Formally or informally, personally or professionally, we've all experienced change.
And, while it is a constant, can it be controlled?
Controlled may be too strong of a word, and control of change may be too strong of a goal. Yet, decades of research support that the change management process can be guided to positive results.
Of the organizational change methodologies, the one I subscribe to most is Kotter's eight step model. It was a topic of discussion, and the focus of research papers, throughout my graduate school journey.
What I find fascinating is that its potential for impact transcends industries, and the steps are not dependent on the completion of the one before. That's to say that, from a project management perspective, there's flexibility in application. Overall, attention to each step is vital to a successful project outcome.
Speed of implementation is often valued in business, yet where shortcuts are taken and steps may be skipped, a competitive advantage that may have been built can be lost through having to return to repair that which was overlooked. Let's take a look at each of the steps in this change management process.
Spencer & Winn (2004) suggest that the realization of a need for change can occur in the face of crisis or opportunity, where the former might include financial instabilities, declines in market share, or increasing competition, and where the latter could present through advancing technologies and the occasion for new markets, products, or services.
Organizations run into issue when a collective sense of urgency is not shared by team members.
No matter the person who identifies the need for change, collective concern must be established. Without a shared sense of urgency, the sponsor for change will face significant obstacle to success in implementing a change management process, as one's role or title is not enough to overcome this challenge (Thornton et al., 2019).
You may have experienced a time when you were told that change would be occurring, yet you had little to no say in the matter. How nice would it be to have a representative voice, someone from your role or department involved in leading the change.
This is part of Kotter's second step, the formation of a guiding coalition, a group of diverse representatives who work together to improve the chance of a successful change effort. The importance of the first two steps can't be overstated. Where attention here is fumbled, progress will stall because of satisfaction with the status quo or where the support of the majority of stakeholders is not established (Kotter, 2007, as cited in Bose, 2020).
In implementation, it's beneficial to perform a stakeholder mapping exercise. While doing so, do not exclude individual stakeholder groups based on perceptions that the proposed changes will not impact them in some way, that they are not well-tenured enough in role or with the company, or that their experience in a given area is not specialized. Not only diversity, yet inclusivity will be key to success in this arena. As is true in many situations, it is better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it.
With your guiding coalition formed, it's time to develop a vision and strategy as part of the change management process.
Kotter's third step addresses just that; developing a vision for change by way of the benefit of the diverse perspectives available among your group of stakeholders.
Without the diverse perspectives of the guiding coalition included, it's likely that the picture of success would have been one-dimensional, and wouldn't meet the needs of extended tiers of stakeholder groups.
The creation of a vision involves all stakeholders in discussion, drives the decision-making process, allows for the building of majority support, and informs the development of strategy to achieve shared objectives (Kuo & Chen, 2019). Without identifying a destination and plotting a path with your fellow travelers, you'll end up somewhere, though it may not be where you'd intended to arrive.
It's likely that not every employee was present in the vision and strategy development meetings. Nor should they have been, in most cases. Involving every person at every step in a change management process can often be too cumbersome, and creates an unnecessary burden on business operations. That's why the guiding coalition may be built with representatives from various stakeholder groups. So that there is confidence that all concerns and perspectives will be given a voice.
Once vision and strategy have been developed, it's time to report back to the workforce what has occurred, the path that's been decided, and what success will look like in the end. It's been suggested that those leading change can perform the first three steps well, then experience an unraveling where the plan for change is under-communicated to the masses (Kotter, 1996, as cited in Nitta et al., 2009). Because those who were involved in strategic development understand the plan does not mean that those who were not present do or will.
In implementation and organizational communication, it will be important to consider sharing your messaging in-person and remotely, by paper and digital means, internally and externally, on social media platforms, and how you'll engage in two-way communication, receive feedback, and share updates and adjustments to strategy.
With the foundation for change established by the first four steps,
the fifth step resembles what might be regarded as
In organizations of 10, 100, or 1,000+ employees, it would be inefficient to wait for the direction or action of one person to enable progress. In light of this, Kotter's fifth step in the change management process addresses the potential for this wastefulness through empowering others to action.
Wentworth et al. (2020) suggests that the embrace and observance of change efforts and plan details is enhanced where responsibility for its progress is shared. In implementation, this may be realized through leadership. Though, that isn't to say that this must come from managers alone, as there is a difference between leadership and management. Any one, or several, employees can lead the charge.
The key is that they're connected to the change management process, feel ownership of the outcome, and are operating in an environment where the green light to participate without consequence is part of the organizational culture.
