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13 Types of Change of Management Models You Should Know

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From adapting to the latest technology to responding to the economic and logistical challenges presented by COVID-19, the need for companies to implement and adapt to organizational change has never been greater. Successful business transformation requires the right change management models, tools, and theories. 

Models and management theories can help you in managing organizational change and thinking about how to overcome resistance from your employees.

Here is a list of the most common change management theories that this guide will elaborate upon.

What is a Change Management Framework?

Change Management Framework models helps to bring organizational structure, streamline business processes and make employees efficient to ensure the growth of the organization.

Organizational change is caused by internal and external factors. When an organization sees a trend they try to adapt and as a result change is injected within the company.

Unfortunately, most of the change initiatives fail because of poor planning and implementation. That’s why an organization needs a change management framework to plan their change initiatives properly with minimum spillage of scope.

What is Change Management Theory

Change Management Theory is a framework of an approach to transitioning people, processes, and resources to achieve better outcomes. Change management theory helps people and organizations focus on the future and make the right decisions to get to that vision.

Change management deals with many different disciplines, from behavioral and social sciences to IT and business processes.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Change Management Model

Did you know 70% of all change initiatives fail? That’s because managers may apply the wrong change management theory or model for their organization, or they become overwhelmed by the change management process.

If you choose the right change management model, you can help managers be focused and methodical as they implement change. This guide includes overviews of 13 top change management models for executing a successful change management strategy.

13 Incredible Change Management Models

When preparing for organizational change, it is important to adopt a framework. These change management models and theories will help guide you in what to include in your plan and how to overcome common problems such as people’s natural resistance to change. We’ve summarized the top 13 most frequently used change management models:

  1. Kotter’s change management theory
  2. Lewin’s change management model
  3. The McKinsey 7-S change management model
  4. Nudge theory
  5. Kübler-Ross change curve
  6. Satir change management model
  7. PDSA cycle
  8. ADKAR change management model
  9. Bridges’ transition change management model
  10. Kaizen change management model
  11. Lamarsh change management model
  12. John fisher change management model
  13. Maurer’s 3 levels of resistance and change model

1. Kotter’s change management theory 

Harvard Professor John Kotter’s 1996 book Leading Change is a go-to reference on how to navigate change in business. Kotter outlines an 8-step process for organizational change:

  1. Create a sense of urgency
  2. Build a guiding coalition
  3. Create a strategic vision
  4. Communicate the vision
  5. Enable action by removing barriers
  6. Generate short-term wins
  7. Sustain acceleration
  8. Anchor changes in corporate culture

Kotter’s organizational change theory is one of the most popular change management models because it does a great job of establishing a sense of urgency and explaining why change is needed. Where it comes up short is in its lack of feedback from all levels.

Kotter takes a top-down approach. If you start with these steps, be sure to incorporate some ways to build grassroots momentum and solicit feedback from frontline employees.

What we like about this model:

This model is ideal for companies that are adopting new enterprise software. We especially like that this model promotes “short-term wins” – specifically, onboarding departments that are least resistant to change first, which can help foster internal buy-in across other departments.

2. Lewin’s Change Management Model

Lurt Lewin developed his change model in the 1940s, and it’s still popular today – primarily because of its simplicity. The model breaks up organizational change into three steps:

  • Decide what needs to change.
  • Analyze your current processes and identify what needs to change.
  • Communicate the need for change.
  • Make the change.
  • Communicate often about the benefits of the change.
  • Allow time and training for people to get used to the change.
  • Internalize and institutionalize the change.
  • Create a sense of stability to sustain the change.
  • Celebrate successes.

The Lewin model for organizational change is deceptively simple since it’s only three steps. You will need to fight the temptation to rush through each phase. It takes time to plan, execute, and reinforce a change. Make sure you allow enough time for employees to get used to the changes and provide opportunities for them to give feedback.

