AbstractJohn Kotter is known for hisunrelenting work in understanding and accomplishing true, effectiveorganizational change. In general, firms establish cultural expectations at theconception of a firm—large or small.
Culture embeds itself within company employeesfrom one worker to the next. Kotter begs the solution for seeking andimplementing change when established norms no longer service the needs of theorganization. When major evolution is necessary for the survival for thebusiness, how does an organization execute resonating, effective, andsustainable change? Kotter offers a comprehensive 8-step approach to ensurequality change for organizations of any size. Introduction Change can be an intimidatingand uncertain, but necessary challenge that many organizations encounter to maintainprofitability, productivity, and competitive edge. John Kotter has conductedover 400 interviews from individuals from 130 companies in the last decade toobserve and understand the victories and pain points of organizational change.Through his observation, he found that the important part of change is not justthe implementation, but also the follow through. Change should be a medium tothe truth of organizational growth and improvement not only evident in companypolicy shifts, but also an overall shift in employees’ attitudes andfeelings.
SummaryStrategic planning and policy shifts are the simple part ofchange, and most organizations stop there. The expectation is that as thecompany changes, employees should follow in suite. In general, there lacks aneffort to sell the change to employees.
This is a big mistake. If employees arethe heart of an organization, then they must also be the heart of true,effective, and long-lasting change. Kotter recognized the gap between the implementationof company change and the whole-hearted adoption of a new culture by theentirety of the organization.
Kotter found that organizations commonlyoverlooked the following 8-steps that are necessary for organizational change: 1) Increase Urgency 5) Empower Action 2) Build the Guiding Team 6) Create Short-term Wins 3) Get the Vision Right 7) Don’t Let Up 4) Communicate for Buy-in 8) Make Change Stick Increase Urgency Thefirst step of Kotter’s 8-step approach seems simple but is incrediblyimportant. Initial urgency is the snowflake that the giant snowball oflong-lasting change stems from. Urgency sets the tone for the entire attitudeand importance of organization change from the beginning.
If the urgency fromthe beginning is flat and inconsistent, the challenge of determining a solid,buildable sense of urgency will continuously need to be addressed taking awayfrom the subsequent steps of this process. Urgencyis sometimes hindered by those who are supposed to be participating in the actof change and are generally categorized by four attitudes: complacency,immobilization, stubbornness, and pessimism. The overall foundation of theseattitudes lies in a lack of motivation. In the text Organizational Behavior and Management, motivation in jobperformance is identified in three ways: willingness to perform, capacity toperform, and opportunity to perform.
Each negative attitude toward change canbe addressed by one of the three motivation indicators given by Ivancevich,Konopaske, and Matteson (p. 111). All employees have the opportunity to performin an organization’s need for urgency—it is up to management to then provide thecapacity and tools to perform and then employees to demonstrate willingness toembrace the opportunity and the capacity to perform. Change leaders begin themost important and foundations of sustainable change. “Seeing is believing,” sopresenting an issue and inspiring the idea that change is necessary to improvecircumstances is essential to the true essence of creating meaningful change.Build The Guiding Team Thenext step to Kotter’s approach is building a diverse team to drive the changeforce.
It is important that this team is made up of many different individualswith varying backgrounds and varying interactions and relationships with othersin the organization. It is not enough for this team to have executive power—thegoal is the team carries out the subsequent steps to change. These team membersshould have multiple degrees of connection with others in the organization, leadershipskills and credibility, and their expertise in the particular department shouldinform the group of how the change strategy affects a particular business unit.The idea is that the guiding group reaches out to and represent a wholeorganization in a tangible format that can translate change to the rest oforganization. Ivancevich,Konopaske, and Matteson touch on the necessity and origins of groups in theirtext stating that “one of the most compelling reasons people join groups isbecause they believe members in a particular group will help them to satisfyone or more important needs” (p. 272).
Atone point or another, change is deemed necessary for the common interest forthe success of the company. So, it is important that the guiding team is notonly a well-rounded group of leaders, but all amicable and ready to worktogether to solve any issue and pave the way for success for the entireorganization. Further, their text also enforces the benefits of a diverseworking group stating that “heterogeneous groups may outperform homogenous onesin certain situations because they have a richer variety of knowledge,information, and experience to draw on” (p. 266).
Since the outcome of truechange is so important and the ultimate end goal, it is important thatorganizations seek the strongest leadership group possible to communicate andexecute plans for change.Get The Vision Right Changevision is important because it paints a simplistic yet critical image about thegoals which the organization seeks that justify the change presented. Since thevision will be communicated to the entire organization, the vision should beconcise, understandable, and very effective. Kotter listed suggestions forvision success and suggestions to avoid: clearly and quickly articulate thevision, create a vision that is “moving,” establish a bold strategy that can beimplemented quickly.
Try to avoid the thinking that plans and budgets create aclear enough picture, visions that rely too heavily on fiscal and analyticalaspects, and visions focused solely on cost cutting. Thismeans that the guides of change have a lot of deliberation and work ahead ofthem to ensure they get the vision just right. A vision does not comepre-thought for the guides of organizational change—they must first identifyand analyze the issue as mentioned in OrganizationalBehavior and Management (p. 405).
