Simplifying the Lippitt-Knoster Model for Managing Complex Change

Modern workplace transformations require a complex mixture of skills and expertise to make them a reality. The Lippitt-Knoster model for managing complex change provides a detailed breakdown of all the necessary parts required to execute large, messy changes.

Developed by Mary Lippitt in 1987, the model details the five components mandatory for the success of any change initiative, and what might happen if even one of them is missing. Later in 2000, Tommy Knoster added a sixth essential part to it — consensus. We’ll look at what the Lippit-Knoster model for managing complex change is, why thinking about change this way is helpful, and ultimately try to answer if this approach is enough in today’s ever-changing workplace.

Breaking Down the Model for Managing Complex Change

According to the Lippitt-Knoster model, there are six elements that need to be present for each change initiative to succeed. If even one is absent, your chances of failure increase. These are represented in the managing complex change matrix:


We’ll explain what each of these elements means.

1. Vision: Unclear Vision Creates Confusion

The first step in managing complex change with this model is to define a clear and compelling vision. In clear and simple terms, explain why the change is necessary, what goals you want to achieve, and what success will look like.

When others understand the reasoning behind your initiative, they are more likely to support the proposed change. In addition, a well-defined vision acts as a guiding light for your team, helping them make informed decisions throughout the change process and avoid confusion or unintended outcomes. Learn how to effectively communicate change to your team.


2. Consensus: Absence of Consensus May Lead to Sabotage

Building consensus is a crucial part of managing complex change, especially at the leadership level. This involves gaining widespread agreement and support for your change from all key stakeholders. Having many advocates for your change instead of going at it alone will strengthen your case, making it easier to drive change.

On the other hand, if your colleagues are not fully convinced, they could end up blocking your initiative, only because they feel that it is better for the organization to not go through with the proposed change. Here’s how you can build leadership alignment and create consensus for your change.


3. Skills: Without Skills There Will Be Anxiety

Driving complex change requires a variety of skills, many of which are different from the expertise most leaders and employees possess. Without the necessary skills, even if there is substantial enthusiasm the probability of success will be very low. Such a situation is sure to turn even willing employees anxious.

To avoid this, assess the skills your organization needs to implement this change, plan training opportunities to plug gaps, and encourage a culture of continuous learning in your team. Wondering what skills you need? Here’s an expert-curated list of the seven key change skills your employees must have for successful change implementations.


4. Incentives: Lack of Incentives Leads to Resistance

Creating incentives goes a long way in motivating your teams to embrace change. These can intrinsic (like career growth or personal development), or extrinsic (like bonuses or public recognition). Designing incentives that are tailored to your employees’ motivations will encourage your team to invest more effort and reduce resistance.


5. Resources: Dearth of Resources Causes Frustration

You’re likely to need a variety of resources to execute your change initiative. These could be in the form of time, finances, personnel, or even tools. Make sure you have enough resources to support the implementation so you enhance your chances of success. A lack of any one of them may lead to frustration amongst your team, so ensure you devise a plan to plug the gaps. This could involve reallocating budgets, hiring temporary staff, or seeking external help.


6. Action Plan: No Plan of Action Hinders Progress

With everything else in place, all that’s left to do is create a detailed plan of action that provides a coherent roadmap of steps to be taken to achieve the vision for the change. It should cover who is responsible for doing what, by when, and how, so that your can maintain accountability and track progress. In the absence of a well-defined plan, work may get done, but you might find yourself straying from your intended goal without even realizing it.


How Effective is the Model for Managing Complex Change?

The Lippitt-Knoster model for managing complex change lists all elements that are needed to execute a change initiative successfully. It serves as a valuable tool to assess the completeness of your implementation plan, including the potential blockers that may arise if any component is missing.

While the model recognizes the importance of an action plan, it falls short in providing practical guidance on how to implement the plan and turn your vision of change into reality. It lacks specific strategies or actionable steps for effective execution, limiting its usefulness in creating a blueprint for success.

Another major drawback of this model is its failure to emphasize the crucial role of employees in driving successful change. It doesn’t encourage their active involvement or focus on creating a workforce equipped with skills necessary to manage and implement change.

An Actionable 21st Century Approach: Change Readiness With Volonte

Change theories and frameworks sound good in the boardroom. But when rubber hits the road, it meets speedbumps and potholes. To create successful change, you need practical tools that are purpose-built for real-world results. Volonte's powerful Enterprise Change Management platform is equipped with everything you need to streamline change work at your organization and increase change success.

Cut the noise and confusion with Volonte Changeflows, which give your teams a step-by-step action plan to get change work done and enable you to track their progress in real-time. Communicate your vision and build consensus with Volonte’s expert content, fostering employee buy-in and understanding of the importance of every change in your organization. Boost change adoption by enabling employees to shape change through Change Projects, so they become active drivers of change instead of unwilling passengers. And last but not least, track your organization’s real-time progress on key metrics, so you’re never flying blind.

With Volonte, handling any change is a breeze. Learn how Volonte can help your business turn change into your new superpower.