What we like about this model:

This model focuses on empowering employees, rewarding them for adapting and communicating with them regularly. We think the Lewin model would work well for large companies that want to avoid internal rumors and confusion about major changes.

3. The McKinsey 7-S Change Management Model

The McKinsey 7-S model was outlined in the book In Search of Excellence by McKinsey consultants Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman. Instead of focusing on structure, the model emphasizes the need for coordination and maps out a series of interconnected factors that impact a company’s ability to change. These seven elements are:

Hard Elements

  • Strategy – your plan for how to compete and succeed in the marketplace
  • Structure – how your organized i.e. your business unit and reporting structure
  • System – the processes and technologies employees use to get their jobs done.

Soft Elements

  • Shared values – core values as defined by the company’s corporate culture and work ethic
  • Style – leadership approach to managing the company and employees
  • Staff – the company’s workforce
  • Skills – employees’ collective knowledge and skill set.

The 7-S model’s strength is helping organizations understand that status quo so they know what needs to change. The model also helps illustrate how any organizational change will impact all seven elements.

The model is less effective at actually guiding companies through making the change. The McKinsey model might be best paired with a more actionable organizational change management framework

What we like about this model:

We like the separation of hard and soft change elements, as different managers or departments may be overseeing those points.

4. Nudge Theory

Richard H. Thaler and‎ Cass R. Sunstein outlined the ideas behind nudge theory in their book Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness. The approach gently guides or suggests users make a change without strict enforcement or penalizing non-compliance.

Companies should present the change as a choice and remove as many obstacles as possible to make it more likely people comply. They’ll also need to celebrate small wins and highlight the benefits of the change.

Companies have found success in using the Nudge theory to encourage more people to contribute to their retirement plans. Governments have used it to increase the number of people signed up for organ donation.

Each of these actions is a one-time choice by the participant. When dealing with complex organizational change, companies may need a more structured change management framework.

What we like about this model:

This model reminds us of the ways marketers move people through the sales funnel — using several “touchpoints” to drive consumers toward an action. We can see how marketing agencies would be especially successful in implementing the nudge theory.

5. Kübler-Ross Change Curve

You may be familiar with the Kübler-Ross Change Curve because it’s based on the five stages of grief outlined by psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross in her 1969 book On Death and Dying. She focused on how terminally ill patients processed their grief about facing death. She outlined five phases:

  1. Denial
  2. Anger
  3. Bargaining
  4. Depression
  5. Acceptance

So why is a theory about grieving in a list of change management models for business? People are naturally resistant to change. The change curve expands upon the five stages of grief to describe the emotions employees feel when adjusting to an organizational change. The stages are:

  • Shock – Employees are surprised by the change.
  • Denial – Employees are in disbelief about the change.
  • Frustration – Employees begin to acknowledge changes, but are resentful.
  • Depression – Employees are unmotivated to work or complete the change.
  • Experiment – Employees begin to engage with the new structure/systems.
  • Decision – Employees feel more comfortable with the change and learn how to work in the new environment.
  • Integration – Employees fully adapt to the change and make it part of their work life.

The model is a great resource for thinking about and managing your employees’ reactions to a change but doesn’t provide an overall framework for initiating organizational change. Consider pairing it with another model.

What we like about this model:

We think this model is helpful for human resources teams that need to anticipate and prepare for how employees might react to change.

6. The Satir Change Model

The Satir Change Model is also based on the five stages of grief. It can be used to model how employees are performing during the change. The five phases are:

  • Late status quo – This is when employees understand what is expected of them, but may not agree with the productivity requirements.
  • Resistance – This is the first phase after you introduce the change. You can expect some resistance which will lead to a decrease in productivity.
  • Chaos – This is the lowest point in your productivity as the change starts to take its full emotional toll on your workforce. This is when you’ll need to provide the most support to make your change successful.
  • Integration – Productivity starts to improve in this phase as employees begin to see the positive value of the change.
  • New status quo – This is when you can expect productivity to become stable again (hopefully at a higher level than when you started) as people accept and integrate the change into their work.

