Kotter – Change the way you manage change
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Kotter – Change the way you manage change

In my last blog on Change we discussed Kurt Lewin’s model for understanding organisational change. Here, I am going to introduce you to a favourite change model of mine and one I have used to good effect many times. John Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School and world-renowned change expert has written many books and articles on managing change.  In 1995, he wrote a book called ‘Leading Change’ in which he introduced his eight-step change process.

Let’s look at Kotter’s 8 steps for leading change:

Step one is to ‘Create a Sense of Urgency’.

It is important to develop a sense of urgency about the change.  Managers often make the mistake of thinking this is just about selling the negatives i.e. we will lose money or customers if we don’t change.  Whilst you do need to acknowledge these areas, consider other strategies.  Work together with your team to identify any opportunities and potential threats and discuss what could happen as a result, especially if you don’t change.  Could others speak up to strengthen your case for change?  The key is to open up a dialogue with your team to get them thinking about the change.

Step two is to ‘Form a Powerful Coalition’

The next stage in Kotter’s model is to assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort and encourage the group to work as a team.

It is at this stage that you can start to convince your team that change is necessary. This is not always an easy task and strong leadership is required together with support from key people within your organisation.  It isn’t enough to manage change – you have to lead from the front. When building the coalition, look for change champions or leaders.  They don’t have to be the ‘top bosses’ either.  Their influence could come from their experience and expertise rather than their status or job title.  Once you have got your coalition off the ground, it is important that they work together, continuing to build urgency and momentum around the need for change.

Step three is to ‘Create a Vision for Change’

It is important to have a clear vision for change.  Often we start with lots of great ideas floating about and this can become confusing for others.  Try to pull everything together to create an overall vision that people can understand.

With a clear vision, your team will understand why they need to change.  If they can see what the change is trying to achieve for the organisation, they are more likely to buy into it.

Step four is to ‘Communicate the Vision’

 It is important that when you communicate your vision, it doesn’t get lost in all the other communications floating around your organisation.  You have to make your communication stands out by communicating it frequently and powerfully.  Make it part of everything that you do.

Take every chance you can to talk about ‘the vision’. Ensure that you also address any concerns that people may have openly and honestly.  Keep the vision to the forefront of your mind when solving problems and making decisions about the change.  The important factor at this stage is to ensure that people don’t forget about ‘the vision’.  Indeed, it must stay fresh in everyone’s minds.

Step five is to ‘Remove Obstacles’

By this stage your team should know all about the change and your vision and they are buying into the change.

However, there may be some who are resisting the change.  This is where you need to put in place a structure for the change and continually check for any barriers.  Practical solutions could be to recruit leaders whose main roles are to deliver the change.  Take a look at your structures and job descriptions; do they align with your vision or are the way they are written or structured creating a barrier?  Identify those who are resisting and support them through the change.  Never hope that the resistance will just go away.  Act quickly to remove any barriers.

Step six is to ‘Create Short-Term Wins’

This is my favourite step!  This is the best way to motivate your team.  If they can see that the change is making a positive difference, they are more likely to remain focused on the success of the change.  Let them see how the change is improving things already.  Work with your team to create short term targets and celebrate their achievements loudly!  Ensure that the targets have little room for failure so that, negative thinkers can’t hurt your progress.  Remember, each “win” that you produce motivates your team more.

Step seven is ‘Never Letting Up’

Whilst this change may appear to be successful, it is important not to declare ‘victory’ too soon.  Ensure that this success is used to provide an opportunity to build on what went right and identify what you can improve.  Indeed, Kotter argues that ‘many change projects fail because victory is declared too early’.  Real change needs to be embedded into the culture of the organisation.  Quick wins are great for motivation however they are just the beginning of what needs to be done to achieve long-term change.

It’s a good idea to hold a post-mortem after every ‘win’ to look at what went well and what needs improving.  Continue to set new goals to maintain the motivation and momentum and keep ideas fresh by recruiting new change agents for your change coalition.

Step eight is to ‘Incorporate the Changes into the Culture’

If you want the change to stick, you need to make it part of the culture in your organisation. Kotter suggests that you talk about progress every chance you get. Share success stories about the change and publicly recognise the original members of your change coalition for their efforts and success, and to ensure that others remember the contribution they made.  Ensure that the change is seen in every aspect of your organisation. This will help to embed the change in your organisation’s culture.  Ensure that senior management continue to openly support the change.  If the people who led the change leave the organisation, ensure that you have plans in place to replace them and ensure that their change legacy is not forgotten.

If you’ve enjoyed reading about Kotter’s change model and would like to find out more about Change Management, why not join us on our next level 4 course in Leadership and Management? For more information contact Marie O’Donnell at Marie@professional-futures.com or access our online module on Understanding and Implementing Change at https://professional-futures-ltd.thinkific.com/.

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