Great Business Ideas: Kotters eight phases of change

Great Small Business Ideas to Start: Kotters eight phases of change

An organization undergoing significant changes should pay attention to eight key steps to avoid the problems that typically occur.

The idea

Leadership expert John Kotter studied 100 companies going through transitions. By analyzing their triumphs and pitfalls, he identified a number of commonly made mistakes. This led Kotter to compile the “eight steps of change”: a sequence of actions to ensure that changes succeed.

  1. Establish a sense of urgency. Organizations frequently allow high levels of complacency to develop during times of transition. Kotter commented, “Without motivation, people won’t help and the effort goes nowhere. Executives underestimate how hard it can be to drive people out of their comfort zones.” To accept change, businesses need a “burning platform” to remove complacency and inertia.
  2. Form a strong guiding coalition. A group of strong, unified leaders should drive the change process and establish support throughout the entire organization.
  3. Create a vision. A clear sense of direction and an idea of the end result will allow efforts to be focused, organized, and efficient.
  4. Communicate the vision. The strategy and vision for change must be communicated to everyone involved. As well as holding discussions and using other forms of communication, members of the guiding coalition should act as role models for the type of behaviors and decisions that are needed.
  5. Empower others to act on the vision. If old procedures and obstacles remain in place during change, it will be demotivating for employees involved in the effort. So, encourage and support people to make the right changes, ideally without always referring upwards.
  6. Plan for and create short-term victories. Find ways to start the process and work hard to generate momentum, even in small ways. Motivate employees by continuously emphasizing milestones and successes. Accentuate the positive aspects of the transition.
  7. Consolidate improvements and maintain momentum. Rather than growing complacent as the process develops, use the credibility gained to reinvigorate and expand the changes to all areas of the company.
  8. Institutionalize the new approaches. Anchor the changes firmly in the culture of the organization. When changes become entrenched, they are most effective.
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When planning a change process with these steps in mind, it is important to allow enough time for the full sequence of events and to carry them out in the correct order. Kotter discovered that following the change plan sequentially and patiently was fundamental to success: “Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces satisfactory results. Making critical mistakes in any of the phases can have a devastating impact, slowing momentum and negating hard-won gains.”

In practice

  • Ensure your change process has both a leader, to align, motivate, and inspire the workforce, and a manager, to make a complex set of processes run smoothly and according to plan.
  • Create a clear vision of the process, as well as a sequence of events that will occur, and communicate this throughout your organization.
  • Paint a compelling vision of the future and produce strategies to realize this vision.
  • Understand that different types of change processes will require different skills and attributes, at different times. For example, a crisis change process may require an emphasis on strong leadership rather than management.
  • Even successful change processes are messy and do not always go according to plan—be ready to deal with the unexpected.
  • Ensure your “guiding coalition” is unified in their objectives and work as a team.