Like the Kübler-Ross model, this framework isn’t ideal for helping you plan and execute your change. Where it is helpful is in predicting and responding to how your team’s performance will be impacted during the successful implementation of your organizational change.

What we like about this model:

We can see this model being useful for teams in deadline-driven environments. Being able to predict when productivity may decrease could help project managers set more relaxed timelines for projects.

7. PDSA Cycle

The Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) Cycle is a continuous process for optimizing and improving your business. The cycle is based on the work of W. Edward Deming and Walter Shewhart. The approach is sometimes called the Deming Wheel or Deming Cycle.

The cycle is meant to work in a loop where you repeat the four steps:

  • Plan – Recognize what needs to change and make a plan.
  • Do – Test your idea on a small scale.
  • Study – Analyze your results and determine what worked and what didn’t.
  • Act – Take action based on your results and what you learned.

The cycle is a great tool to use for continuous improvement. It can easily fit into any or every part of your overall change management plan. But you’ll probably need a more detailed framework for planning out a large organizational change.

What we like about this model:

We like that the “Study” stage of this cycle compares actual results with projections. This simple four-step process can be repeated until the results align with objectives.

8. Prosci ADKAR Change Management Model

The Prosci ADKAR change management model is not a top-down approach. Instead, it focused on what people at all levels of an organization need to do in order for an organizational change to be effective. Prosci founder Jeff Hiatt created the ADKAR model. According to the model, people need to achieve five outcomes:

  • Awareness – Management explains that changes are coming and why they are necessary.
  • Desire – Leaders persuade employees to support the change, by providing case studies or other evidence. They may also need to address individual concerns to build confidence in the changes.
  • Knowledge – This is the stage at which employees learn how to implement changes. For companies introducing new software, this stage includes training.
  • Ability – At this stage, employees are applying what they’ve learned.
  • Reinforcement – This is an ongoing process that recognizes employees for their accomplishments and provides performance incentives.

The ADKAR model is a useful tool because it helps you think about and plan for everything that needs to happen on the ground for your organizational change to be successful. It forces you to plan for how to support and create change across all levels of the organization.

What we like about this model:

We like that this model illustrates the need for educating employees about a change before jumping into training. It’s a much more effective way to implement new software platforms.

9. Bridges’ Transition Change Management Model

William Bridges made an important distinction in Bridges’ Transition Model – it wasn’t about change, it was about transition. Bridges believed changes happen abruptly and a person has no control over the matter. A transition, however, is a slower process or journey a person goes through. The model proposes three stages employees go through during a transition:

  • Endings – This is when employees understand what they will lose – for example, colleagues, software platforms, or physical locations.
  • Neutral zone – This is the transitional time between old and new. Employees may feel unsure about new responsibilities or methods.
  • New beginnings – This is when the change is accepted as the new norm. The goal is to keep the momentum going.

The model is similar to the Satir model or the Kübler-Ross Change Curve because it focuses on managing employees’ emotions through an organizational change. Similarly, it has the same drawback in that it does not actually provide a framework for implementing change.

What we like about this model:

We like that this model mentions loss – allowing employees time to process those feelings may ultimately lead to a better implementation of changes.

10. Kaizen Change Management Model 

Kaizen is a popular change management model. This model calls for change to be a continuous process rather than a one-time transition.  

The Kaizen model promotes the concept that small and ongoing changes offer more benefits than infrequent and large changes.

These are the 10 principles of Kaizen:

  • Let go of assumptions.
  • Be proactive about problem-solving.
  • Reject the status quo.
  • Let go of perfectionism and embrace iterative, adaptive change.
  • Look for solutions as you discover mistakes.
  • Create an environment that empowers everyone to contribute.
  • Instead of accepting the obvious explanation, ask “why” five times to get to the root cause.
  • Gather information and opinions from multiple people.
  • Find low-cost, small improvements.
  • Never stop improving.

