Convincing people to change

In a recent posting on their web site Prosci have discussed their ADKAR model for describing how an individual makes a successful change. Towards the end of the article they provide data from a recent webinar in which they ask which stage of the model poses the biggest challenge. Just over two-thirds of the respondents said the Desire stage was the biggest challenge of the five stages. Is this a surprise?


To understand my answer I should first briefly explain the ADKAR model. The acronym describes the stages an individual needs to go through to successfully change their behaviour. The stages are:

  • Awareness of the need for change
  • Desire to participate and support the change
  • Knowledge on how to change
  • Ability to implement required skills and behaviours
  • Reinforcement to sustain the change

Like most models this is very similar to a selling model. Getting someone to purchase your product or service is very similar to getting them to change to a new behaviour you want them to perform.

The data from the webinar respondents shows that out of the five stages achieving Desire is by far the hardest.

Biggest blockage to each ADKAR stage

Biggest blockage to each ADKAR stage

The reason why I donâ??t find this surprising is because the step from Awareness to Desire is a huge psychological leap. There are two ways to explain this leap.

A model for change preparation

We use a model (again based on selling) just for the steps an individual needs to go through before they will even join in a change, let alone go through with it. This model shows the steps between Awareness and Desire in more detail.

Awareness, interest, engagement, commitment -- steps to Desire.

Awareness, interest, engagement, commitment — steps to Desire.

In this model the four stages are:

  • Awareness: same as the ADKAR model, in which the individual is aware of the change. A typical behaviour in this stage is that the individual will turn up to a meeting about the change, but they are completely passive. They have not come to the point of realising they need to do anything about the change; they may just increase their awareness.
  • Interest: in this stage the individual is asking â??what does this change mean to me?â?ť. They are building an internal model of the change and its implications, in effect they are actively learning about the change. They will want to visualise the future with the changes and see how they fit in, what they will be doing, who will they be doing it with, how will they feel? A typical behaviour in this stage is the individual will ask questions as they seek new information and knowledge so they can build their internal mental model.
  • Engagement: in this stage the individual has sufficient information to make a decision.  They will be engaged (positively or negatively depending on how their model works out for them) and will be deploying emotion. Typical behaviour for this stage is the individual will be making statements about the change (rather than asking questions) and you will detect the emotion in the language and the tone of the statement.
  • Commitment:  Here the individual has made their decision. If they have decided to do the change then in the ADKAR model they have Desire. However, if they have decided not to change then they will be working against the change and will not have any Desire! In most groups of people it is not uncommon for a small number not to go for the change. This is their personal decision.

So, getting from Awareness to Desire is not a simple step and people need help to make this leap.

Behavioural Economics

A second reason for the challenge of getting from Awareness to Desire is that the people promoting the change just donâ??t realise how much effort they need to put into selling the change. A hint of this comes from research recently described from the field of behavioural economics about the perception of value. In our case it would be the perception of the value of a change.

In research carried out in a US college, students are asked to place a value on tickets to the college baseball games. These tickets are provided through a lottery as baseball is very popular and there is big demand for tickets on the campus. The students who won a ticket in the lottery valued a ticket at about $1500. Students who didnâ??t have a ticket and wanted one said they would pay about $150 for one. You can see the difference in perceived value of the ticket! It is a factor of ten.

Now imagine you are promoting a change for your organisation and trying to sell that change; you will put a high worth on the change and will communicate accordingly with others in the organisation who need to be involved. For the individuals who currently donâ??t see the change the way you do, your change has a much lower worth to them. That doesnâ??t mean they donâ??t want the change as well; they just donâ??t have the same perception of its worth to them. Getting from Awareness to Desire means everyone needs to have the same perceived value of the change so everyone is going to put in the required effort to achieve the potential.

What does this mean?

The two ideas above show that moving from Awareness to Desire is a big step in terms of psychological adjustment and that the hill is steep in terms of aligning perceptions about the need and value of the change. The implication is that it will take time and considerable effort. Are you ready to invest that time and effort to achieve success?

Our course on People and Change looks at some of the psychological aspects of individual change; and our course on Stakeholders & Communications looks at how to do effective stakeholder engagement.

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