Kotter's Eight Step Change Model

John P. Kotter

John P. Kotter's works have made his name is synonymous with change. Kotter, a Harvard Emeritus Professor, speaker and author has committed a great deal to the study of leadership and change over the years. His 8 step model is taught on all the leading business schools and is practically a religion among some of the big consultancies.

Kotter is the author of 20 books on the subject of leadership and change. Twelve of these have been business bestsellers and two were overall New York Times bestsellers

Kotter's Eight Step Change Model

When researching his model, Kotter studied over 100 companies who were going through some kind of significant change. His research identified eight common errors that were made during change programs. In order, they are:

  1. Allowing too much complacency. Anyone who has been around projects for a while will be familiar with the phrase 'projects go wrong one day at a time'. Kotter found that it was common for organisations to assume problems could be assessed and dealt with at a later date.
  2. Failing to build a substantial Coalition. It is common for change programs to have their detractors. But when these are not managed effectively, they are likely to scupper the initiative.
  3. Underestimating the need for a clear vision. Lewis Carroll once pithily noted that "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there". The reality is worse than that. Kotter noted that without a clear vision of the desired end result, change initiatives can end up leading nowhere.
  4. Failing to clearly communicate the vision. It may be the case that your management team have a clear vision of the end result. They may even have a good idea of how to get there. But if the vision is not shared by all those involved in realizing it, then it is unlikely to be achieved.
  5. Permitting Roadblocks against the vision. If legacy structures or processes remain in place, this can be interpreted as poor commitment to the project. 
  6. Not planning and getting short-term wins. Change programs can be lengthy and require continuous reinforcement of the belief that the effort will be successful. Without 'quick-wins' change efforts risk looking traction and support.
  7. Declaring victory too soon. Celebrating short term goals is a good thing, but the change program is not over until the changes are embedded in the culture and systems of the organization. 
  8. Not anchoring changes in corporate culture. change sticks only when it becomes 'The way we do things around here'

To mitigate these common errors, Kotter advocated an 8-step model as follows:

  1. Establish a sense of Urgency
  2. Create a Coalition
  3. Develop a Clear Vision
  4. Share the vision
  5. Empower people to clear obstacles
  6. Secure short-term wins
  7. Consolidate and keep moving
  8. Anchor.

However, he reviewed and refined the model in 2014 and released a new version, shown in the diagram below:

Kotter-8-step-model-2014.PNG

COPYRIGHT 2017 KOTTER INTERNATIONAL

The updated version of Kotter's model resolves one of the major criticisms of the 1996 model. The original was a sequential model that followed a strict waterfall approach. In today's fast-moving world (indeed, even in back in 1996) it seems absurd that a team should wait for the Vision to be shared with the whole organization, before moving on to empower people and start thinking about quick-wins. 

In the 2014 update, Kotter advocates running the 8-steps concurrently and continuously, and the model is flexible enough for even the most flexible of organizational structures. Continuing to refer to the 8 focus areas as 'steps' feels like a missed opportunity to reinforce the need for continuous improvement. Steps is a very waterfall term. But, that criticism aside, the new model has a lot going for it. So lets take a look at the steps in more detail:

  1. Create a sense of urgency. Identify what it is you want to do. Leaders must describe an opportunity that will appeal to the heads and hearts. For change to succeed, this needs to be inspiring to the people working to make the change a reality.
  2. Build a Guiding Coalition. Kotter advises pulling together a volunteer team of effective people from within the organization, who can guide, coordinate and communicate change activities.
  3. Form a Strategic Vision and Initiatives. Define the vision for the future, and the activities that will make that vision a reality.
  4. Enlist a Volunteer Army. Your coalition is guiding, but to make change happen requires an army. To be successful, you'll need a sizable body of employees excited about the change, and able to take action to deliver the outcomes.
  5. Enable Action by Removing Barriers. Those of you familiar with Scrum, may recognize this from the role of the ScrumMaster. The principle here is the same. Removing barriers such as inefficient processes, or legacy structures, you create the environment needed to support your change initiative.
  6. Generate Short-Term Wins. Big wins can take time to deliver. Look for opportunities to deliver short-term wins that can energize your teams to drive the change forwards. Crucially, the small changes need to be aligned with the vision so people can see clearly the direction the organization is moving in.
  7. Sustain Acceleration. The goal is to build up speed, and then maintain it. To do this, you need to build up organizational stamina, and have strong change leadership.
  8. Institute Change. As noted earlier in this article, it is important to make the change stick. It needs to become 'the way we do things around here'. Kotter advocates building and communicating the links between the behaviours that are valued in the changed organization, and organization's success.

When to use Kotter's Eight Step Change Model

The 8-step model is suitable for any significant change initiative. For PMO professionals, the model is a good one to use for setting up the PMO from scratch, or turning around a failing PMO. 

You may also find yourselves advocating this approach on significant change projects or transformations within your organization or supply chain.

Further Reading

*Note, these link relates to the original 8-step model, not the 2014 update.