With the Kaizen model, all employees work as a team on a regular basis to promote small yet continuous and comprehensive development with the cooperation and commitment of all partners.

What we like about this model:

This model gives employees more control over changes, which we think is a creative approach to building employee trust. (We also like that Kaizen loosely translates to “good change” in Japanese).

11. LaMarsh Change Management Model

The LaMarsh change management model refers to the organized process of risk mitigation in adoption and the acceptance of new processes by those who will be affected by it most. The risks in acceptance and adoption of change are addressed early on during the change management process, so the change can happen smoothly across the entire organization. 

The LaMarsh model focuses on intentional changes in order to achieve success. It identifies areas that would benefit most from the change and ensures that all employees involved understand the purpose and implementation of the change. 

LaMarsh methodology entails a five-step framework for leaders to: 

  • Initiate the change – This is when leaders establish objectives.
  • Identify risk – This stage involves evaluating the barriers to employee acceptance. 
  • Implementation phase – This is the stage in which leaders follow an action plan designed to minimize employee resistance to acceptance.
  • Achieve results – Once changes are implemented, results are measured against initial objectives. Risk identification is ongoing, and plans may be adjusted accordingly.
  • Sustain outcomes – Once changes are achieved, leaders support processes to sustain outcomes.

What we like about this model:

We like that this is a scalable model that could work for small companies or enterprise corporations.

12. John M.Fisher Change Management Model

John M. Fisher’s change management model looks at the transition stages that employees go through when a personal or corporate change is initiated. Managers can help employees handle change more effectively by determining which stage an employee is in, in the transition cycle.

Once this stage is determined, the manager can employ appropriate tools to help the employee proceed to the next stage, until finally, the employee accepts, embraces, and adopts the incoming change.  

Fisher’s model of change addresses how an individual deals with and responds to the change. It takes into consideration the personal change or the “Personal Transition Curve,” which helpsleaders understand the employees’ perspective in the change process. 

There are 12 stages of emotion an employee might experience during a transitional time: Anxiety, Happiness, Threat, Fear, Anger, Guilt, Despair, Hostility, Acceptance, Moving forward, Denial, Disillusionment.

Individuals may experience some of those emotions, but employees won’t all react the same way.

What we like about this model:

We like that this model acknowledges the individuality of employees. That makes this model useful for companies that have the time and ability to meet one-on-one with employees during a time of transition.

13. Maurer’s 3 Levels of Resistance and Change Model

Author Rick Maurer’s change model focuses specifically on the three mindsets employees may experience when they’re resistant to change. Those are:

  • I don’t get it – This means employees don’t have enough information — or the right kind of information — to understand what changes are coming and why.
  • I don’t like it – This is the emotional state of feeling fear, when employees may become defensive and closed-off to any messaging about changes.
  • I don’t like you – Employees may dislike or distrust the person or people attempting to implement the change, even if they see the change as positive.

Like many of the other change models on our list, Maurer’s model advises management to counteract resistance by communicating openly, sharing evidence that inspires confidence, and listening to employees’ misgivings.

Read More: Resistance to Change – Why it Matters and What to Do About It

Change Management Framework Models

Change is the growth enabler and most organizations have realized it because of the recent disruptions. Today over 75% of the organizations are ready to multiply their change initiatives but even then only 34% of the change efforts are successful.

This is because most of the time organizations are in a hurry with their initiatives and some cases change they are reactive to change. To achieve success organization must be proactive and must start by listing the benefits of change. 

We have listed some of the benefits of change and the impact that it might create on your organization.