Further, the text suggests that multiplesolutions to the issue should be explored, not just one that seems “the best”. Fromthose alternatives, the group should collaborate to ensure the change visionpermeates through the entire organization (p. 406-409).Communicate for Buy-in Perhapsan organization’s biggest change opponent are the employees. Up to this point,little information about the impeding organizational change may have been sharedand many employees will have questions about what brought about the change, howit will affect the jobs, when it will be put in place, etc.
In general, theintroduction of large scale change often invites insecurities like anxiety anduncertainty. It is critical that the guiding team allows appropriate mediumsfor employees to express the curiosity, anxiety, and any other concerns. The uncertaintyis natural and leaders should invite the opportunity of transparency to fostersa cleare trust and understanding of the change. To combat this, both Kotter andIvancevich, Konopaske, and Matteson encourage “Face-to-face meetings,newsletters, e-mails, instant messages. company blogs, reports, speeches, conferences,and other methods of communication can lead to a better understanding and trustabout changes” (p. 511). Kotterexplores another aspect of communication buy-in explaining that once a visionis delivered, the company should begin to “walk the walk” so to speak.
Forinstance, if a firm’s change is rooted in environmental sustainabilitypractices aimed to reduce the firm’s impact on the environment that limitsemployee resources like paper printing, the firm’s executives should also makea point to eliminate travel on private planes. The firm’s proposed change willhave a very difficult time finding footing in its employees if all members ofthe organization are not on board. Transparency and creditability are crucial.Empower Action Nowthat guiding leaders have developed a sense of urgency, a vision is establishedand strategy determined, and the change plan has been presented to the wholeorganization, it’s important to ensure that there are as few obstacles aspossible.
This is a delicate time since the change is new and employees arelearning to maneuverer through gingerly. Even the most insignificant obstaclecan undo a lot of the reassurance the team has invested in creating confidencein the new change. Therefore,obstacles must be removed. In other words, if the change sought requires moreadvanced technology, the organization must be ready to accommodate the need. Organizational Behavior and Management alsosuggests that teams engage in teambuilding exercises (p.
521) to temperindividuals who are not quite on board with the change. Team building canaccomplish a few things that include clarifying the tasks that change isdesigned to accomplish. Also, it can be helpful for a resistant employee toobserve and participate in teamwork outside of a rigid work environment. Create Short-term Wins Firmsshould begin monitoring their change strategy as soon as possible. Since muchof their assessment of the solution has been based on theory, the beginning ofchange can often feel like trial runs. Short-term goals should be established,completed, and analyzed to perfect the change strategy. The short-term goalsprovide change teams with valuable information about the efficacy of thechange, draws attention to any strategy gaps, and also proves to employees thatsome aspects of the change are truly for the better. Also, from a developmentalstand point, an opportunity arises to evaluate change-resistant employees fromone short-term goal to the next to determine progress.
Thetext Organizational Behavior andManagement suggests that companies should set focused, short-term goals (p.132) citing research that shows “specific goals lead to higher output”. This isimportant for assessing how much of a difference the change to the organizationis implementing. The goal of setting short-term goals is to encourage furthermotivation but also to catch any issues the strategy may have early on beforethe behavior becomes imbedded in the company’s culture.Don’t Let Up Theteam might be feeling confident about the way implemented changes are shapingup.
From all accounts, the change is paying off and it may feel safe to assumethe shift was successful and all can rest easy. Complacency at this point canderail all of the hard work the team has invested in enforcing the changestrategy implemented. It is important to continue to build the momentum for thechange. While short-term goals have been successful, the true goal is toengrain these changes into the company’s lasting culture.
Managers shouldcontinue to set important, meaningful goals to celebrate wins the teamaccomplishes together. Leadership is very important at this point. Managersmust recognize the valuation of individual goals and choose to concentratetheir efforts on those goals that give the biggest pay off for the amount ofrecourses needed to achieve them.
Whileeach employee must own the change of their organization, managers becomeincreasingly valuable and important. Kotter and Ivancevich, Konopaske, andMatteson reinforce this idea, “If motivation is to be energized, sustained, anddirected, managers must know about needs, intentions, preferences, goals, andcomparisons, and they must act on that knowledge. Failure to do so will resultin many missed opportunities to help motivate employees in a positive manner”(p. 135). Goals must continue to be assigned with a special attention toprioritizing high-value goals over less impactful ones.Make Change Stick Nowthat change norms are established and it seems that the strategy is working,the focus must shift to ensure that the change achieved sticks. Change must moldinto organizational culture.
The ultimate goal is to see the change strategyturn into a company culture that transcends employees, managers, and leadersthat carrier out the initial strategy. This is accomplished when anorganization goes all in and reestablishes company expectations, norms,rewards, and policies to reflect the change policy. Aspointed out in Organizational Behaviorand Management, organizational culture can either encourage or discourageeffectiveness (p. 528) so it is important that the organization is vigilantabout the norms and values adopted into its newly form culture. This is acritical moment where expectations are shifting, promotions of currentemployees, and training of new employees will adopt cultural shifts fromorganizational change. Conclusion JohnKotter is an expert in his field. From his decade’s worth of study andobservations, Kotter is able to identify where many organizations shine andothers fail during their transitions. Every organization is different andperhaps not every change circumstance can be tested using this formula.
However, Kotter’s 8-steps give evolving organizations insight about maneuveringcritical moments through the change process. The coaching raises at least 8 redflags for leadership to look out for when building a strategy for change.