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John P. Kotter is a leading author and authority in Change Management. This article is a review of Kotter's excellent work on the management of change outlined in his book Leading Change. I will first summarize Kotter's model of change in the book, and then assess Kotter's model critically in relation to several other prominent frameworks for managing change.
Who is John Kotter?
John Kotter joined the faculty of Harvard Business School faculty in 1972.At the age of 33, he was given tenure and a full professorship in 1980.Now he is Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus at Harvard Business School.
Kotter's Model of Change:
Kotter's model is very simple to understand and describe. In Leading Change, he says that the most of the Change Management efforts fail because of the following discrepancies in the organizations policies.
They emphasize on too much complacency.
They don't allow the creation of a powerful coalition which can fulfill the organization's objectives.
They fail to realize the importance of vision.
They do not communicate the vision in a effective manner.
Ultimately a lot of obstacles are created in the way of vision development.
Failing to give importance to the short term objectives.
Declaring victory too soon
Usually show stubbornness in bringing about changes in the corporate structure.
Keeping in view the above short falls, Kotter suggests an 8-stage process for managing organizational change that addresses each one of these concerns and turns them around to a key stage in the successful management of change. His suggestions are:-
A sense of urgency should be established in the organization.
Within the organization a guiding coalition should be established.
A lot of importance should be given to the development of a vision and effective strategy.
The change vision should be properly communicated within the organization.
Through proper communication of vision empowering a broad base of people to take action.
Short terms objectives should be included in the strategies of the organization.
Consolidating gains and producing even more change
New ideas and changes should be encouraged and thus anchored in to the corporate culture.
Kotter's model of change is reproduced in the following diagram, reproduced from Leading Change:
In the first stage Kotter emphasizes on the breaking the status quo. It is based on the idea that the organisation should not be run on the old and stubborn principles. Change the key to success. So the management of the organization must make sure that timely changes are made in its policies to keep up with the time to make the difference not only for the outside world but also for the healthy environment of the organization.
In the third stage the organization should set a clear and proper direction to introduce and then provide the guideline about that change effort. Infact the, third stage should start before the second stage and should be developed in conjunction with the first stage .Third stage is about creating vision which will help to direct that change effort. After that the coalition group should be developed which have enough power to lead the change.
Kotter is of the view that it is not possible to involve all the people in the process of change. So he thinks that it is better to give few people short term objective to achieve, which will help in building momentum for that change. In this way the second, sixth, seventh and eighth stages are about building momentum for change and consolidating it to enable further progress in achieving change. It is also important to generate and celebrate visible wins and to consolidate and reinforce the achievements of change when they do occur.
Kotter is of the view that the change should be over communicated, which is totally in contrast with the view that in the change management the change can almost never be over-communicated. The change messages must be communicated both realistically and in terms of powerful symbolic changes demonstrating management's commitment adoption of new strategy.
And in the end the change should penetrate in the organization comprehensively so that everybody in it can feel it, by its outcome and improve in the performance of the persons working in it.
Kotter's explanation of 8 stages of change embodied in 8 successive chapters of the book give different aspects and discussion forums for management relating dilemmas. He provides some very useful and interesting tips for developing urgency in the first stage.
Kotter is of the view that people don't change just because of the introduction of some new bullet points or symbols, but they only change when the change messages are communicated reach their hearts and minds.
It is very obvious that the Kotter's 8 stage model which is outlined in the Leading Change has stood the test of time and is still very reliable and also it has left a deep impact on the management skill. Many consultants and executives have found it a useful model to orient efforts to successfully manage a wide variety of stages. Kotter himself notes that "almost immediately" his 1995 article on Leading Change in HBR "jumped to first place among the thousands of reprints sold by the review.
