Kotter claimed that 'the methods used in successful transformations are all based on one fundamental insight: that major change will not happen for a long list of reasons'. Kotter's eight-stage process is: 1. Establishing a Sense of Urgency. 2. Creating the Guiding Coalition. 3. Developing a Vision and Strategy. 4. Communicating the Change Vision. 5. Empowering Broad-Based Action. 6. Generating Short-Term Wins. 7. Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change. 8. Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture. In order to evaluate Kotter's eight-stage process, it is essential to have a fully understanding of the theory. Kotter's theory describes a successful change process, from creating the change (the first three stages), then implementing the change (the 4,5and 6 stages), at last consolidating the benefit and bind it with the new organizational culture.
In terms of creating the change, Kotter believed that in most situations organization should create changes in advance rather than being panic discussing solutions when change is needed. At least 75% of managers must believe 'the status quo is more dangerous than the unknown'. (Kotter 1995) In order to create a change, Kotter argued that leaders or organization should help the staff or employees to understand the importance of making changes. Only when people who involved in the change process understand why and how change will happen then change could be undertaken. After most of the involved understand the potential benefits of the change, a team which contain different skilled member will come into being to lead and guide the change. Then this team will create a plan and strategy for the organization to undertake the change. This team is crucial in the whole change procedure. This team will set the vision and develop the plan for the change, therefore if there is misleading in the plan or vision, the whole change process will go to failure, and the organization will lose both financially and mentally from the employees. Therefore the creating change process is crucial in the whole change process. On the other hand, the procedure of change is important as well. For the 4, 5 and 6 stages, Kotter emphases the importance of remove the barriers and obstacles both from staffs' old perceptions and the old rules. In these stages communication is important. Communication is the only means that employees from the bottom can get information for the change. Though it is important for the team to develop the right and practical plan to change, however, it is as the same as important that people involved in the change get and understanding the right direction of the change procedure. Kotter also suggested that organizations should set some short term goals that can be easily achieved therefore people who involved in the change process can be inspires and they can see the bright future of successful change. In the final stages, the change is undertaking on its track, therefore Kotter argued that in these stages organizations should consolidate the benefits they get during the change and develop them. If there are any problems that happened during the change this will be the time to fix it, to make the whole organization change smoothly. If there are some parts that is not fit for the change plan, promote or hire new staffs to fix the problem and put forward new project to make the change flow. After the seven stages, organizations have the brand new approaches in administrating and managing. Here comes the key issue, to keep the new approaches and behaviour as the norm of the organizational culture. Keep the new leadership and ensure the new ways of managing and operating of the organization as a part of the whole organization. After all the process is finished, the organization has changed its way of behaving, people within it have also changed their perception of the organization. After all the effort now the organization has its new start and long time to examine whether the change is a success or not.
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In terms of the assumption of the theory, Mabey et.al (1998) argued that there are three key areas about the assumption: the assumptions about intentions of change; the assumptions about implementing change and assumptions about interpretation of change. Kotter's theory describes change as normal and desirable. Kotter believed that proper change is positive to company's operation. He believed that the result of change will bind with organization's culture and will be part of its success in the future. However, is change really unavoidable? Has every leader gotten the result they wanted? The answer is no. Dopson and Stewart (1993) found that UK manager in the middle level more resist rather than accept the change. They regard change as abnormal and a decision from the board rather than a competitive threat. However, Crouch et al. (1992) support that managers 'act in ways that convert exogenous into endogenous change.' 'It is not a defensive denial of change, but rather a bid to better it'. The result is that though change is desirable, there are still contradictions that whether change is unavoidable. In terms of the implementation of the change, Kotter proposed the eight-stage process as a standard process, planned and predictable. He gave out the procedure: communicating with employees and then empower them to remove the barriers. The model is too idealised, however, Mabey et al. (1998) supported that the success of change depends on the human resource management consciousness of the organization. Creating a positive force for change and demonstrating the need for change is helpful for the successful change. On the other hand they also argued that 'the response, reaction and countervailing forces are un predictable.' In the final part, the interpretation of the assumption differentiates for people's understanding of the communication. The aim of Kotter's theory is to create an environment that change will bring new strength to the organizations. However, change is more described as an ideological pattern or political choice, but the 'detailed consequences and inner logic of the alternative system are rarely subjected to critical analysis (Morgan 1986).
