Everyone knows that transforming organisations is one of the most difficult challenges in business. Change – and the behaviours that embody that change – need to be fully integrated in a company’s processes, structure and staff, if long-term success is to be achieved.
When Harvard professor John P. Kotter first published Leading Change in 1996, his eight-step process quickly became identified as a change bible for managers around the world.
But are we now any more effective at achieving change than we were then?
In his brief new preface to the original book, Kotter suggests that although we have now learned an enormous amount about change, the basics are still very poorly understood among most business leaders and managers. While the pace of change over the last 16 years has only grown, and will continue to do so, he still points people to the fundamental principles within Leading Change to help people execute bold strategic initiatives and navigate the bumps in the road.
Kotter draws on his decades of experience working with companies to illustrate his change principles. Recounting many conversations with executives puzzled about why change initiatives had stalled or failed to even get off the starting blocks, Leading Change is a practical and easy to digest guide that provides a clear path for companies grappling with competitive and economic pressures.
It is impossible to overstate the severity of the challenges caused by an inadequate or unaligned sense of urgency. And very experienced, very smart people fail here… – John Kotter
While the need for competent change management is now commonly recognised, he suggests that it is still only leadership that can blast through the many sources of corporate inertia, and get the changes to stick. He also acknowledges that while people do now better understand the difference between leadership and management – and how you will need both types of people (and not just one leader) on your team to succeed – there is still work to be done.
For those unfamiliar with his eight-stage process of how to create major change it covers:
- Establishing a sense of urgency: Sharing market knowledge to get people to realise that the change is necessary and equally importantly – urgent
- Creating the guiding coalition: Creating a team who will work well together, with enough people in it who have real power in the company – leaders as well as managers
- Developing a vision and strategy: Having a clear and compelling vision that means people will know if what they are doing is in the right direction, and feel highly motivated to achieve it
- Communicating the change vision: Repeating the change message at every opportunity, and ensuring the guiding team role model the behaviour expected by employees
- Empowering broad-based action: Encouraging new ideas, removing obstacles and changing systems that block the change vision
- Generating short-term wins: Planning for, creating, and visibly recognising and rewarding short term wins along the path
- Consolidating gains and producing more change: Using increased credibility to change any structure or policy that does not fit the vision. Hiring the right people to implement the change vision and invigorating the process with new projects and change agents
- Anchoring new approaches in the culture: performing better through improvements in customer and productivity behaviour; talking about the new behaviours and how they are succeeding; and ensuring leadership development and succession
Kotter emphasises the importance of not skipping any of the steps, even though as the change process gets going you are likely to be operating several change processes at the same time, if you want the transformation to be truly embedded in your organisation.
About the author
John P. Kotter is the author of eighteen books, twelve of them international bestsellers. He is regarded as the leading authority on leadership and change and was ranked by The Times as amongst the 50 most important business thinkers in the world. Business Week magazine rated him Number 1 leadership guru in America, based on a survey of 500+ organisations. Kotter is Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School and cofounder of Kotter International, a leadership organisation.
Named one of “The 25 Most Influential Business Management Books” by TIME Magazine.
Author: John P. Kotter