Ergonomics done right.®
May 29th, 2019

Change Management: A Great Tool for Your Ergonomics Toolbox

Have you ever had a fantastic ergonomics improvement idea that could significantly reduce exposure to risk factors, but you couldn’t get the operators to try it or supervisors to support it? Unwillingness to accept and embrace change happens more often than most of us like to admit. Based on research by PROSCI, Inc., which is documented in the book ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government and Our Community (J.M. Hiatt), successful change is rooted in something that is often overlooked: how to facilitate change with one person.

PROSCI has developed the ADKAR model, a framework for understanding and deploying change at an individual level. The ADKAR model has five elements, or building blocks, that must be in place for a change to be successfully realized:

A = Awareness of the need for change

D = Desire to support and participate in the change

K = Knowledge of how to change

A = Ability to implement required skills and behaviors

R = Reinforcement to sustain the change

Awareness represents an operator’s understanding of the change and why the change is being made. A great way to approach the awareness element is to explain the risk of not changing. Awareness may also include providing information about internal and external drivers that elevated the need for change. As the first building block in the ADKAR model, establishing awareness is the foundation for a successful adoption of the change. For an ergonomics improvement, awareness includes engaging the operator and providing basic training in the fundamentals of ergonomics and the risk factors.

Desire represents an operator’s willingness to support and participate in a change. Because we have limited control over another person’s choices, creating desire can be challenging. A common mistake is to assume that by establishing awareness of the need to change, a desire to change has also been created. An operator’s desire is very personal, and the change managers or ergonomics team members need to consider what motivates their people. Knowing “what’s in it for me” can help an operator determine if the change is an opportunity or a threat. Ergonomics team members should take the time necessary to explore all the pros and cons of a change from the operator’s perspective. Schedule time to meet with operators and discuss what’s in it for them.

Knowledge represents the training and education necessary to know how to change. Training can include various pieces of information, such as changes in behaviors, processes, tools, skills, and techniques. Factors that influence an individual’s ability to acquire the necessary knowledge of how to change include the availability of resources, access to information, and an understanding of the required performance goals. For an ergonomics improvement, ensure that all supporting documentation is up to date and available to all operators. If an operator is not knowledgeable about changes in the equipment or process, new risk factors could be introduced.

Ability represents the execution of the change, or turning knowledge into action. Ability is the act of doing, so it is achieved when an operator can implement the change and reach the desired performance level associated with that change. It’s important to remember that achieving ability may involve various factors such as physical abilities, intellectual capability, time to develop new skills, and availability of resources. For an ergonomics improvement, meet with all operators on every shift and don’t rely on others to pass along the information. Repeated check-ins over several weeks are recommended to address questions and concerns, and to ensure that ability is achieved.

Reinforcement represents the internal and external factors required to sustain the change. Examples of external reinforcements may include recognition, rewards, and celebrations that are linked to the realization of the change. Internal reinforcement may be personal satisfaction with the achievement. Change programs that are new or not well established can leverage the reinforcement element as a way of building momentum for the current change and future changes. Reinforcing operator efforts and acceptance of the ergonomics improvement will help establish goodwill, enthusiasm, and interest in ergonomics throughout the organization.

It’s never too late to start implementing the ADKAR change management approach with your ergonomics improvement projects. The time and effort invested up front will pay off in the end.


Hiatt, J.M. (2006). ADKAR: A Model for Change in Business, Government and Our Community. Fort Collins, CO: Prosci Learning Center Publications