It is worth noting that similar frameworks to Kotter's 1995 8-stage framework were introduced previously, for example the 1990 7-stage framework presented in the article "Why Change Programs Don't Produce Change" by Beer, Eisenstat and Spector, also published in the Harvard Business Review (November-December 1990 issue), or the 1992 "Ten Commandments of Change" framework proposed by Kanter, Stein and Schick in their book Challenge of Organizational Change.
For example, Beer, Eisenstat and Spector's framework included the following stages:
Firstly mobilize energy and commitment through joint identification of business problems and their solutions
After that developing a shared vision
Third stage is about identification of the leadership
Then the focus should be on the results.(not activities)
The idea so to start change and then let it spread to other units without pushing from the top.
Then anchoring success through formal policies, systems, and structures
At the same time it is very important to monitor and adjust the strategies and polices in response to problems in the change process.
The above mentioned stages of Beer, Eisenstat and Spector's framework shows the similarities between the two prior frameworks highlighted and Kotter's framework indicate that there was good work on the management of change along the lines proposed by Kotter well before Kotter's publication.
When we go deeply in the Kotter's framework given in 8 stages for managing change, it is worth mentioning that he gives the credit of his ideas to the executives experience and the problems which they face while implementing change in the work place. The executives were truly inspired by this 8 stage road map and they started to be more communicative, helping people, talk about transformation, change problems and change strategies." Given that Kotter's framework is much better known today than Beer, Eisenstat and Spector's framework (Beer and Nohria's work on Theory E and Theory O published in their HBR article "Cracking the Code of Change" is however very widely known) or the "Ten Commandments" model indicates that there is the possibility that the simplicity and accessibility of the framework in a simple review in a prominent journal, followed by the book and field book, may have along with the resonance of the issues raised with management experience been significant factors in achieving the high levels of adoption and influence.
Infact there are very positive aspects regarding Kotter's model and they are applied in their true spirits many problem and pitfalls in the organization can very easily be avoided and hence it becomes really very easy to bring any sort of change within the organisation. But still Kotter believed that there is still room for improvement in his modes. In Leading Change, he writes that:
Many interesting questions were left unanswered, especially about how people more specifically achieved what was described in the book for example, noted that while the book is long on the "what" of leading change, it is short on the "how." It tells me what needs to be done, which I essentially already knew but it doesn't tell me specifically how to go about doing it. The proposed 8-step change program is a great framework or skeleton. In this case, I would have liked to see some more meat on the bones.
A second concern lies with the listing of 8 stages. Do these stages always need occur in every change effort? Do they always need to occur in the same order? It is by no means clear to me that this should be so. For example, you might want to begin forming the vision before selecting the guiding coalition (as proposed in the Beer, Eisenstat and Spector framework above), so that the right people can be selected for the guiding coalition, who will then be on-board for the change program.
Similarly, do the 8 stages constitute a fixed method, or a checklist for ticking off change management steps, and assuming that everything will then go well? The above reviewer, for example, suggests that:
Listing eight steps in planned change could encourage leaders to adopt a check-off mentality--"We're just now finishing step three and moving into step four. "That mentality oversimplifies the process and fails to recognize the both complexities and the interdependencies of planned change.
If we assess the Kotter's model of managing change, it is worth to notice that Kotter model is focused on organizational activities initiated to bring about change. It stays on the top, say mountain top, and does not come down into valleys to explain in detailed manner the process of helping individual work through communication and assessing their psychology and that what will be the impact on them after the adoption of new strategies and planning. By covering the need for communication, the removal of obstacles to performing the changed processes and activities, and the need to reinforce change by realigning organizational incentives, Kotter covers much of the content described in, for example, the Prosci ADKAR model in his framework.
However, the reader needs to move beyond the high level framework and into the content of the discussion to find this articulated clearly and it is not as forward as simply and forcefully. Kotter does not go into the detail of the psychology involved in managing change covered in alternative change models such as the Bridges model of Managing Transitions or the Jellison J-Curve approach, in which individuals need to move through letting go of the past, move through disorientation while learning new approaches, skills and behaviors, and confronting the temporary 'dip' in performance and effectiveness as they move away from old ways that they have optimized and begin to gain familiarity with the new and ultimately more effective activities, behaviours, roles and identities.
