According to research from McKinsey & Co., of every 10 major changes organizations attempt, seven fail.

Does that conjure any painful memories? It’s certainly a scary statistic for anyone contemplating a major business process transformation initiative. The good news is you can increase your chances of success by addressing the often-overlooked human factor of organizational change.

Why don’t we already do that? Information technology is so prominent, so awe-inspiring sometimes, that we fail to acknowledge that it’s not enough in and of itself to improve a business process. We expect that, if we simply change the technology and map out an elegant new process, everyone will automatically come along for the ride.

In the real world, however, meaningful transformations are almost always a function of technology, processes and people. If all you do is build it, they probably won’t come. If you’re dealing with transformation across multiple locations and cultures, ignoring the people principle could make you fail on a global scale.

Although human creatures can be an infinite mystery, managing the people aspect of organizational change is rather simple. One approach to business process transformation is to employ individual change management practices based on the Prosci ADKAR Model. This is a model of the change process, at an individual level, which can be applied organizationally through the broader Prosci three-phase Change Management Process.  

Let’s Take a Look

ADKAR is a five-step approach for precipitating organizational change, person by person:

Awareness of the need to change;

Desire to participate and support the change;

Knowledge of how to change (and what the change looks like);

Ability to implement the change on a day-to-day basis;

Reinforcement to keep the change in place.

To make ADKAR work, you need to prepare for it by defining your change strategy on an organizational scale, assigning your project team and prepping your executives. So we’ll look at that for a minute and then return to ADKAR.

While defining the change strategy, carefully assess the scope of the change. Is it departmental, regional, line of business oriented or does it span the entire global business? Understand who will be affected directly and indirectly. No matter which population is affected, the bigger the change to the process itself, the more significant the impact will be on organizational culture. (A software update is one thing; a new logistics process is quite another.) Consider complexities introduced by borders, languages, currencies, time zones and other cultural variables. Generational differences introduce their own unique problems; for example, millennials, who will make up a majority of the workforce in three years, expect immediate access to information, anytime, anywhere and on any device.

After designing a strategy to accommodate the change’s scope, carefully assemble a project team with the right competencies to lead the change management initiative. This team will typically involve end-user representatives, such as subject matter experts who can both design processes and inspire peers. A marketing specialist will help you clearly communicate the reason for the change and help you promote it the transition. You’ll also need a project manager, perhaps a line-of-business manager, to keep the project on course.

Executive sponsors are important. They must do more than simply “buy in.” A successful transformation requires the commitment of the entire C-suite, all of whom should clearly and consistently communicate to their subordinates why the transformation will advance strategic goals. CXOs will also be critical for rewarding success.

With that preparation in place, you’re ready for ADKAR.

Awareness: Understanding Why Change is Needed

Before people will accept change, they need to know why it’s important. With senior management espousing strategic goals, line-of-business managers must reinforce this with domain experts and staff as often as possible. The marketing communications specialist should develop a plan to promote awareness and keep employees engaged. 

  • Internal marketing tools may include:
  • Branding the change with a theme or a tagline;
  • Official emails from top management invoking the theme;
  • “Did you know?” pamphlets;
  • Lobby/break room posters; and
  • Branded Post-it notes

Find a way to measure awareness before, during and after the transformation to gauge how communication plans are working.

Desire: Motivating People

Once they understand the purpose of the effort, people need motivation to get fully on board. Now is the time for the organization to answer the perennial employee question: “What’s in it for me?”

For instance, making employees’ jobs easier and improving their productivity are good reasons. People will be motivated. But it’s not enough; new processes and technologies frequently involve a learning curve and, deep down, employees can be insecure about that. So it’s important that the benefits of learning a new system outweigh the risks, so that they overcome insecurity and the natural resistance to change.

Training opportunities are important), as are incentives, such as contests to encourage participation in new processes. An even more powerful agent for change is a well-respected subject matter expert. Endorsing SMEs championing a system that they have engineered can be a powerful motivator for co-workers.

Knowledge: What Do you Need to Know to Succeed?

Assuming the employee is now aware and motivated, there’s still that insecurity. Proper training is crucial to overcome it.

Because they helped design the transformation in the first place, domain experts and line-of-business managers can best help design the plan for transferring new skills to the rest of the organization. With the help of the marcom specialist and C-suite as necessary, they can design a menu with any of the following ingredients:

  • Formal on-site training;
  • Self-paced online training;
  • Self-help documents;
  • “Cheat sheets”; and
  • Decision trees for help desk responses.

Although knowledge is the third step of our rubric, the training plan must be in place before building awareness and creating desire to participate. Knowing that training is coming down the pike, employees will be more confident in their abilities, making the transformation less daunting.

Ability: Measuring Levels of Accomplishment

People need time to develop new skills and behaviors, so expectations should be reasonable. A good way to ensure you’re on track is to measure key performance indicators before, during and after the transformation. You’ll get an objective understanding of employees’ emerging abilities on the individual and aggregate scales.

A twist here: While a new business process may call for new performance measures, in many cases, you can use your existing KPIs, and it’s a good idea to do so. With important indicators, there’s typically no reason to move the goalposts. This best practice provides comfort and continuity throughout the organization.


Once you’re hitting your desired performance levels, you want the transformation to stick. Reinforcing it entails three steps: diagnosing performance gaps, implementing corrective actions and celebrating success.

Analyzing feedback, both performance metrics and stakeholder impressions, will help you identify performance gaps and pockets of resistance. From there, you can determine the root cause and offer corrective action, such as additional training or a clearer explanation of why the change matters to everyone. No one-time training event or educational program will substitute ongoing coaching and mentoring.

When things go right, it’s important to celebrate success. Be clear about the concrete and measurable benefits the company is achieving. Make the praise as public as possible. Create a progress chart with rewards as performance climbs.

Reinforcing the transformation is only part of the equation; see if you can use the transformation to create a culture of continuous improvement. A culture of continuous improvement looks beyond the initial transformation for opportunities for cost savings, greater innovation and improved customer service. Reward creative thinking and great ideas.

When you’ve created a culture of continuous improvement, you’ve mastered the process of business process transformation. You are firmly among the three in 10 organizations that succeed in business process transformation, and you did it by focusing on the people part of the transformation as much as the technical side.

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