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  • Writer's pictureAri Betof

This Is How to Accelerate to Make Your Change Project a Success

Management expert John P. Kotter developed his eight-step change model over decades of research and practical work, introducing it as a system in his international sensation 1996 book Leading Change. Kotter’s philosophy of not just managing change, but truly leading it has made him a go-to source for millions of executives.  


The numerous advantages Kotter’s model offers to change leaders include its simplicity, its clear outline of a strategic timeline, its focus on engaging a broad group of stakeholders, and its ability to deliver long-term results. The benefits of this model accrue both immediately and over time, as each successful change effort lays the groundwork for the next.  


Kotter’s eight steps begin with creating a feeling of urgency in your team. You follow this by gaining support from a guiding coalition, elaborating a vision, and deploying an “army” of engaged volunteer change ambassadors. The fifth step involves showing his leader-students how to tear down roadblocks standing in the way of change. The sixth step celebrates short-term achievements. 


The eighth and final step occurs after you’ve integrated change into your organization’s structure. The prior, seventh step is all about increasing your efforts and accelerating towards the finish line. By this time, you’ll have gained the confidence of your stakeholders, because they’ve seen the initial results in action. With this enhanced credibility, you can now drive results even farther forward. Here’s how: 


Don’t Get Complacent 


According to Kotter, the last leg of the race is the time to go all out. In previous steps toward change, you needed to carefully assemble your vision and your team. You confirmed that you were all committed to the cause. But now, at the seventh step, you need to go big or go home, putting one change after another into place until you can see your original vision taking shape in the real world.  


During this seventh step, you’re also not letting up on building the narrative of your accomplishments. Record instances of significant progress, analyze why they succeeded, and create a continuous improvement loop by using your analysis to improve the organization’s change work going forward. Keep bringing new stakeholders on board as members of your guiding coalition and your volunteer army. 


Stasis is a temptation and risk at this stage. It’s only natural after you’ve just experienced the satisfaction of a series of easier wins. You’ve celebrated those. You likely want to pause a beat to feel the relief after reaching some major milestones. But at this point, you can’t afford to lose the sense of urgency you started out with. You can’t afford to leave anyone behind, or to allow enthusiasm for the change project to flag.  


The Anatomy of Acceleration 


Kotter’s book XLR8 (Accelerate): Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World (Harvard Business Review Press, 2014) builds on the concept undergirding the seventh step. The article was based on a book Kotter wrote that was published in the Harvard Business Review. A central goal is to help leaders maintain the genuine value they’ve added to their organizations through a change project.  


In the book, Kotter uses an abundance of examples to illustrate how change often comes all-too slowly. He also shows how change never gets easy or is permanent, due to the drag of inertia and a tendency to move back toward the default status.  


He highlights the fact that most organizations developed their current hierarchical structures to enable them to cope and survive in a competitive, zero-sum environment. Traditional hierarchies might suffice when it comes to perpetuating established processes. However, they aren’t capable of the radical regeneration and reconfiguration essential to the completion of a major change project.  


Kotter suggests a “dual operating system” consisting of both a new “strategy network” and the existing hierarchy. This network operates in concert with—but without the direct control of—the hierarchy. As a result, the business is leaner, meaner, and she nimbler. This allows organizations to take full advantage of emerging opportunities while maintaining the output needed to keep their balance sheets humming.  


Soup up Your Dual Operating System 


In his 2012 Harvard Business Review article, Kotter elaborated on the core principles that make up a well-functioning “dual operating system." He notes that your “volunteer army,” also referred to as your strategic network, ideally consists of about one-tenth of your team, including both management and front-line employees. This allows the regular business of your organization to move forward while the smaller network focuses on leading strategic change.  


To maintain the necessary energy of this network, they’ll need your support. They'll also need your permission to be true change agents. You’ll need to ensure that you provide this “volunteer army” with genuine emotional engagement with your change project. Raw data doesn’t drive passionate volunteers, and numbers alone won’t help you create meaningful and long-lasting change. Show this group that what they are doing contributes to meaningful and lasting change.  


Perhaps most important, you’ll need to rise to your highest level of leadership. While an organizational hierarchy can thrive under a competent manager, an innovative strategic network needs change leadership.  

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