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Kotter proposed the theory after observing over 100 companies. The evidence covered almost every sort of corporations, for example Ford, British Airway. Though these administrations faced different barriers in the changing process, however, the 'basic goals are the same: to make fundamental changes in in how business is conducted in order to help cope with a new, challenging market environment' (kotter 1995). He also argued that from the successful cases, there are similar points we can learn: change come through in stages during years' effort. Skipping stages pursuing change speed can easily lead organizations to failure change. Another key point is that there are critical errors in different stages that will have significant negative impact on the change process. In Kotter's research (1995), he found only in the first stage, there are 50% of the companies failed, some of the CEOs underestimated the hardness of driving employees out of the comfortable status quo, and some of them overestimate how successfully they created the urgency. He stated that 'one CEO deliberately engineered the largest accounting loss in the history of the history of the company' in order to create the sense of urgency. The communication phase is crucial and supported by Evink (1996) 'Employees have no opportunity to adopt a process that has never been communicated to them.' Kotter found that if the communication phase is not successful, employees are not willing to help to change even though they are not satisfied with the status quo. Some creative evidence is that companies modify the newsletter into lively articles about the vision. These are the evidence of the theory based on, however, there are also other evidences, these are the aspects that organization often easily underestimates.
Where there is evidence, there will be circumstances that the theory can be fruitfully applied. Stragalas (2010) argued that the eight-stage process proposed 'by Kotter, is more appropriately classified as a change implementation model.' He also claimed that Kotter's theory apllies in the situation that 'Managers must also be positive, visible role models, offering proactive explanations to illustrate the connection between new approaches and improved organizational performance'. This related to the first stage about the creating the sense of urgency. Kotter's theory applies to the organization that almost the whole company desire to change. For companies that want to get benefits in a short time through change, Kotter's theory is not the best option. Change step by step needs time and there are not short cuts in Kotter's theory. In one word, Kotter's theory applies to companies that whole organization willing to change through a long period of time.
In terms of the strengths and weaknesses of Kotter's theory, there are different views about it. As Kotter himself argued, change needs time. One of the biggest advantages of Kotter's theory is that he emphasized that there is no short cut for change. The only way to successful change is to be patient, going through the stages step by step. Evink (1997) support that 'Even the best transformation processes take years to play out in organizations.' However, this is also the disadvantage of Kotter's theory, no short cuts, need time for the change process. Managers cannot see the benefits immediately. On the other hand Kotter suggested managers to set short-term goals in order to stimulate employees constantly. In the stage afterwards, however, Kotter's idea about consolidating the benefits may put more pressure on employees, this is another disadvantage. In the fourth phase Kotter emphasized the importance of communication with the broad-based employees. As the participants of the whole process, employees have the right to understand the vision and benefits of change. Evink (1997) support that 'Companies that have developed an understandable and worthy vision are likely to stumble if they don't communicate their thoughts to the rest of the organization'. Focusing on communication is another advantage of Kotter's theory. However, Stragalas (2010) argued that 'In analysing Kotter's model from an organizational practitioner's perspective, the stages and action steps are clear, but broad.'
Though Kotter's theory has many advantages, however, as Stragalas argued, there are still ways to improve it. Sragalas (2010) advised that 'Organizational development professionals should devote considerable energy to the design of corporate-wide development tools and measures that proactively develop core change management competencies.' He suggested four skill sets: Communicating specifics regarding expected change process results; Using "building up" and "breaking down" language to generate understanding and commitment, where establishing understanding is the first priority; developing high-quality leader member exchange relationships to increase employee receptivity to change; Supporting innovation and improvisation. These are the skills that will help managers to make the change go through smoothly.
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