Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

John Kotter, leadership and change management professor at Harvard Business School, introduced his ground-breaking 8-Step Change Model in his 1995 book, “Leading Change”. Built on the work of Kurt Lewin, the model sets out the 8 key steps of the changes process, arguing that neglecting any of the steps can be enough for the whole initiative to fail.

Step One: Create Urgency

The idea of a change being necessary for the success of the organisation can be very powerful. If you can create an environment where individuals are aware of an existing problem and can see a possible solution it is likely support for the change will rise. Generating conversation about what is happening and what direction the organisation could go in will help to achieve this. One way to kick-start this is to create a forum where issues and potential solutions are raised and discussed. This step is all about preparation and Kotter estimates that roughly 75% of a company’s management needs to be behind a change for it to be successful. This emphasises his point that it is important to prepare well before jumping into the change process. This step creates the ‘need’ for change, rather than just a ‘want’ for change. The difference is very important when it comes to the likely support and eventual success of the change.

Step Two: Form a Powerful Coalition

It will be very hard to lead the whole change process on your own, and therefore it is important to build a coalition to help you direct others. The coalition you build should be made up of a range of skills, a range of experience and people who come from different areas of the business, to maximise its effectiveness.  The coalition can help you to spread messages throughout the organisation, delegate tasks and ensure there is support for the change organisation-wide. Team members that collaborate, complement each other and can drive each other to work harder will make your life easier and the change more likely to be successful.

Step Three: Create a Vision for Change

A change initiative is likely to be very complicated and can often be hard to understand, in particular for employees at the lower end of the hierarchy. For this reason, creating a vision that is easy to understand and encapsulates the overall aim is a useful way of generating support from the whole organisation. While this vision should be simple and understandable, it also needs to be inspirational to have maximum effect.

Step Four: Communicate the Vision

Creating the vision is not enough to generate support for it, it then needs to be communicated throughout the organisation. This is an excellent opportunity to utilise the coalition you have built up, as between them they are likely to have networks in every area of the business. It is important to continuously communicate this message as it is likely that competing messages are also being spread.

Step Five: Remove Obstacles

The first four steps are essential in building the strength of your change initiative, but it is also important to look for what is likely to reduce its chances for success. Whether its individuals, traditions, legislations or physical obstacles, it is likely there will be a few barriers blocking your change’s path. Identify these as early as possible and rely on available resources to break them down, without disrupting any other areas of the business.

Step Six: Create Short-Term Wins

Change processes often take a while to reap any rewards and this can cause support to fall if individuals think their effort has been wasted. For this reason, it is important to demonstrate the advantages of the new process by creating some short-term wins. Shorter term targets are also useful tools for motivation and direction. Using these wins to justify investment and effort can help to re-motivate staff to continue backing the change.

Step Seven: Build on the Change

Many change processes fail as complacency creeps in towards the end and project are not finished properly. Therefore, Kotter argues it is important to sustain and cement the change for long after it has been accomplished. Keep setting goals and analysing what could be done better for continued improvement.

Step Eight: Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture

Simply changing the habits and processes of employees is not always enough to instil a culture change across the organisation. The changes should become part of the core of your organisation to have a lasting effect. Keeping senior stakeholders on board, encouraging new employees to adopt the changes and celebrating individuals who adopt the change will all help to promote the change to the core of your organisation.

The main reason that Kotter outlines these steps is to emphasise that change is not a simple and quick process. Many steps of planning are required and even when the change has been implemented there is still a lot to do to ensure it is successful. Kotter argues that 70% of change initiatives fail, and attributes this to the fact that most organisations do not put in the necessary preparation or see the project through correctly. Following these steps ensure your change initiative is more likely to be a long-term success.

Kotter, John P. (1996). Leading Change. Boston, Mass.: Harvard Business School Press, 1996. Print.