8 Steps of Leading Change

1. Establish a sense of urgency

True change takes a lot of effort by a lot of people. If you don’t have buy-in and support from at least 25% of your workforce then road is going to be even more perilous.

To generate support and gain momentum you need a sense of urgency - if you don’t have one then create one. Urgency leads to cooperation to accomplish the goal. If there’s no sense of urgency then there’s likely a high rate of complacency, which becomes a huge obstacle from the onset. Complacency results from sources like low performance standards, senior management communicating exclusively optimistic messages, and “the absence of a major and visible crisis” (Kotter 40).

Three Ways to Counter Complacency

  • Set higher standards
  • Change internal measurement systems that focus on the wrong indexes
  • Reward honest conversation and a willingness to confront problems

Three Ways to Increase the Sense of Urgency

Kotter identifies a number of ways to increase the sense of urgency, among them are to:

  • Eliminate obvious excesses
  • Require employees to regularly talk with unsatisfied customers
  • Highlight opportunities that exist that the company cannot yet pursue

2. Create the guiding coalition

As noted above, you need support to effect change. You also need strong leadership that identifies the goal, sets the course, and guides the way.

Rather than one person who thinks and acts in isolation you need a group that brings a wealth of knowledge. The group, or guiding coalition, must have the right composition, a high level of trust, and a shared objective (Kotter 53). Members must have positions of power, expertise, credibility, and leadership in order to move the organization forward (Kotter 57).

3. Develop a vision and strategy

“Vision refers to a picture of the future with some implicit or explicit commentary on why people should strive to create that future” (Kotter 68).

Kotter outlines three purposes of a good vision for change:

  • To clarify the general direction of change
  • To motivate people to take action
  • To help coordinate action (69)

4. Communicate the change vision

For your employees to understand impending change and its necessity, you must communicate with them. It’s that simple. How you communicate depends somewhat on your company’s structure, but the basic premise is that you must use focused, simple language so that it is easy to understand and sticks in people’s minds. Kotter recommends simplicity, repetition, various forums (e.g. meetings and information conversations), and leading by example (93).

5. Empower employees for broad-based action

If your employees feel powerless then they won’t see the important role they play. Barriers to empowerment that Kotter identifies include formal structures and a lack of needed skills (102). Enable people to take the necessary action.

6. Generate short-term wins

When your employees see evidence that changes are making positive impacts, they see the value and may get a clearer view of the overall vision. If it’s visible, unambiguous, and “clearly related to the change effort” then it’s a short-term win (Kotter 122).

7. Consolidate gains and produce more change

In leading a successful change effort you’ll see more help, support from senior management, and fewer unnecessary interdependencies (Kotter 143). It’s valuable to look to short-term wins to maintain momentum, but be wary of over-celebration that can derail plans you’ve set in motion and completely hijack your vision for change.

8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture

Once you’ve achieved the desired change and experienced positive results it may be tempting to sit back and admire your work. Don’t. The philosophies, norms, and approaches adopted to effect change must be ingrained in the culture in order for them to take hold and sustain themselves. If one person or team was the glue that held everything together, as soon as they’re gone old habits may return if the culture hasn’t fully embraced the changes (Kotter 157).

As reinvention and aligned growth strategies continue to be the required protocol for our clients and businesses in 2010, we support these principles as the way to implement successful change.  While our BLOOM Growth Planning system www.bloomware.com houses the growth plan initiatives and their requirements, don't forget to align these principles with your efforts. Obviously there are details to fill in, but this gives you an idea of the kind of vision, energy, and commitment required to truly effect change. Kotter’s book provides more specific information like the steps for creating an effective vision, and we recommend you see for yourself.

Kotter, John P. Leading Change. United States: Harvard Business School Press, 1996.