+44 (0) 20 3397 0686

Struggling to Choose Your Change Model for Your Transformation?



Struggling to Choose Your Change Model for Your Transformation?

Sometimes organisations need to carry out a large complex change that will take time to implement. This is often called transformational change, as behind it implies the notion of an intervention that brings about new ways of working, new culture and new methods.

If you know a little about transformational change, you will know that there are several change(1) models. These include Kotter’s 8 Steps Model, Prosci’s AKDAR model and Change first’s People-Centered Implementation (PCI).  

However, lifting one of the models and applying it to your organisation in the hope for success, is a poor start point. 

Organisations large and small have been consistently unable to apply lessons from the past and achieve success in change programmes

Source: “Art of Transformational Change”. 2015

Transformational change is emergent

There are two major reasons for not blindingly using a proven change model.

First, your culture, ways of working, structure and strengths will need to fit with whichever model you implement. Just because a model works in one organisation, it may fail to do so in yours. Always consider a variety of models and possible flavour – by reason, intuition or testing, you will find a model that is a good fit for you. 

Secondly, the impact of most change is emergent. You won’t  truly know the power of whatever model you use until you start using it. From my experience in any complex change, new things will emerge once you embark on your journey that cannot be foreseen. Your model will have to be refined to embellish or even leveraged as you get to work on your change journey.

Therefore, you need to create a model that  is flexible and works within your cultural limits.

A word of warning, don’t rely on any external consultant to choose your model for you. In my work with large complex organisations, I always share a wide range of  options to clients  and let them be in the driving seat of choice.

The symptoms and catalyst for change

Sometimes organisations may question the need for change. Here are some symptoms that you may find in your organisation, that may indicate that you need a larger scale change if you are to survive and thrive:     

  • Ways of working are dysfunctional – all of the energy is going into staff fighting or competing against each other and bypassing processes, to the detriment of its customers. Lehman Brothers is a good example of this, where it spectacularly  failed in 2007 in a dysfunctional system.
  • 2
  • Customers and employees start leaving in droves as they find the service, reputation and quality poor. Anderson, the accountancy, is one example where their reputation tanked following audit failures. 
  • 3
  • There is stagnation; a slow steady decline. Outsiders see this, but the company seems to ignore it. Reading perspectives of Blockbusters, Nokia and Kodak will give you a strong sense of this.
  • 4
  • Employees  are hard to retain, the reasons are beyond the pay or the brand. Insiders talk of a broken culture. A recent US survey by SHRM shows that 30% of all employees say that their workplace culture makes them irritable at home. 
  • 5
  • The operational processes are dire.
  • 6
  • The Margins are too low 
  • 7
  • ‘End to End’ times are high compared to the market in product development or service delivery  
  • 8
  • Rework and Waste is high in processes
  • 9
  • Management overheads are high 

These symptoms, combined with a catalyst of a new CEO/Board, create the initial desire for change.

Image source: Kinetik Solutions

I discussed earlier about the models for change. Generally speaking, there are three broad models for Change:

  • Top down:  This is when the leadership is engaged and then change is literally ‘driven down’, function by function, process by process. The Kotter model is prominent in this area. This model relies on hierarchy, constant communication and leadership. 
  • 2
  • Bottom Up:  This is reliant on tapping into employee knowledge for improvement. It relies on management teams empowering change by training, coaching and facilitating staff with the idea that working on bottom-up change will result in the right top line results, plus make the change ‘stick’. The AKDAR Model of change promotes this area.
  • 3
  • Culture Driven: This model relies on bringing about the right culture first. It appoints ‘change leaders’ who act as coordinators for a culture change and who work across silos and work streams. The PCI model is an example of this kind of change.
Image source: Kinetik Solutions

Any of these models or others will also have to work on the external change that is constant in the 21 century, driven by events (climate change, Covid-19, skills shortages, demanding customers, technology innovation).  In effect, your organisation has to make internal change on a ‘moving train’. 

How to adapt a model to suit your organisation

The questions to ask on which models of change work best is:

  • Which fits best with your lived values, your culture and capability?
  • 2
  • Is the model a good start point? Will you be able to adapt it as things emerge in your change journey?
  • 3
  • How will it integrate with the rest of your organisation change initiatives, in the organisation (be it digital, products development, etc.) and external events.

Building a Roadmap

Image source: Kinetik Solutions

Earlier I stated that your transformational journey is likely to be emerging (unless of course you run a large organisation with little complexity and external change). So your roadmap for change will only be a start point and will need governance and review to see where you are in your destination. This will allow you to change and adapt your path as new information emerges from the delivery of change. 

Your roadmap should ensure that organisation core competences, operational change, capability building and risk management are aligned in your journey.

In summary

Transformational change models have good worth and need exploring. But only some will work for you, and of those that do, they will need to be adapted for emergent effects.

Ketan Varia is the Director of Kinetik Solutions. He has worked with over 30 organisations in supporting them with complex change and transformation. His book was published in 2015, ‘The Art of Transformational Change’.

Editorial Support from Natasha Staunton and Lucy Green


  1. Kapoor. “Did Lehman Brothers die in vain?” Redefine, an International Think Thank, 2013. Web
  2. Brown, et.al. “Arthur Andersen’s Fall From Grace Is a Sad Tale of Greed and Miscues”. Wall Street Journal, 2002. Web
  3. “The High Cost of a Toxic Workplace Culture”. SHRM, 2019. Web
  4. Varia, K. “The Art of Transformational Change”. Kinetik Solutions Ltd, 2015. Print.