Barriers to Change

May 21, 2021


Hiatt’s book defining the ADKAR Model of individual change defines barrier points, explains accountability, and outlines sustainable change.

The only constant is change. Some people like change. When it comes to technology for instance, I’m an early adopter. When I see a new application or an upgrade, I press every button, explore every option, and test every feature. It’s exciting; it’s like discovering an underwater city. I wonder what I will see just beyond. When it comes to fashion, however, I am not adventurous. A friend once asked why I always wear black, “Is it because black is a power color or because it’s slimming?” she queried. I surprised her by saying, “No, black matches everything and I don’t have to think about what to wear.”

Change presents both opportunities and dilemmas. Not only does change (or improvement, as I prefer to call it) present challenges, but it also must accommodate our various approaches to change. In his book, Employee’s Survival Guide to Change, Jeffrey Hiatt presents a simple, but provocative model for change. The Prosci ADKAR Model outlines the following stages of individual change:

  1. Awareness of the need for change: Hiatt makes an important distinction about awareness, it is not that a change is coming, but that change is needed. Informing a team about an upcoming enhancement doesn’t quite get to why the improvement is required.
  2. Desire to participate and support the change: Getting to the core of motivation is key. We already know we can’t make people change, but we can inspire people to change. Probe for personal benefits and establish organizational benefits offered by the advancement.
  3. Knowledge on how to change: Training and education are not enough. Knowledge also includes a clear definition of the change, information on how the change will impact our work, and understanding of new performance measures.
  4. Ability to implement desired skills and behaviors: The gap between know-how and performance can large or small. Though, someone may know how to do something, they may not have the ability do it well. Consider addressing mental blocks and old habits.
  5. Reinforcement to sustain the change: Accountability and recognition of progress are important in this stage. New behaviors are strengthened in the absence of negative consequences. Measure and celebrate even small advancements.

Hiatt’s book offers a simple assessment for identifying barrier points. A barrier point is “the first ADKAR element [or stage] that is insufficient and impedes change progress” and feeling neutral is a barrier.1 For example, if a team member knows change is necessary, but is uncommitted to improvement, the individual is stuck in the Desire stage. Focus attention in that stage to make progress. Though, the ADKAR Model offers a linear path to sustainable change, I submit we may move between stages as the organization evolves requiring us to reassess barrier points.

As leaders, we must remember that individual change leads to organizational change. Reminding yourself and team members that we are not victims to change is critical, too. We all have choice in how we respond to opportunity. We can actively participate in what can be difficult and rewarding with accountability, or simple opt out. Got an upgrade or improvement in mind? Where are you in the ADKAR Model? Where are your stakeholders? What support do you need? Are you exploring an underwater city or just wearing black?

Sources: 1 Prosci: Individual Barriers to Change And What to Do About Them; Helpful Resources on the ADKAR Model: Articles, Videos, & Stories; Book: Employee’s Survival Guide to Change, by Jeffrey Hiatt.

by Michelle Sugerman • Leading Synergies, LLC • © All Rights Reserved

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