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  • Writer's pictureAri Betof

How Does Kotter's Change Model Help Businesses to Manage Organizational Change?

Updated: Mar 2, 2023

Organizational change has always been a huge challenge. It's not just you: today's businesses face a sobering 70 percent failure rate for managing change. Nevertheless, an appropriate change model combined with effective change leadership can go a long way towards reducing resistance to change, stacking the odds of a smooth transition in the organization’s favor.

Kotter’s 8-step change model provides a blueprint for organizational change that empowers businesses to manage change and digital innovation by mobilizing workers to drive implementation of a new initiative. John Kotter is an Emeritus Professor in change management and organizational science at Harvard University. In 2001, he was called the number one Leadership Guru by Business Week.

Recognized internationally as an authority on leadership and change, John Kotter has written numerous books and publications on the topics of business leadership. Leading Change is the bestseller that first introduced his change management model to the world when it was published in 1996. The book is still referred to by business leaders around the globe as the Bible of change management.

Step 1: Create a Sense of Urgency

Kotter’s strategy begins with establishing a sense of urgency among managers and employees, ensuring that everyone involved feels the need for change that is critical for organizational growth. This is important, since without widespread support, it is challenging if not impossible to sustain momentum and achieve lasting transformation.

The objective of this phase is to prepare employees for the next step of change, motivating them to contribute to the transformation. In order to succeed, Kotter believes at least 75 percent of the organization’s management team needs to be onboard with a change initiative. The goal for leadership is to create an environment where all employees are aware of the existing problem and the need to take action to resolve it.

Step 2: Form a Guiding Coalition

To drive lasting, companywide change requires the support of allies and stakeholders. Gaining the backing of high profile company members for your corporate vision conveys a powerful message, generating momentum and gathering even more support. Change drivers must identify key stakeholders and leaders within the organization, request their support in implementing the change, and create a coalition that consistently and publicly operates as a team. Here, diversity across job titles and corporate levels helps to distribute the vision more effectively throughout the company.

Step 3: Develop the Vision and Strategies

It is crucial for leadership to create a clear vision, planning strategies to help the company achieve its goals. Team members are encouraged to help create an attainable picture of what success will ultimately look like. Their input can help build a vision for the business that motivates and guides team members’ actions. A coherent vision can also help management set realistic, achievable targets to track success that also appeal to stakeholders.

Step 4: Communicating the Change Vision

Once the vision and strategies have been articulated, it is vital that these are communicated clearly and consistently throughout the organization. All employees should understand the company’s goals and values. Ideally, this step will encourage employees to willingly—hopefully enthusiastically—direct their professional efforts towards them. This step helps leadership to capture the hearts and minds of employees at every level of the company. Present a compelling argument in support of the change. Effective communication will help employees to see that the change is possible and the results will be beneficial for both them and the company.

Step 5: Remove Obstacles

Any organization that undergoes transformation is going to meet with resistance, including from within the organization. To gain and sustain momentum, change drivers need to identify and eliminate obstacles. Identify people who are most resistant to change and work to understand and alleviate their concerns. Create proactive solutions to resolve resistance, and recognize and reward those who support and implement change in its early phases.

Step 6: Create Short-Term Wins

Achieving lasting organizational change takes time. Employees who are putting forth maximum effort can feel discouraged after working towards goals for a long time without reaching them. This can disrupt momentum and lead to stagnation. It is therefore crucial for leadership to set short-term goals. Celebrate smaller achievements throughout the change process to maintain momentum. Reward employees who stick with it to motivate them to continue their efforts.

Step 7: Consolidate Gains and Build on the Change

To sustain the implementation of change, leadership needs to ensure that teams continue to work hard to achieve the change vision. This stage is about measuring workers’ success and professional contributions every step of the way.

Step 8: Anchor Change into the Culture

The final step of Kotter’s change management model consists of ensuring that the changes are embedded into the orgnization’s culture. Time, as well as leadership and staff changes, can quickly cause organizational changes to fade and for things to return to the previous status quo. To ensure that change remains ingrained in the company’s culture, leadership needs to discuss progress at every available opportunity. Leaders should continue to reward key members of the change coalition and recognize their contributions and legacies.

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