  • Measure results – Change should never be implemented without setting objectives, schedules, and budgets. This is where change management framework models come in and help to structure the process in such a way that it becomes measurable. It helps the organization to measure the efficiency of the transformation, analyze employee productivity, understand the rate of adoption, map the budgets and predict implementation time.
  • Eliminate internal resistance – A change framework helps to detect the possible areas of resistance and the reason behind it. Post this organizations can plan ways to reduce the resistance and convert resistors into advocates. Moreover, it enables organizations to create communication channels to ensure that all the stakeholders are on the same page. 
  • Forecasting – A Change framework not only help to measure but also help organizations to forecast the timeline, employee behavior, expected output, and revenue. Based on this prediction businesses can formulate a strategy and again change model helps in that and give a sense of confidence to all the stakeholders. As a result, people start feeling that change is manageable and not overwhelming. With forecasting business leaders can detect the pain points beforehand and invest in a solution that can make the life of employees easy during change. This approach boosts their performance and enables them to do better. 

How to Select a Change Management Framework

So how do you know which change management model will work best for you? That depends on the type of organizational change you’re trying to make.

Change Management Models for Cultural Change

If your change is more cultural in nature, you’ll want to focus on a framework that takes employees’ emotional needs into consideration. Kübler-Ross Change Curve, Satir Model, ADKAR, and Bridges’ Transition Model are excellent choices when you’re trying to change your organizational culture.

Change Management Models for Structural Change

Structural changes create both logistical and emotional concerns that need to be managed. In this case, it’s best to pair the models used for cultural change with a system that includes more actionable steps for managing and planning the change-related activities. Consider using Kotter’s Theory, Lewin’s Change Management Model, or the PDSA cycle.

Change Management Models for Procedural Change

Procedural changes require you to evaluate what needs to change and then make minor adjustments during the process. The McKinsey 7-S Model and PDSA Cycle are good choices for procedural changes because they force you to examine your status quo and make a plan for what you need to update. Kotter’s Theory and Lewin’s Change Management Model are also good fits for procedural changes

Types of Change Management Tools and Software

In addition to a framework, you’ll need change management tools. Successful organizational change requires four types of tools:

  1. Planning and Tracking
  2. Project Management
  3. Communication
  4. Training
Type of ToolPurposeExamples
Planning and TrackingYou will need a way to plan your organizational change. Many companies use corporate performance management software, or some will use the same software for both planning and project management.
  • Oracle Planning and Budgeting Cloud
  • Anaplan
  • Planful
Project ManagementOnce you have made a plan, you’ll need a way to track all the activities and tasks needed to execute it. Many companies already use a project management system for their daily activities. The same system can be useful for managing organizational change.
  • Clarity PPM
  • Microsoft Project Portfolio Management
  • Clarizen One


CommunicationYou will need tools for communicating with your employees and soliciting their feedback while implementing an organizational change.
  • Qualtrics Employee XM
  • SurveyMonkey
  • Zoho Survey
TrainingMost organizational change will require some training to reskill employees. Tools like a learning management system or a digital adoption solution can help.
  • Apty
  • Lessonly
  • TalentLMS

 A digital adoption platform is one of the most versatile tools for managing organizational change. The primary function of a digital adoption platform, like Apty, is to eliminate user roadblocks so they can quickly become comfortable using new technologies.

Apty includes on-screen guidance that shows users where to click and what to do inside any web-based application. A DAP is an essential tool for training during organizational change, and it also has other change management applications.

You can use Apty to solicit user feedback, and view Apty’s advanced analytics to examine how users are adapting to the change. Apty even lets you set up and measure your own objectives and key results.

Organizational Change: Key Points for Success

Change doesn’t have to be chaotic and stressful. When preparing for an organizational change, remember these three key steps:

  • Determine the type of change you want to implement.
  • Select the best change management models for your organization and type of change.
  • Utilize the appropriate tools for planning, project management, communication, and provide adequate training.

With the right change management models and tools, you can conquer any change-related challenges.

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Nathan Altadonna

Nathan Altadonna

A former journalist and product manager, Nathan is a proud tech geek who blogs about digital transformation, employee productivity, and enterprise software. In addition to his work with Apty, Nathan runs his own consulting company, Innate Digital, helping companies develop content and get the most out of their marketing tech stack.

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