Herbert Kelman – Levels of Attitude Change

Herbert Kelman is an American psychologist with a lifelong focus on conflict resolution and peace research. He set out 3 stages of attitude change, which are helpful when applied to the challenges of organisational transformation.

Kelman suggested that there are three different levels of attitude change, ranging from the superficial to a level of acceptance that starts to affect beliefs and motivations. It’s important to know which one you’re aiming for when you start introducing anything new.

Here is an example of the three levels applied to the introduction of a new Project Management Office (PMO):

Level One – Compliance
This is a very prescriptive approach, where a PMO sets out new processes and provides new templates and expects people to comply and use them. In some cases, compliance may be rewarded by being a gateway to other things such as budget approval. Penalties may be in place for non-compliance.

Level Two – Identification
Here, a PMO will take the time to set out the benefits resulting from anything new. There’s no expectation that people will simply use new methods because they’ve been told to. Investment is made in understanding people’s concerns about changes, and helping to appreciate the targeted benefits and the reasoning behind the new ways of doing things. People affected by new processes are able to identify with them.

Level Three – Internalisation
The PMO has set out the processes and templates in the first instance, but these are fully understood and have become accepted as the normal way of doing things. A real appreciation of the value of the processes has meant that people are able to apply their own judgement as to how they are used. People are free to innovate, with the PMO’s framework of processes and templates at the core of all new activities.

Kelman’s model is a simple one, but knowing which level we are aiming for from the start of any change project is critical for success. To achieve level three, carefully planned communication and consultation is needed from the start. Addressing the process side of change is never enough – it’s essential to consider the perspectives of all the stakeholder groups affected. That way individuals and teams feel a part of the new plans and processes, will understand the benefits of adapting to new practices, and are able to add value and innovation within the new framework.

Consider where it is right now in terms of Kelman’s levels of attitude change and plan your future communications with that in mind.

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