Applying Kotter’s Eight Step Change model to Business Issues

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  • Post last modified:May 12, 2021

Applying Kotter’s Eight Step Model

Change is the rule of  business. The global business environment is changing continuously and organisations need to respond quick to retain their market position. Some of these fluctuations may have a small impact and would not require any change in processes and operations. However, some of these changes can be disruptive and may have a long term impact. In that case, you do not only need to bring a change, but make it last. Unless a change is well planned, its effects will fade in the short run and there can be a negative effect on the business and employee morale. It is why for a change to be sustainable, it has to be well planned.  Last two decades have seen so many changes including technological, economic and demographic. Technological advancements have taken place at a fast pace. Apart from it, the world has been through a phase of economic recession.

The US population’s demographic composition has also changed a lot. All these factors can have a direct impact on businesses which have been forced to adopt new innovative models to respond to the changing business environment and to do business profitably. The leadership has an important role to play in the process of change. A change may come as a challenge. However, Kotter has provided a smart model to implement and sustain change that can be used by business managers and leaders to bring change efficiently and effectively. Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School, Dr John Paul Kotter, introduced his change model in 1995. It contains eight steps which can be followed to implement the process of change successfully. Below is an explanation of Kotter’s Eight Steps model with an example of its application to business.

Step 1: Establishing a sense of urgency:

There must be a solid reason to bring change. The first step in Kotter’s model is to establish a sense of urgency. Change will happen only when everyone wants it. To initiate change, first you need to create an environment of urgency that will spark discussion and excitement. You need to have a strong argument to persuade people to participate in the process. Suppose Sam owns a business that employs 300 people. For the last three months, he has been losing sales to his competitors. He does some research to find out the reason. His research shows that the competitors are investing in technology which has enabled them to provide better services and therefore they are gaining fast against his business. Now, Sam needs to provide his organisation with a convincing reason that by adopting modern technology the company and employees are going to be benefited. He must focus on both the sides. What will the company gain by adopting the change? What will it lose if it does not? This will build the initial sense of urgency to switch the ignition on. In this way, he will be able to get his employees interested. If the company continues to lose sales, it will be bound to lay off people and eventually shut down. However, if it makes the desired changes, its sales will rise, no one will lose his job and workers’ salaries might also increase.

Build the guiding team:

This is the second step in Kotter’s change model. You need to find out the change advocates and change leaders inside the organisation to lead the process and to invite participation of workers at all levels. In this regard, it is not essential that Sam selects only from the top or middle level. Sam can select from his frontline employees too who he thinks have the necessary expertise to convince others. After he has found out a team of such people from inside the organisation, he must try to gain their commitment. He must ensure variety in his team as it help access people from all groups and backgrounds in his company and build acceptance for his idea. By building a powerful coalition of key people, say ‘change leaders’ he will be able to bring momentum to his plan.   

Get the vision right:

Next step is to create a powerful vision. A vision is essential for people to understand what outcome the change process is trying to achieve. So, rather than having so many ideas, it is good to connect the dots and build a larger vision that motivates everyone in the organisation. A clear vision proves quite influential to motivate employees and for setting things in motion. It helps them envision the future and understand what can be achieved through change. It also sets a positive tone in the favour of the change plan. So, Sam must focus on his strategy and organisational values to create the organisational vision for change.

Communicate for buy-in:

After having gotten his vision right, Sam must communicate his vision to the people. Good communication is the key to successful change. It dispels confusion, clears any kind of misgivings and motivates people to participate. Communication must involve all the people at all the levels.  Since it is a major change, there are bound to be some rumours or misconceptions. Sam has planned automation and other kinds of technological updates in his organisation. Many people who do not have the technological skills would be worried.  Communication helps in such a situation. Sam and his change leadership team must talk to people to understand their individual concerns and how they feel the change will affect them.   They must talk of the vision too often so that the idea sinks in. Communication can help him gain buy in. Sam and team must address people’s concerns and worries. They must provide solutions like the training and resources to be provided to help the employees tackle any new challenges. Communication is the key and missing on this part can lead to certain failure. Unless people know the meaning of the upcoming change, they understand its focus and are willing to participate, change will not work. So, leaders and managers must note that change will not produce results unless it is communicated properly.

Empower action by removing obstacles:

By the time, the above steps are completed, Sam and team must have persuaded people to participate. There would definitely be resistance, part of which can be addressed through communication. Some people would not agree until they have seen proven results. However, Sam must continue. There can be hurdles even after the staff has become ready to get involved. Now, the leader and the change leadership team must identify the obstacles in the way of the plan. They must look into the organisational structure and processes to find any hindrances. Once such barriers have been identified they must act quickly to remove them. If the need be, they must also hire outside consultants to identify potential barriers. Any kind of human or structural barrier or issues that can hinder the progress must be resolved quickly. If people do not have the necessary skills, they must be provided training and resources to help them proceed. This will build confidence and bring people’s focus on the gains to be obtained by change.

Create short-term wins:

Now, things have been set in motion but there is a need to gather more speed. Sam wants that the benefits are visible to his staff so that they focus on change with double enthusiasm and motivation. He must divide his long term goals into short term ones. However, there is also a need to be cautious at this point since moving too fast can cause errors. If the employees can see short term wins taking place, they will be motivated about the overall plan. The short term goals are critical so the motivation and focus of the staff can be sustained. Once some early wins are registered it gets easier to persuade people to follow the rest of the plan. Any successful efforts must also be properly recognised in the meanwhile.

Build on the change:

However, short term wins do not signify full success. So, at every step Sam and team must analyse the results to see how the short term goals are adding to the long term goal. They must analyse the outcomes to know what things can be improved to make the plan successful and what things are already running right.

Don’t let up/Make change stick:

To make the change stick, it must be made a part of the organisational culture. The company leaders and managers must focus on this part. They must ensure that the organisational values support the change. The organisational culture must also rhyme with the changes being made. Sam and team must focus on establishing a culture that fosters innovation. They must ensure that technology is linked to the organisational values and that people adopt these values. Apart from the existing staff, these values must be communicated to the new hires too. If technological advancements and innovation are made a part of the culture, then it will create an environment that will sustain the change Sam and team have brought. Otherwise, the change will generate only temporary results and in the long term its effects will be lost . So, time to time the leaders must review to see how well the change has become a part of organisational culture and structure.  

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  • Leading Change by John P Kotter –

Abhijeet Pratap

Abhijeet has been blogging on educational topics and business research since 2016. He graduated with a Hons. in English literature from BRABU and an MBA from the Asia-Pacific Institute of Management, New Delhi. He likes to blog and share his knowledge and research in business management, marketing, literature and other areas with his readers.