John Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change
Implementing change at any organization is always challenging, and requires strong and effective leadership. There are many approaches to handling it, but one of the most prominent ones is the one created by Dr. John Kotter. It’s called the 8-Step Process for Leading Change. It is a fully functional methodology that outlines all the steps that need to be taken, to ensure that the organization will be transformed in a meaningful and successful way. You can order some of Kotter’s books on Amazon >>>
So let’s look at the steps in order:
Step 1: Create Urgency
Changing a company from the inside is hard work, and it requires everybody involved to be motivated and to put in the needed effort. This is why it is paramount that every single member of the organization is invested in the process of transforming it for the better. If they aren’t, initiating change becomes very difficult, and ends up facing a lot of internal resistance.
This is why the first step of leading change in a business should be to create the sense of urgency. This can be achieved by identifying the potential threats that the company is facing in its current form, and by examining opportunities that the company is currently missing out on. Keep in mind that just pointing out facts as you see them is not that convincing. You should initiate an honest and open discussion on those topics, so people can understand how these threats and opportunities impact them personally.
Step 2: Build a Guiding Coalition
As change requires strong and dedicated leadership, it should be clear that you cannot transform the whole company all on your own. You need a coalition of allies that you have successfully convinced that change is needed to help you manage and lead it. You shouldn’t make a thorough search for your fellow change leaders who can contribute to the cause at all levels of the company as they could derive their power or effectiveness from a variety of sources as respect, expertise, title or perceived importance.
After you have identified your change coalition, you need to turn it into a functioning team that is going to both fuel and oversee the whole process, so invest time and effort on creating a team spirit within it and to sparking emotional commitment to the cause of change from them.
Step 3: Create a Vision
After people are motivated and convinced that change is needed, and after you have put together a team that can lead it, you need to make sure that there is a clear company-wide vision for the desired outcome of the process. The discussion you have started in Step 1 will have yielded a number of good ideas, and your job now is to take everything that is floating around and to put it into a cohesive vision for the future.
You and your team need to determine the values that are going to be central to the process of change. You will need to define the specific vision of the company, and the strategy you want to implement to get there. The vision should be clear and fully understood from everybody on your change coalition.
One good way to do this is through Value Stream Mapping at an enterprise level.
Step 4: Communicate the Vision
After the vision is clear, it needs to be communicated throughout the whole organization. Putting it forward should be a daily activity that is repeated over and over, in both formal and informal situations. You and your fellow change leaders should talk about it with people every chance you get. Everybody should understand and be able to support the vision, which means their concerns will need to be addressed. Everybody needs to support the vision for the future, but they cannot do that if they don’t fully understand it, and that requires time to talk it out with their manager and leadership. Do not rush through this stage, or you will have problems later on.
Step 5: Remove Barriers
While the first part of the process was doing the groundwork, this step requires implementing the change. Since the vision has been communicated with the company already, at this point everybody should already be willing to be part of it (or at least not resistant to it). What you need to do is recognize and resolve issues that are hindering the change process from moving forward. This means you need to identify: 1) people that are resisting the change, 2) structural obstacles, or 3) any other factor that is stopping people from acting on your vision. Besides that, you should also identify and reward people that are participating in a meaningful way, so not all your focus is on the resistors.
Step 6: Generate Short-Term Wins
Now that everything is in motion, you need to keep morale high by making sure that every single short-term win is visible and communicated. This is a simple concept which yields significant results, and it allows for the organization to track the process in a positive and reassuring way. Making sure that every win is made known gives you a regular chance to praise everyone’s efforts, and reassure everyone watching from the sidelines that the vision is on the right track and working properly.
Step 7: Sustain the Pace
Another common reason for change projects to fail is the fact that many managers feel change has been achieved before it actually has solidified. After having successfully implemented a large portion of your vision, the whole organization should continue having change on their mind, to ensure the level of effort will be sustained. The fact that progress is being made should not slow anybody down, and you and your team should use your increasing credibility to keep the process on course. Too often, initial successes can make leadership complacent, and they stop talking about the vision, and doing the things that led to early success.
Step 8: Institute Change
When you and your team feel that your vision has been achieved, you should realize that the current situation is still temporary, and the last step of the change process is making it permanent. The new behaviors and approaches should be heightened, and their connection to the company’s success should be pointed out regularly and articulated clearly.
The changes that have been achieved should be made permanent, and should be solidified as a consistent part of the new company culture. Your work on the change project will not be done until the bad habits of old have been uprooted completely.
Read more about John Kotter in our article titled “When Leading Change Management Initiatives, Watch Out for Complacency” or check out some of John Kotter’s books >>>
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