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Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

Implementing Change Powerfully and Successfully

Kotter's 8 step image 3.JPG
We live in a world where “business as usual” is change. New initiatives, project-based working, technology improvements, staying ahead of the competition – these things come together to drive ongoing changes to the way we work. You know that the change needs to happen, but you don’t really know how to go about doing it. Where do you start? Whom do you involve? How do you see it through to the end?
There are many theories about how to “do” change. Many originate with Leadership and Change Management guru, John Kotter. A professor at Harvard Business School and world-renowned change expert, (http://www.hbs.edu/faculty/Pages/).

Kotter introduced his eight steps for leading change below.


Step 1: Create urgency

For change to happen, it helps if the whole team really understand the need for it. Develop a sense of urgency around the need for change. This may help you spark the initial motivation to get things moving. Open an honest and convincing dialogue about what’s happening in the organisation. If many people start talking about the change you propose, the urgency can build and feed on itself.

What you can do:

• Identify potential threats and develop scenarios explaining the context and how and why change is necessary
• Work together to examine opportunities that should be, or could be, exploited
• Encourage honest discussions and give dynamic and convincing reasons to get people talking and thinking
• Seek support from internal and external stakeholders to strengthen your argument
This isn't simply a matter of showing people poor statistics or talking about increased competition. Open an honest and convincing dialogue about what's happening in the sector and with your competition. If many people start talking about the change being proposed, the urgency can build and feed on itself.

What you can do:

• Identify potential threats, and develop scenarios showing what could happen in the future.
• Examine opportunities that should be, or could be, exploited.
• Start honest discussions, and give dynamic and convincing reasons to get people talking and thinking.
• Request support from customers, outside stakeholders and industry people to strengthen your argument.


Kotter suggests that for change to be successful, 75 percent of a team needs to "buy into" the change. In other words, you have to work really hard on Step 1, and spend significant time and energy building urgency, before moving onto the next steps. Don't panic and jump in too fast because you don't want to risk further short-term losses. Time spent investing now will ease the journey.

Step 2: 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.
You can find effective allies and supporters throughout your organisation – they don't necessarily follow the traditional hierarchy. To lead change, you need to bring together a coalition, or team,   from a variety of sources.
Once formed, your "change coalition" needs to work as a team, continuing to build urgency and momentum around the need for change.

What you can do:

• Identify the true leaders, allies and supporters in your organisation, as well as your key stakeholders
• Actively engage with key people.
• Work on using the strengths within your team
• Ensure that you have a good mix of people from different departments and different levels within the organisation. Identify any skill gaps and make a plan to mitigate these.

Step 3: Create a Vision for Change

A clear vision can help everyone understand why you're asking them to do something. When people see for themselves what you're trying to achieve, a change of direction will make more sense.

What you can do:

• Determine the values that are central to the change.
• Develop a short summary (one or two sentences) that captures what you "see" as the future of your organization. Link this vision to our values.
• Use the vision to help the team plan for the change.
• Ensure that your change coalition can describe the vision in five minutes or less.
• Refer to the vision often.

Step 4: 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 across the University so you need to communicate it frequently and powerfully, and embed it within everything that you do. Consider communication plans, key messages and the use of different channels of communication.
Don't just call special meetings to communicate your vision. Instead, talk about it every chance you get. Use the vision daily to make decisions and solve problems. When you keep it fresh on everyone's minds, they'll remember it and respond to it.
It's also important to "walk the talk." What you do is far more important – and believable – than what you say. Demonstrate the kind of behaviour that you want from others.

What you can do:

• Talk often about your change vision.
• Address peoples' concerns and anxieties, openly and honestly.
• Apply your vision to all aspects of operations – from training to performance reviews. Tie everything back to the vision.
• Lead by example.

Step 5: Remove Obstacles and encourage broad based action

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 team wants to get busy and achieve the benefits that you've been promoting.
But is anyone resisting the change? And are there processes or structures that are getting in its way?
Put in place the structure for change, and continually check for barriers to it. Removing obstacles can empower the people you need to execute your vision, and it can help the change move forward.

What you can do:

• Identify change champions whose main roles are to deliver the change.
• Look at the structure of your team; roles, responsibilities, processes and systems.
• Recognise people for making change happen.
• Identify people who are resisting the change, and support and motivate them
• Take action to quickly remove barriers and seek support as required

Step 6: Create Short-Term Wins

Nothing motivates more than success. Give your team 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 some "quick wins" that your team can see. Without this, scepticism may impede your progress.
Create short-term targets – not just one long-term goal. You want each smaller target to be achievable, with little room for failure. Your change team may have to work very hard to come up with these targets, but each "win" that you produce can further motivate the entire team.

What you can do:

• Look for quick-win projects that you can implement without help from any strong critics of the change.
• Thoroughly analyse the potential pros and cons of your targets. If you don't succeed with an early goal, it can impact your entire change initiative.
• Recognise the people who help you meet your goals.

Step 7: Build on the Change and never let up 

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.
Each success provides an opportunity to build on what went right and identify what you can improve and share new and different ideas.

What you can do:

• After every win, analyse what went right, and what needs improving.
• Set goals and continue building on the momentum you've achieved.
• Learn about the idea of continuous improvement.
• Keep ideas fresh by encouraging new ideas and innovative practice.

Step 8: Anchor the Changes in Culture

Finally, to make any change stick, it should become part of the core of your organization. Your  culture often determines what gets done, so the values behind your vision must show in day-to-day work.
Make continuous efforts to ensure that the change is seen in every aspect of your organization. This will help give that change a solid place in your organization's culture.
It's also important that your key stakeholders continue to support the change. This includes existing staff and new leaders who are brought in. If you lose the support of these people, you might end up back where you started.

What you can do:

• Talk about progress every chance you get. Tell success stories about the change process, and repeat other stories that you hear.
• Include the change ideals and values when recruiting and training new staff.
• Publicly recognise key members of your team and make sure the rest of the staff – new and old – have their contributions recognised.