company? Those are very sensitive issues that involve people and very sensitive topics.

In the end, we want to make sure that we have a clear vision for how the organization is going to be designed so that we can create a tailored change strategy, plan methodology, and toolset to enable those changes.

The Trojan Horse Approach Works
I discussed earlier about how we often take a Trojan horse approach to change management. This is an important part of the closing statement here, because it is key to making change efforts successful in the long run. We want to make sure that our change efforts are fully embedded and integrated with our overall program and transformation.

That may sound like a no-brainer and every company or project team naturally does that. But again, it's back to the point of ensuring our change management team isn't over in a silo doing their own thing. Or following their own methodologies and processes without fully understanding and being integrated with the overall transformation.

Take the earlier example regarding business process changes and how ideally, you'd want to have the change team involved in those process definition exercises. Preferably, you'd be the same people that are defining process changes and improvements involved with enabling the actual change. That's just one real-life example of how we can integrate our workflows and integrate change management into our overall program.

Remember, it's not just a matter of making sure that change management meets the same milestones and deadlines of the overall program. It's also a matter of how we manage the project and integrate those workstreams into more of a cohesive approach.

Key Takeaways

I in no way want to suggest that Prosci and ADKAR certification is not relevant or not important because a lot of people find value in it. I am simply suggesting it is not the be-all-end-all in organization change management success.

People that we've worked with on the client-side and our own consultants that have been through the program, speak very highly of it in general. It's very popular. In fact, it's one of the few, if not the most prevalent organizational change certification program out there. They're doing a very good service for the organizational change management profession.

The downside is we want to make sure we don't view this credential or model like a silver bullet. It's not the one thing that's going to make you successful. If you've never done change before, and you've just got Prosci certified, the certification does not make you in any way closer to being ready to manage a transformation.

A good analogy to this would be if you're about to go get heart surgery, do you want the guy that just went through a quick certification program to do the heart surgery around you? No, I didn’t think so. You want the guy or gal that's been a surgeon for a long time and has been through a lot of different types of scenarios and been battle-tested.

That's the type of change expectation we should have for ourselves and for our change initiatives. We should have people there that had been through this many, many times. Maybe they have the certifications, maybe they don't. But at the very least, we know that they've been through these types of transformations. They have the battle wounds, they can drive business results, they can get their hands dirty, and the process improvements they can integrate with the rest of the program.

I hope you found this information useful. I encourage you to download our guide to a successful change initiative. I've included that link here.

If you'd like more customized feedback regarding your Organizational Change Plan or if you have any additional questions in general - please reach out to me directly. Happy to be an informal sounding board for your digital transformation journey.

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Eric Kimberling

Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.

Eric Kimberling
Eric is known globally as a thought leader in the ERP consulting space. He has helped hundreds of high-profile enterprises worldwide with their technology initiatives, including Nucor Steel, Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Kodak, Coors, Boeing, and Duke Energy. He has helped manage ERP implementations and reengineer global supply chains across the world.
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