Summary of Leading Change by John Kotter: 8 steps to successful change

Once you’ve decided that your company is indeed ready for a change, you will want to chart a path to successful change. So just how do you go about doing that? As it turns out there are a few different suggested for planning change management. One well-recognized method for change management is following John Kotter’s eight-step plan.

Born in 1947, John Kotter initially went to school for electrical engineering. After completing his undergraduate degree in 1968 (at Massachusetts Institute of Technology), Kotter switched his interests to business and management and went on to earn a Master of Science from MIT in Management in 1970. He moved just a few blocks over to Harvard University to earn his Doctor of Business Administration degree in 1972. The same year that he earned his doctorate, Kotter joined the faculty at Harvard, becoming a tenured professor a decade later. Throughout his career, Kotter focused on change management as a major highlight of his publications (which include an impressive roster of 19 books, 12 of which have been business bestsellers).

In his most-renowned bestseller, Leading Change, Kotter outlines what has become a well-known and well-respected process for change management. The strategy is an eight-step plan that Kotter says is integral to successful change. He writes, “Successful change of any magnitude goes through all eight states, usually in the sequence shown. … Although one normally operates in multiple phases at once, skipping even a single step or getting too far ahead without a solid base almost always creates problems.” Outlined below are the eight steps you will need in order to form a solid base for your change.

Step One: Create Urgency. For change to succeed, everyone in the company needs to believe in it as a necessity. Kotter writes that in order for change to be successful, 75 percent of a company’s management needs to be on board with the change. That means that it is of paramount importance that you get as many people as possible to see the needed change as urgent. That being said, don’t jump in too fast. Once you have convinced your company that change is an urgent need, you still need to follow the remaining steps in an organized fashion.
To create that sense of urgency, you will need to think long and hard about why change must occur now. Is it actually urgent? Think about the questions in the readiness assessment section above, and if you think your change really meets the criteria, then you can begin thinking about how to share your belief in the urgency of action with others. Examine the market and competitive realities, identify points of crisis or major opportunities, and find outside evidence supporting the need for change. Have honest discussions, present convincing reasons, and bring all stakeholders into the fold.

Step Two: Form a Powerful Coalition. Once you have convinced others that there is an urgent problem that must be addressed, you need to convince the key people in your organization to be on board in advocating for and supporting your proposed change. Identify who the most effective leaders are in your organization and recognize that they might not necessarily be the people at the top of the hierarchy. Identify people who will be a dynamic part of your coalition for change. Check your team for weak spots and continue emphasizing the urgency of the situation.
Step Three: Create a Vision for Change. There are a lot of possible changes that might address the problem or situation you are seeking to change. You need to identify the best ideas of the lot and link them together to create a compelling vision that can ultimately galvanize your base to support your change.

A strong vision of your ultimate goal will help your team understand why change is necessary and why you are asking them to get on board. Once people understand exactly what your final goal is, they are more likely to agree with the specific steps that affect them personally or that require them to act.

How do you create a vision? First, you need to identify the various goals of the change and see how they can link together. You need to think about the values of the change and how they relate to your company’s overall direction. To impart this vision to others, you should develop a quick five-minute speech to convince the important members of your organization. You should make sure that your change coalition understand your vision and is able to explain it quickly.

Step Four: Communicate the Vision. Whether or not you develop a successful method for sharing your vision with others will have a huge impact on the probability of success for your company’s impending change. You will need to communicate your change vision frequently because there are a mass of important communications that occur within a company every day and you need to insure that this particular communication stands out. You will need to hold special meetings to communicate your vision, but you’ll also need to use the vision daily so that people will begin to see how it fits into the company in a positive way. Show how the change vision will help solve problems on a daily basis. Make sure that you don’t just talk the talk, but actually walk the walk. Make sure that you utilize the change vision yourself in your own actions so that others do not think of it as something imposed upon them. Lead by example.

Step Five: Remove Obstacles. Hopefully, if you’ve clearly communicate the urgency for your change and have made sure that everyone understands your vision, you should be able to minimize the number of obstacles that you face. That being said, some obstacles are inevitable. Some obstacles will come in the form of people, while other obstacles will come in the form of processes or structures that are incompatible with the change you seek. You need to continually check for obstacles of all types. Make sure that your change leaders understand the importance of identifying obstacles to change. Identify those who are resisting change and see what can be done to change their attitude. Make sure that you reward people who are actively making sure that change happens.

Step Six: Create Short-Term Wins. Change is often a long-term goal. However, people are motivated by success, so it is often highly beneficial to create short-term goals and targets. Having many achievable steps makes the entire task seem less daunting and can provide opportunities for positive reinforcment along the way.

To create short-term goals, look for easy projects that will face little criticism. Make your initial goals ones that are not particularly costly so that you can easily justify the early steps in the change process. Reward the people who help you meet your early short-term goals.
It bears mentioning again that it is extremely important to make sure that your short term goals are achievable. If your early goals are not successful, it could hurt the success of your entire change project. So choose your first goals wisely and thoroughly analyze the likely success of each goal as well as the price of failure.

Step Seven: Build on the Change. Make sure that you don’t decide the project is over too soon. Don’t count your chickens before they are fully hatched and determine that you’ve won before you have totally completed the project. Although it’s important to have short-term goals, remember that achieving the short-term goal is not the end point. Real change is more than one or two short-term goals.To achieve real success, you need to maintain the motivation to keep your team moving forward.

Don’t give up after one success — or failure. Remember that your change management plan may require modification along the way and it is possible that after achieving the first few short-term goals, you may have additional goals to add or current goals to alter. Whatever the case, make sure that you — and your change team — understand and remember that everyone is in it for the long haul.

Step Eight: Make Change Stick. To make change stick, you have to make it part of the company’s culture. Change shouldn’t just be something that is taught to the new guys. If you want it to stick, change needs to be something that everyone is on board with. You need to make sure that new hires are taught the new culture, but you also need to make sure that old-timers dedicated to the old culture don’t hinder progress. If there are some old culture employees who are not committed to the new culture, you may want to consider offering them early retirement. On the other hand, you should try to offer promotions to those leaders who are committed to the new culture.

As Kotter explains in his book, the rate of change will speed up over time; it won’t slow down. That means that there should be an ongoing, persistent sense of urgency in order to ensure that change is always a priority. By following the eight steps outlined above, companies can implement and manage that ongoing change process in an effective manner.