Photo by Neil Thomas

The final element of the ADKAR model is reinforcement. This is defined “as any action or event that strengthens and reinforces the change with an individual or an organization” and is a vital element of the model because it applies at every stage. In other words unlike the other elements, which are basically circular and mutually reinforcing, it applies across every stage of the change process. Perhaps you can understand this better from a diagram.


The black arrows depict the sequential nature of each element. When, however, you encounter a barrier in any element (i.e. you are not getting the results you expect) then – as depicted by the red arrows – you need to go back to the previous stage to strengthen it and remedy the problem. At the same time, as people become more comfortable each stage it boosts the effect of the earlier stage, hence the fact they are largely mutually reinforcing. The exception to this is reinforcement, which like the steel in concrete, needs to occur at every stage. Which is why the reinforcing arrow is picturing permeating the entire model.

Naturally you need to understand what reinforcement is in order to ensure this. Going back to the definition above you need to understand a key point: it is any action or event. This does not have to be major. It is widely recognised – but unfortunately not as widely practised – that a simple thank you or token of appreciation, is one of the strongest motivational forces and a powerful change tool.

Other factors that Hiatt identifies as strong reinforcing agents are:

  1. The extent to which reinforcement is meaningful to the person impacted: i.e. the extent to which it is personal, valuable and comes from a respected source.
  2. The link or association between the reinforcement and performance: i.e. the timeless and validity of the reinforcement.
  3. The absence of negative consequences such as undesirable peer pressure
  4. The accountability attached to performance: i.e. the extent to which the person knows their continued performance is valuable and important to the success of others.

When you understand these, you can also readily understand the importance of social learning and why the Yale University review claimed it played such a key role in the Ghanaian pineapple farmers’ case. We are group animals which makes us all competitive and desirous of looking good in the eyes of others. Consequently anything that enables that or gives us a sense of “making a difference” or being valued will reinforce the effort we expend. It is therefore essential for successful change and you should look for every opportunity to exploit this and to buttress reinforcement and bolster performance.