In the sports I played while growing up, whether individual or team-based, gaining positive momentum was a key factor in where I, or we, ended up in relation to the goals that were set.
It was also important, in wanting to stick to the plan and seeing it
through to conclusion, that progress was noticeable and efforts were
recognized. Such is the basis for Kotter's sixth step in generating short-term wins.
The sustainability of change is improved when short-term wins are noticed publicly, the behaviors that supported them are celebrated, and reminders of the benefits involved are highlighted (Amin & Servey, 2018).
If you haven't seen a change management process work before, you may want some encouragement along the way that you, individually or as an organization, have a chance at success. That environment for success may not exist in physical form alone, yet might have to develop from a mindset perspective, as well.
Once the train is moving, in the right direction, you'll want to keep going. Kotter's seventh step addresses building upon the change that is occurring and making it sustainable.
An item to consider, especially where the length of time of change projects will vary, is that new information may be available and adjustments may be needed. Kotter's seventh step in the change management process focuses on drawing from the improved areas to encourage greater change.
Haas et al. (2019) describes the importance of establishing channels through which feedback is received so that what is going well can be accelerated and areas of weakness can be analyzed and improved. Consider this the rerouting by your GPS navigation as you're driving cross-country. Maybe construction in an area has created delays, and a faster route is available. That new information allows for adjustments to your plan, while maintaining the intended destination.
What good would having a change management process be if you had to start from scratch every time new change was needed? You can imagine how tedious that might be, and the resistance it'd create.
Kotter's eighth step speaks to embedding the process for change into the culture of an organization. In this, it becomes a part of the identity of those involved. It becomes part of the DNA of your business. It's no longer something that happens to us, yet something we seek and look forward to because of our understanding of it, our positive experiences with it, and an appreciation for the benefits that result.
Of note, it's been suggested of Kotter's seventh and eighth steps that the time to implementation of these areas is likely to be extensive (Pollack & Pollack, 2015). You, your team, or organization may have to endure several change efforts, with failed attempts along the way, in order to acquire the experience and organizational learning for change to become something that sticks and is of competitive advantage.
Here are the key takeaways:
This section of the site is an excellent primer for insight on methodologies, tools, and resources that can support successful change efforts.
To continue your learning:
David Bohmiller, MBA, MS (he/him/his)
Founder, CEO and Consulting Executive
Help us spread the word about our site and this change management process article by sharing it with your friends, fans, or followers. Click on the icon(s) below for your preferred social media platform and share away. Thank you!
Amin, R., & Servey, J. (2018). Lessons of Leading Organizational Change in Quality and Process Improvement Training. Military Medicine, 183(11/12), 249-251. https://doi-org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.1093/milmed/usy204
Bose, I. (2020). The Journey of Change at Corus Strip Products, UK: A Theory-Based Case Review. IUP Journal of Supply Chain Management, 17(1), 24-35.
Haas, M. R. C., Munzer, B. W., Santen, S. A., Hopson, L. R., Haas, N. L., Overbeek, D., Peterson, W. J., Cranford, J. A., & Huang, R. D. (2019). #DidacticsRevolution: Applying Kotter's 8-Step Change Management Model to Residency Didactics. The Western Journal of Emergency Medicine, 21(1), 65-70. https://doi-org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.5811/westjem.2019.11.44510
Kuo, Y.-L., & Chen, I.-J. (2019). Facilitating a Change Model in Age-Friendly Hospital Certification: Strategies and Effects. PloS One, 14(4), e0213496. https://doi-org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.1371/journal.pone.0213496
Nitta, K. A., Wrobel, S. L., Howard, J. Y., & Jimmerson-Eddings, E. (2009). Leading Change of a School District Reorganization. Public Performance & Management Review, 32(3), 463-488. https://doi-org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.2753/PMR1530-9576320305
Pollack, J., & Pollack, R. (2015). Using Kotter's Eight Stage Process to Manage an Organisational Change Program: Presentation and Practice. Systemic Practice and Action Research, 28(1), 51-66. https://doi-org.ezproxy.snhu.edu/10.1007/s11213-014-9317-0
Spencer, M. H., & Winn, B. A. (2004). Evaluating the Success of Strategic Change Against Kotter's Eight Steps. Planning for Higher Education, 33(2), 15-22.
Thornton, B, Usinger, J., & Sanchez, J. (2019). Leading Effective Building Level Change. Education, 139(3), 131-138.
Wentworth, D. K., Behson, S. J., & Kelley, C. L. (2020). Implementing a New Student Evaluation of Teaching System Using the Kotter Change Model. Studies in Higher Education, 45(3), 511-523.