change management process

Formally or informally, personally or professionally, we've all experienced change.

change management process

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.

Watch our video for an overview of Kotter's eight step change model, or continue reading below for more detail.


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Kotter's 8 Step Change Model.

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.

eight

What I find fascinating is that its potential for application and impact transcends industries, and that the steps are not dependent on the completion of the one prior.

That is to say that, from a project management perspective, there is flexibility in application and whether dependencies exist or if an overlapping of steps is preferred.

What I will mention, and have experienced, is that attention to, and inclusion of, each step is vital to realizing a successful project outcome. Especially one that is sustainable.

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.

Kotter's 1st Step: Creating Urgency.

creating urgency

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.

The CFO may discover a need for action when reviewing a company's financial statements, yet for front-line workers the same needs are not felt, as for them, it may be business-as-usual in daily activities.

Similarly, the obstacles encountered at the store level may not garner the attention of executives as the impacts may not yet have been felt. The indication that something is amiss may be lagging.

This disconnect can occur between individuals or between departments. What is troublesome for the sales department may not be felt in the same way by the marketing department.

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).

Kotter's 2nd Step: A Guiding Coalition.

guiding coalition

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, at the least, 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 would work together to improve the chances for a successful change effort.

The importance of the first two steps, in concert, cannot 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 is 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.

Kotter's 3rd Step: Developing A Vision For Change.

With your guiding coalition formed, it is now time to develop a vision and strategy as part of the change management process.

organizational communication

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.

  • What will success look like?
  • For individuals?
  • For departments?
  • For vendors and customers?
  • For the organization?

Without the diverse perspectives of the guiding coalition having been included, it is likely that the picture of success would have been one-dimensional, and something not meeting the needs or desires 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.

Kotter's 4th Step: Communicating The Vision.

organizational change project vision

It is likely that not every employee was present in the meetings in which vision and strategy were developed. Nor should they have been, in most cases.

Involving every person at every step along the way in a change management process can often be too cumbersome, and create an unnecessary burden on the operations of the business. That is why the guiding coalition may be built with representatives from various stakeholder groups. So that there is confidence that certain concerns and perspectives will be given a voice.

Once vision and strategy have been developed by the guiding coalition, it is time to report back to the workforce in communicating what has occurred, the path that has been decided, and what success will look like in the end and along the way.

It has 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 rest of the stakeholders (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 in organizational communication, it will be important to consider the sharing of your messaging in-person and remotely, by paper and digital means, with those internal and external to the company, on social media platforms, and how you'll engage in two-way communication, receive feedback, and share updates and adjustments to the strategy.

Kotter's 5th Step: Empowering Action.

empowering action

With the foundation for change established by the first four steps, the fifth step more closely resembles what might be regarded as implementation.

In organizations of 10, 100, or 1,000+ employees, it would be inefficient to wait for the direction or action of one person as the means for enabling progress.

In light of this, Kotter's fifth step in the change management process addresses the potential for such 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 are connected to the change management process, feel a sense of ownership or responsibility for the outcome, and are operating in an environment where the green light to participate without consequence is part of the organizational culture.

Kotter's 6th Step: Short-Term Wins.

In the sports that 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 had been set.

short-term wins

It was also important, in wanting to stick to the plan and seeing it through to conclusion, that progress was noticeable or that efforts were recognized.

Such is the basis for Kotter's sixth step in generating short-term wins.

The sustainability of a change effort 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 to 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.

Kotter's 7th Step: Keep Going.

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.

Kotter's 8th Step: Make It Stick.

business DNA

What good would change and having a change management process be if you had to start from scratch every time a new change was needed?

You can imagine how tedious that might be, and the resistance it could 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 is no longer something that happens to us, yet something that we seek and look forward to because of our understanding of it, our positive experiences with it, and an appreciation for the benefits that are likely to result.

Of note, it has 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.

The Change Management Process Takeaway.

Here are the key takeaways:

✔️ Change can become a strength of individuals and organizations, as evidenced by research on Kotter's eight step model.

✔️ While the steps in Kotter's model can be completed in order, or can overlap in implementation, a key to success is in ensuring that no steps are skipped or intentionally left out.

✔️ As with the learning of any skill, developing proficiency takes time, patience, and commitment.

✔️ When implemented effectively, personal or professional advantage can be earned and sustained.

For More On Change Management.

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:

  1. Get our free 3-day email e-course on employee engagement
  2. Schedule a complimentary discovery session

In health,
Boh

David Bohmiller

David Bohmiller, MBA, MS (he/him/his)
Founder, CEO and Consulting Executive
Inevitabl LLC
➡️ LinkedIn

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References.

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.

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