While Kotter clearly has extensive experience working with a range of organisations on significant change initiatives, the case for each of the problems (complacency, lack of a guiding coalition etc) presented in Leading Change is typically made by means of reference to a handful of representative case examples only, put forward in an anecdotal fashion. There is very little effort by Kotter to tie each of the claimed problem areas to empirical, peer-reviewed evidence, or to provide a broad representative range of case examples illustrating the evidence to support each of these claims. Neither Leading Change nor The Heart of Change provides the reader with a bibliography of references, highlighting that Kotter provided very few references to other scholarly research.
When we critically go through the Kotter's work on Leading Change ,we will fine some ,missing links in it and it seems to be a little bit weaker . It could have been better than that. This is not because Kotter could not provide such linkages; it is because Kotter did not. Kotter makes this detail in his comments in the preface to Leading Change where he says that omitting references (in contrast to his practice in his previous books) makes this work more "personal."
However this possible weakness is addressed to some extent in the follow-up book The Heart of Change.In which more serious attempts have been made to look at a broad range of case examples as Deloittte's research team, headed by Dan Cohen, interviewed over 90 U.S., European, Australian and South African organisations (all Deloitte customers) about their experiences with the management of change.
The Kotter model of managing change is a useful framework for orienting change management activity, but rather than treating it is a standalone model that covers 'everything we need to know about the management of change' it is useful to regard it as a model that is complementary to other approaches to the management of change such as the William Bridges model of managing transitions and the Jellison J-Curve approach. In approaching change, it is useful to combine the insights from these models of change into one integrated approach.
In summary, the Kotter model for managing change introduced in Leading Change remains one of the most highly regarded and useful frameworks for managing change.
Kotter's model is very useful in generating new ideas, thoughts and activities; it may not be productive to attempt to use it as a hard and fast process or methodology for managing change. The methods mentioned in different stages should be adapted to suit the environment and keeping in view the ground reality.
In practice it may frequently be useful to combine Kotter's framework for conceptualizing and organizing change management activity with some of the other leading change models which engage more closely with the psychological processes of change that individuals have to go through when they are asked to move to new behaviors, activities, roles and identities in an organisation, such as the insights presented in complementary change management models such as the Bridges model of Managing Transitions or the Jellison J-Curve approach.
Despite of all its good and innovative points regarding bringing change in the managerial activities, but the Kotter's model in Leading Change should not be thought as the last word on managing change. Kotter himself found room for improvement with his book The Heart of Change.
In the meanwhile, Kotter's model of managing change remains one of the key tools in the arsenal of change managers, and of consultants educating executive management through the process of change. It is worth reading each chapter of Leading Change in detail to absorb Kotter's thoughts on the dynamics involved in each stage and understand clearly the flavour of Kotter's message - and then repeating again with the additional examples and insights in The Heart of Change.
At the end Kotter's framework is useful for orienting action around the change process and anticipating and troubleshooting potential problem areas - and perhaps that is the best outcome we can ask for from a Change Management tool.
Kotter's model can be implemented and followed by the executives at all level. His model is very comprehensive and easy to understand. He advises those who would implement change to foster a sense of urgency within the organization. "A higher rate of urgency does not imply ever-present panic, anxiety, or fear. It means a state in which complacency is virtually absent.
Persons, who are at the executive level, try number of things and adopt different strategies to make their organization a success story. But during this process they face number of problems, so it becomes very important to evolve such a strategy which helps them in achieving their objective with more ease and also the reasons of their failure in bringing change in the organization. Kotter now offers a practical approach to an organized means of leading, not managing, change, his sound advice gets directly at reasons that organizations fail to change, reasons that concern primarily the leader. His work is very solid and substantive and holds uniqueness which you cannot find anywhere.