8 Critical Steps to Leading Change

Change LeadershipSome things change.  Some things don’t. You know that special, warm, certain feeling you get from visiting an old friend?  I got that feeling in abundance this week when I had the opportunity to discuss John Kotter’s work on change with a great group of association leaders.  Kotter is one of my favorite business authors.  I have grown professionally and gained enormously from the quality and caliber of his thinking.  The wisdom Kotter has extracted from his experiences resonates with me at so many different levels.  His work is thoughtful and profound.

Kotter, trained as an electrical engineer at MIT earned his doctorate at Harvard and joined the faculty at the Business School.  In the universe of “publish or perish” Kotter has excelled.  He wrote one of the Harvard Business Review’s all-time best-selling articles and has over the past 30 years, produced eighteen books many of which rank in the top 1% of sales on Amazon.com.  His work speaks authentically to the challenge of leadership and change.  So what does it take to create real lasting change?  Kotter offers this road map in his best-seller, Leading Change.  Kotter says there are eight crucial steps leaders must take to assure success:

  1. Establish a Sense of Urgency.
  2. Build a Guiding Coalition Throughout the Organization
  3. Develop a Vision and Strategy
  4. Communicate the Change Vision
  5. Empower Employees to Take Broad Based Action
  6. Generate Short-Term Wins
  7. Consolidate Gains to Produce More Change
  8. Anchor the New Approaches into the Culture

If you’ve ever undertaken a change effort, you know it is not for the faint-hearted.  There are just so many opportunities for sabotage at so many levels within an organization.  I have witnessed on more than one occasion—even in the face of certain collapse–individuals and organizations that cannot and will not muster the necessary resources and energy to change.  Frustration doesn’t begin to describe the feeling.

Change is daunting.  It is thrust upon us or something we choose to create.  It is an enormous catalyst for expanding your success and assuring continuity.  Unexpected change created by the actions and decisions of individuals or entities outside our control are the most challenging, oftentimes because—well, they’re unexpected.  Oddly enough, change you see on the horizon is challenging too, yet for a different reason. Think about public and private colleges and universities for a moment.

  • First there was the rise of private, for-profit colleges and universities vying for students, financial aid funds and prestige.
  • Growth of the lifetime learning movement caught colleges off-guard and both the non-profit and private sector took to the marketplace with fresh offerings.
  • Online degree programs began a new opportunity. With the fast rise in popularity and the benefit of education software, online payment systems and high speed Internet access, public and private colleges were able to ride the wave.
  • Now it’s MOOC — massive open online courses offered by leading colleges and universities such as MIT, Harvard, George Washington University, Rice, Emory, Brown and others.  While still in its infancy MOOC certainly suggests investments in “bricks and mortar” may be coming to an end.  MOOC proffers a dramatic rise in quality, diversity and depth of educational content not seen outside the walls of the Ivy League.

Change from the outside.  Adaptation.  Small Victories.  Innovation. And now, change from the inside.  It’s worth pondering your own organization’s future in the context of both types of change.  It’s also worth thinking about the ways in which our current business models no longer fit our collective futures.  For example, if you made your living as a gatekeeper to information, it’s increasingly unlikely in today’s increasing open information environment that you will be able to sustain the pricing model that made you a success in the first place.

So what make change so difficult for you or your organization?  In what ways does the Kotter model work for you and where does it fall short?  You can leave a comment below.

In future posts I will explore the Kotter Change Model in more detail and share your thoughts and comments about this model as well.

One thought on “8 Critical Steps to Leading Change”

  1. When you list change as an 8 step process it is no wonder that so many of us fail at leading change – it is a tricky river to navigate. I’m going to check out Kotter’s books asap…I’m embarrassed to say that I haven’t read any of them. Great post!

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