Winning Approach to Change Management Beyond John Kotter


As the maxim by the famous Greek Philosopher Heraclitus goes -"Change is the only Constant". In today's enterprises, 'Change' is an imminent driver not only emanating from the Michael E. Porter's five forces from an external perspective but also from an internal perspective of an organization, where the change agenda could arise out of technology upgrades, system introduction, process improvements and above all bringing in behavioural change.

As every enterprise needs to focus on both top-line growth and capability development as two pivotal ends of the continuum, 'Change' is the only mantra to 'Sustainability'. Change agenda in an organization could be micro-incremental, system wide or even organization-wide transformation.

However, what most organizations suffer is the obvious fear of failure of the change initiative. Most business leaders overly assume the ramifications of the impact of change and are highly apprehensive about the change initiatives either at the initiation stage or when they figure the smallest of waves of resistance to change. Especially, those business leaders, who prioritize growth to capability development, prefer to negotiate with the change initiators rather than the resisting members to restore order or worst of all maintain status-quo.

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Therefore, the approach to change management is the key to the success of change agenda. Prof. John Kotter, the world-renowned change management guru in his famous book of 1995 titled 'Leading Change' introduced the popular 8-Step Model to successful change management. These eight steps that are detailed below address the commonly unique causes of failure of change management programs on the basis of years of his research which concluded that 70% of change initiatives fail because of the approach or process of change management adopted.

The 8- Step Model (excerpts from Prof. John Kotter's book- 'Leading Change') -

Step One: Create Urgency

For change to happen, it helps if the whole company really wants it. Develop a sense of urgency around the need for change. This may help you spark the initial motivation to get things moving.

Step Two: Form a Powerful Coalition

Convince people that change is necessary. This often takes strong leadership and visible support from key people within your organization. Managing change isn't enough - you have to lead it.

Step Three: Create a Vision for Change

When you first start thinking about change, there will probably be many great ideas and solutions floating around. Link these concepts to an overall vision that people can grasp easily and remember.

Step Four: Communicate the Vision

What you do with your vision after you create it will determine your success. Your message will probably have strong competition from other day-to-day communications within the company, so you need to communicate it frequently and powerfully, and embed it within everything that you do.

Step Five: Remove Obstacles

If you follow these steps and reach this point in the change process, you've been talking about your vision and building buy-in from all levels of the organization. Hopefully, your staff wants to get busy and achieve the benefits that you've been promoting.

Step Six: Create Short-term Wins

Nothing motivates more than success. Give your company a taste of victory early in the change process. Within a short time frame (this could be a month or a year, depending on the type of change), you'll want to have results that your staff can see. Without this, critics and negative thinkers might hurt your progress.

Step Seven: Build on the Change

Kotter argues that many change projects fail because victory is declared too early. Real change runs deep. Quick wins are only the beginning of what needs to be done to achieve long-term change.

Step Eight: Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture

Finally, to make any change stick, it should become part of the core of your

organization. Your corporate culture often determines what gets done, so the values behind your vision must show in day-to-day work.

Beyond the 8-Step Model - The critical 9th Step

Today, with the Indian Economy performing extraordinarily well, what with Indian entrepreneurs' acquisition of every business opportunity and growing meteorically, the greatest bottleneck they have been confronting is their failure to develop the organizational capability to deliver future growth.

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Though, organizations identify certain change agenda they do not adopt a holistic approach towards change management. Many enterprises have experienced that despite religious practice of Prof. Kotter's 8-Steps of change management, the change initiatives do not yet succeed in implementation and the scale of failures have caused a kind of a phobia towards change. In these organizations, the major common cause of failures is the underlying inappropriate assumption of the business leaders that driving change is the business of the staff functions and that it is adequate if they are just kept informed about the change initiatives. The comfort the business leaders draw through this approach is that they could avoid embarrassing confrontations with the resisting agents of change. Other business leaders assume that their tacit support to the change initiatives of staff functions would suffice and that they could also be spared from confrontations or embarrassment of leading from the front. Thereby, on the shop floor, the organizational change agenda ends up into a conflict of interests of the line and staff functions. Interestingly, the outcomes of both these approaches have met with failures despite advocacy of Prof. Kotter's 8- Step process.

The paramount cause of such failures is the fact that the change implementers who turn out to become members resisting the change do not consider that change initiatives are the business agenda of the enterprise and that the business leaders expect the change to be implemented. This is more so, in family managed business houses which are incidentally the major hi-growth companies in India, where the family representatives are placed in key positions in every business unit / function / department to facilitate internal control.

Therefore, the Critical Success Factor (CSF) of successful change implementation is not just the 8-steps of Prof. Kotter but the 'Leader's Sponsorship to the change agenda'. The organization should campaign internally through powerful and impacting communication that the change agenda is also the business agenda of the enterprise and that the business leaders actively sponsor the same. Only then would the target employees get inspired and motivated to positively and actively respond to the change programs.

Therefore, the first and foremost step that is essential for the success of Change Management is the 'Leader's Sponsorship of Change Initiative'. In as much as, this 9th Step would actually enable the success of Prof. Kotter's 8 Step Model of change management.

Change fails to happen, not because people don't want change.

It fails, not even because those who want to maintain the status quo are strong.

It fails for one reason and one reason only.

Because those who say they want change, do nothing to create it.

~ Mirza Yawar Baig