The World of Work Project

Intentional Change Theory: The Five Steps Of Personal Change

Intentional Change Theory (ICT) is a simple, effective five stage model focused on helping individuals achieve and sustain desired change, but which can also help teams and organizations reach their goals.

Summary by The World of Work Project

A Podcast

This podcast on behavior change might be interesting. It doesn’t specifically cover intentional change theory, but it explores other models of change.

Intentional Change Theory

Designing, achieving and sustaining helpful change is difficult for individuals, teams and organizations, regardless of whether they’re looking to change behaviors, skills, mindsets, aspirations, ways of working or even beliefs.

To achieve such changes requires planning, and Intentional Change Theory proposes a five stage approach, with each stage a different “discovery”. In essence, these stages are a series of questions: What’s your goal? What’s your current state? What’s the gap and you plan to bridge it? How can you experiment to get closer to your goal? And, who can help you?

A process flow explaining Intentional Change Theory

By discovering the answers to these questions, following through on actions and repeating the process, it’s possible to achieve and sustain desired change. We’ll consider the five stages in turn below:

Stage 1 – Future vision

We need to visualize the future before we move towards it.

The first step towards change is deciding where you want to get to.

Intentional change requires an understanding of the future you want to create. Personally, this may be an ideal future self aligned to your values. Organizationally, this may be an aspirational statement of your future position.

Stage 2 – Current reality

The stage of Intentional Change Theory is understanding where you currently are.

To understand what needs to change you need to have an honest picture of your starting position. Self-opinion is seldom accurate, so external feedback on weaknesses and strengths is required to form an honest view of your current state. 

Stage 3 – Gap and plan

The third step of change is understanding the gap between where you are and where you want to be, and planning to bridge it.

Once you have an honest view of where you currently are and a clear view of where you want to be, you can create a plan to help you achieve your vision. As with all plans, considering things like SMART goals and how you’ll maintain motivation.

You need to understand the gap before you can bridge it.

Stage 4 – Experiments

The fourth stage of change is to make changes, but to do so though experiments.

Act on your plan. Experiment with doing new things and thinking, behaving and working in new ways. Create psychological safety and allow yourself to learn through failure. Reflect, seek feedback, learn from mistakes and keep experimenting.

Stage 5 – Support

The fifth stage of Intentional Change Theory is to make sure you get support along the way.

Achieving and sustaining desired change is much easier with the right support. Finding and embracing the people who will help you achieve your goals is important. Seek advice, support and feedback from people who help you be your best.

We all need help and support sometimes.

Learning More

Personal change is an interesting topic. To understand how we want to change, we need to have some self-awareness. This might include understanding what our personal values are. We know that good goal-setting really helps with achieving personal change, as does focusing on our habits. The below podcast on habits might be of further interest.

The World of Work Project View

Intentional Change Theory a helpful starting-point for individuals, teams and organizations looking to change. To successfully deliver change, though, you’ll need to supplement this model with further tools.

Specific additional guidance may be required in relation to working out what your future vision is and how to experiment well. More broadly, the model should be supplemented with guidance around motivation and specifics around tools to sustain effective change.

For teams and organizations, further consideration is also required in relation to collaboration, communication and ongoing engagement. The model clearly shares similarities with simple coaching models such as GROW.

Sources and further reading

Where possible we always recommend that people read up on the original sources of information and ideas.

This Intentional Change Theory post is based on interpretations of work originally produced by Richard Boyatzis. You can read more in his 2006 article: “Intentional Change” from the Journal of Organizational Excellence.

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