In November, my husband and I went backpacking through Europe. Before we left, it hit us that we could not take our normal luggage, which includes two carry-ons and a checked bag per person. Instead, we needed to fit three weeks’ worth of items into one carry-on backpack. So, about a month before we set off on our adventure, we started researching the best backpacks for this type of vacation and found so many options that we became overwhelmed. We watched YouTube video after YouTube video about why each backpack was better than the others and when they should be used.

When you start to think about change management models, it is very similar to shopping for that one killer backpack that can make traveling through Europe a breeze. There are numerous change models to choose from (ADKAR, Lewin, Kotter’s 8-Step Model, McKinsey’s 7-S model, Lean Change Management, and many more), but you are not guaranteed to have a successful project just because you follow the checklist provided by one of these models. To manage change effectively, you need to select the right approach for your project and for your organization’s culture.

The first step in selecting a change model is knowing what type of change you are implementing. Thinking about the type of change will allow you to determine the change model that best aligns with your end goal. In traveling, selecting too large of a backpack will give you a big burden to shoulder, and selecting one that’s too small will prevent you from packing all your necessary items; either way you will be frustrated. Similarly in change management, selecting an overly robust model for a simple project or selecting a linear model for a transformational project will lead to frustration and increase the risk of project failure. Unfortunately, there is no one-size-fits-all change model so you will likely need to tailor any model you choose based on the type of change you are implementing.

Types of Change to Consider:

Developmental Change

Developmental change is the simplest form of change and has little impact on an organization’s mindset. You are improving what your organization is already doing versus creating something new. This could include improving existing skill sets, streamlining simple processes, or cross-training your teams. Here, a simple daypack will suffice; this type of change does not require a full-scale change model and can be accomplished with a small-scale change plan. Consider using Prosci’s ADKAR model, Lewin’s Change Management Model, or Lean Change Management. All of these models can be successfully scaled down for smaller projects, and can also work well for broader organizational or cultural changes.

Transitional Change

Transitional change may be forced on an organization by disruptive competitors, regulatory changes, fluctuations in the market, or increasing customer demands. Changes are typically incremental and may include automating manual processes or adding functionality to an existing customer portal; these changes result in minimal impact to an organization’s behavior and culture, but are required to prevent your organization from faltering. This type of change requires a straight forward, well-structured backpack like the one we selected for our European vacation (the Osprey Porter 46). Most structured change models work well for transitional change, but keep in mind that some favor organizations where decisions are made by executives or a small team of people (e.g. Kotter’s 8-step model or the Lean Change Management model). If your organization uses a different methodology for decision making, that does not mean you cannot use these models. Keep in mind that any change model can be adjusted to support your organization, but some may be easier to adjust than others. Review the pros and cons of each model to determine which one best aligns with your organization’s culture.

Transformational Change

Transformational change is the hardest form of change. It may include the introduction of new practices, strategies, or processes intended to shift behavior and/or culture. The future state is often unknown, making change difficult to manage. You are going to need a versatile backpack that can handle any situation that you may encounter, from white water rafting to strolling the streets of Paris. Time-bound linear change models (such as Kotter’s 8-Step model and McKinsey’s 7-S model) will be challenging to use for this type of change; the change process must be agile. In this scenario, a custom change model would be ideal. You could also use Lewin’s Change Management Model or Lean Change Management as a starting point and add the components of Kotter’s 8-Step model that make sense for your project.

 With so many change models out there today, it is important to choose the right one and focus on a suitable plan of action (rather than using the same model for every change, or picking one at random). Before adopting one of the popular change management approaches, take the time to examine your organizational culture, your organization’s motivation for change, and the type of change you are implementing. There are many change management frameworks to choose from, just make sure you are choosing the one that best fits your current need. Taking the time to size your change (or backpack) correctly will result in a much more pleasant journey.

We have created a straightforward change management guide that can help you better understand the change models mentioned above and how they are best applied.  You can find that guide here.