Initiating change
Te tīmata huringa

How to initiate change

Sometimes we choose to make a change, and sometimes our situation requires us to make one. Changes can be big or small, and navigating through them can be difficult. Sometimes it's hard to make change because it feels overwhelming and we don’t know where to start. How do we navigate our way through change well? How do we plan to take action? How do we stay in the driver’s seat and be part of the change rather than an observer?

There are many frameworks for considering change. One regularly used in NZDF is the Prosci© ADKAR model. Let’s work through this.

Before we begin to look at ADKAR (which is an acronym for stages), it might pay to get really clear about the change you want or need to make.

You might use SMART to ensure the change you want to make, your goal, or your objective is:

  • Specific – state what you will do (use action words)
  • Measurable – how will you measure/track it? How will you know you’ve achieved it?
  • Achievable – possible for you to accomplish, within your abilities, means and mandate
  • Relevant – makes sense within your life/your job, there’s a real benefit for you
  • Time-bound – when you will get it done/completed by

For example, let's say the change I want to make is to learn formal project management skills and be able to apply them.

  • Specific – I’ve done some research and found that Prince 2 is a common methodology used in New Zealand. I want to do the top level of Prince 2 qualification, which is Practitioner. I also want an opportunity to apply what I learn, at work. So I’ve asked to work within a team for a small project in my area.
  • Measurable – The Prince 2 Practitioner Program involves an exam, so that will be a measure of whether I’ve achieved what’s required for the course. I’ll then apply my skills to a small project at work. My colleague Carl is working on that project and is recognised for his project management skills. I’m going to ask Carl if he can give me a couple of mentoring sessions and feedback on my skills.
  • Achievable – I have worked on projects before, without understanding formal project management methodology. I feel I’ll be able to learn and apply formal project management skills.
  • Relevant – There is project work in my work area, and project management is something I want to do in my career. So two ticks on this.
  • Time-bound – I have looked at when Prince 2 courses are running, and at the timeframe for the small project. I want to do my training and be applying it to the project within 8 weeks of today.

I now have a clear goal – this is the change I want to make, and it’s SMART.  

Equally, your change could be something like passing a fitness test, dealing with change at work, learning to scuba dive, or getting a new job.

How do we navigate through change? 

Let's apply the ADKAR model to help us.

ADKAR is an acronym for the five things we need to achieve in order for a change to be successful:

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

For your change, you’ll need all of these in place.

Here’s what else you need to know:

  1. The ADKAR steps need to be considered in order. Awareness-Desire-Knowledge-Ability-Reinforcement.
    For example: it’s important that you are aware of the need for change (Awareness), and have a desire to participate in and support the change (Desire), before you hit the training (Knowledge) button.
  2. We’re looking for the first ADKAR element that scores 3 or below (out of 5).
    We call that the “Barrier Point” because 3 is equivocal.
    We need to stop at a score of 3 or below and ask: What’s happening here? What information or support do you need, right now, to move forward?

OKAY - I know the change that I need to make. How do I think about ADKAR for that change?


Here are some questions you might want to ask yourself (not all will be relevant for you and for this change):

How the ADKAR scoring can help you

When you look at the questions for each ADKAR element which are relevant to you, how would you score them, on a scale of 1 to 5?

1 would be “no”, and 5 would be “definitely yes”.

Which is the first of the ADKAR elements where you’re seeing scores of 3 or below? This is your first area to focus on.

If you are scoring 3 or below on Awareness, then you need more information about the change – and that information needs to be in a form that works for you.

Is there someone you can talk to? Would written information help you? Is there someone in your personal life you’re happy to talk things through with?

If you are scoring 3 or below on Desire, then you need to decide what it would take for you to get on board with this change.

You don’t have to love the change (or even hugely like it), but you do need to accept that it should happen, and be willing to make the effort. Who can you talk to about your lack of desire for this change? Who might give you more context, more clarity, or help you to work out pros and cons?

If you are scoring 3 or below on Knowledge, then ask questions or seek advice to find out what knowledge you will need, and how you’ll gain it.

Do you know how you learn best? Is it through reading, formal training on-line or face-to-face, watching, doing?

If you are scoring 3 or below on Ability, then identify what might be the barriers in demonstrating the required change, what ability do you need to build to make this happen.

What might get in the way of you actually making this change? Is it lack of support, time, something psychological or physical which will make it a challenge? How can barriers be removed or overcome? Think about changes you have made in the past – you will have demonstrated Ability before.

If you are scoring 3 or below on Reinforcement, then you’ll need to think about what it will take to lock the change in place.

When you’ve made changes in the past, what did you do to reinforce them? What worked for you? Is it measurement? Sharing the change with others? Recognition? A reward of some kind?

ADKAR Resources

For NZDF personnel, educational resources on ADKAR and forms using ADKAR are available through the Change Hub in NZDF.

For information on the ADKAR model from Prosci© your starting point is here:

Also check out: