Which Change Model Should You Pick?

From the Great Leadership mailbag:
First thing I want to say is that I love your blog ; so many interesting thoughts on leadership, and practical examples.
One topic I’d really like to have your view on is around leading change.
My company is willing to have a more structured model for change management and as head of OD I’ve been asked to provide recommendations to the CEO. The good thing is that leaders in my company are aware of the importance to lead change, but It’s difficult to find one’s way among all the existing methodologies and approaches built by consultants.
I’m sure you’d have interesting thoughts on this topic that would bring value to a lot of HR and OD practioners. What do you think?
Looking forward to hearing from you!
Thanks in advance

I’m happy to address this question. OD practioners often find themselves in similar situations where their organizations are asking them to adopt one single change model. There’s a lot of merit to the “one model” approach. It’s a must for financial systems and marketing strategy, as well as softer things like values and leadership competencies. Using a common change model could help facilitate learning, consistency, and efficiency.

On the other hand, I’ve seen the quest for a single model taken to the extreme. In a previous large, global organization, it actually turned into silly turf wars. A LOT of energy was expended debating over whose model should be “the one”, as well as the “policing” of stamping out rouge models. I don’t think that kind of nonsense was helping the managers we were supposed to be supporting.
Given this, I could recommend a few change models that have served me well. When I say “served me well”, it means they actually made sense to managers and they actually used them with some success.

This is by no means meant to be a “top 10” list – there are way too many excellent models out there, and I’m in no position to declare which are the best. This is simply my own personal critique of some of the most widely used models.

1. Kotter’s 8 step model.

This one seems to be the most widely used; it’s the granddaddy of all change models. John Kotter has spent a career perfecting it, it’s very “teachable”, and it intuitively makes sense. I would say it may be a little too high level for a lot of front line managers – it seems to work better for planning large organizational changes.
2. Bridge’s Change model.
From the classic book on change by William Bridges, Managing Transitions, Making the Most of Change. I love this book! The primary model is “Endings, Transitions, and Beginnings”, but the book is chock full of other useful tools, checklists, and models, including the “Marathon Effect”. Individuals to senior managers always seem to be able to embrace these concepts and change their behaviors and implementation plans accordingly.
3. Kubler-Ross.
Elizabeth Kubler-Ross wrote a classic book called “On Death and Dying” in 1969 in which she introduced a 5 stage grief model. A lot of OD practioners now use this 5 stage model to help explain the individual and emotional impact of change. While it’s spot on, I find it a bit depressing. “Good morning, today we’re going to be learning about leading change! Let’s start with a model on death and dying”. Anyway, it’s a classic and has withstood the test of time.
One of the simplest yet most powerful change models I’ve ever used is the Change Equation, developed by Richard Beckhard and David Gleicher. Try whipping this model out the next time your team is planning or discussing a major change; it never fails to focus a team on what needs to be done and stimulate some lively discussion! See highlighted post for a further explanation.

5. The Personal Power Grid.

I really don’t know who to give credit to for this model I think I first came across in a Crisp book on change. The personal power grid plots control against action. You should take action in areas where you have control (Mastering). You should not take any action in areas where you do not have control (Letting Go). By focusing on what you control and letting go of what you do not, you will not miss opportunities (Giving Up) or waste your time (Spinning Wheels).
A highly respected general manager once stood up and gave an emotional testimonial to how using this model changed his life. Go figure. It’s a good one to draw on a flipchart when people start whining and you want to focus them in a constructive way.

6. Kurt Lewin Change Model.

Kurt Lewin developed a three stage theory of change commonly referred to as Unfreeze, Change, Freeze (or Refreeze). A lot of OD practioners seem to just love this model, and can take it to the deepest levels of discussion and application. I haven’t had as much success trying to get managers to use it. I have used his Force-Field Analysis, but managers sometimes laugh at the goofy name. It should be in your toolkit, but I wouldn’t recommend it as “the” model.

7. Peter Senge

No list of change models would be complete without mentioning Peter Senge. If you are going to hang out with OD folks, you must read the Fifth Discipline. I’ve read it – twice – as well as the companion Fieldbook.
However, I just don’t get Senge – he’s too over my head. But gee, I sure do respect those that do. And chuckle at those that say they do and are really faking it, which I think are the majority.
8. Others:
I just had the pleasure of working with Professor James Clawson on a Managing Change executive development program we did for one of our clients. Jim uses his own change model, as well as others. Here are the one’s he referenced in addition to the one’s I’ve already listed:

– Michael Beer’s

– Tim Galloway’s

– MIT model

– James Prochaska’s

In summary, if I had to pick one change model to introduce to an organization, I’d probably take all of these and create my own. However, if you’re looking for a proven model, I’d start with Kotter, Bridges, or Beckhard and offer a few of the other ones as resources in a change toolbox. Then call me, and I’ll work with you to develop a world-class training program for your managers. (-:
How about hearing from readers? If you had to pick one change model, what would you recommend?