Organizations seek to move beyond purely setting-up and delivering any change initiative including user adoption. Instead, they want to achieve full realization of the intended outcomes of their initiatives by creating sustainable shifts in the mindsets and behaviors of a wide range of people.

These shifts do not happen immediately or automatically—they unfold over time, follow a predictable pattern of steps, and usually need to be orchestrated and supported.

An individual’s degree of commitment to change is reflected in the consistency with which he or she displays new mindsets and behaviors, even in the face of challenges. Full realization of most changes requires targets to do more than comply—they must commit themselves to different ways of thinking and operating. To the extent that employees need to display new behaviors in settings where they are not being monitored, and make decisions based on internalized standards or principles rather than external rules and pressures, they must move beyond compliance to a deeper, more self-sustaining level of commitment.

Defining Commitment

Commitment is powerful, yet little understood. People display commitment when they:
- Invest resources such as time, energy, and money to ensure the desired outcome
- Pursue the goal consistently over time, even when under stress
- Reject ideas or action plans that promise short-term benefits but are inconsistent with the overall strategy for ultimate goal achievement
- Stand fast in the face of adversity, remaining determined and focused in the quest for the desired goal
- Apply creativity, ingenuity, and resourcefulness to resolving problems or issues that would otherwise block the achievement of the goal

Given this, it is easy to see why commitment is so important to the success of organizational change. It is the cement that provides the critical bond between people and the change process. The outline of the Stages of Change Commitment (see Figure) provides a model of how commitment can be built and sustained.


Stage 1: Contact

Contact is the first encounter employees have with a Change going to take place in the organization that may require them to shift their thinking and/or behavior. Methods for delivering the first contact message can vary, going from memos, staff meetings, personal contact, internal social media channels, and other mechanisms.


Stage 2: Awareness

Now, employees know that a Change is being considered or implemented. Awareness is established successfully when employees realize that modifications affecting the organization’s operations (and potentially affecting them) have occurred or are possible. This requires that initial communications about the change reach the desired audiences and get the message across clearly.


Individual commitment_old


Stage 3: Understand the Change

Employees show some degree of comprehension of the nature and intent of the change and what it may mean for them. As they learn more about the initiative and the role(s) they are likely to play, people begin to see how it will affect their work and how it will touch them personally. These insights enable them, for the first time, to judge the change.


Stage 4: Positive Perception

Now, people form intentions to support or oppose the change. This is not done in isolation—they typically weigh the costs and benefits of the change against the costs and benefits of other alternatives, including doing nothing. In many organizational change situations, the benefits of moving forward are only marginally more positive than the benefits of the best alternative course of action.


Stage 5: Experimentation

Here, individuals take action to test a change. This is the first time people actually try out the change and acquire a sense of how it might affect their work routine. The critical importance of this stage is that no matter how positively people view a change prior to engaging with it, their actual experience with it will reveal a number of small or large surprises. An environment that encourages the open discussion of concerns
tends to solve problems, promote ownership, and build commitment to action.


Stage 6: Adoption

While experimentation focuses on initial, entry problems, adoption centers on in-depth, longer-term problems. Experimentation asks, “Will this change work?” Adoption asks, “Does this change fit with who I am as a person/who we are as an organization?” The shift is from “Can we do it?” to “Do we want to continue it?”


Individual commitment_old


Stage 7: Institutionalization

Once a change is institutionalized, it becomes the new status quo. Even if the original reasons for legitimizing the change become void or people no longer believe it is worth the price to continue it, organizational systems and inertia are capable of maintaining the new way of operating long after it has served its usefulness. This stage reflects the highest level of commitment that can be achieved by an organization— the level above it, internalization, can only be achieved by individuals who make a personal choice to go there.


Stage 8: Internalization

At this last stage, people “own” the change. They demonstrate a high level of personal responsibility for its success. They serve as advocates for the new way of operating, protect it from those who would undermine it, and expend energy to ensure its success. These actions are often well beyond
what could be created by any organizational mandate.

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