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Kotter John 8 Steps Of Critical Thinking

Any attempt at implementing change at an organizational level is a highly difficult task to accomplish, one that’s usually met with a varying degree of resistance. The ever-increasing need to quickly adapt to the changing needs of customers and business partners puts a lot of pressure on management to establish an effective change management strategy.

One of the most widely used change management strategies has been created by Dr. John Kotter, the founder of Kotter International and a recipient of numerous awards in the fields of business, leadership, and change. Commonly referred to as Kotter's 8-Step Change Model, this change management strategy describes eight steps organizations must take to enhance their ability to implement change initiatives successfully.

Kotter has outlined his model in his international bestseller, Leading Change, which is currently listed by TIME magazine as one of the top 25 most influential business management books ever written. These are the 8 steps:

1.   Establish A Sense Of Urgency

The first step is to spark a sense of urgency and convince all stakeholders how important it is for the proposed change to happen. This can be accomplished by openly discussing potential issues that may arise unless the change is implemented, going over its benefits, and by honestly answering all follow-up questions. Most employees are willing to walk an extra mile if they understand the reasons behind a proposed change.  

2.   Form A Guiding Coalition

No substantial change has ever happened in a vacuum. All key players and influencers within and outside the organization must be on board to champion the initiative, develop strategies to achieve the vision and get others on their side. As Martin Webster writes, even “hopelessly difficult teamwork problems can be overcome with courage and confidence in conviction.”

3.   Develop A Vision

While a sense of urgency can be established using facts and reasoning, a clear vision relies heavily on emotional commitment. It’s the same kind of commitment that’s behind large-scale socio-political changes, the work of humanitarian organizations, and world-changing initiatives. A clear vision and strategy for achieving the vision make change feel more concrete and can help employees achieve their goals faster.

4.   Communicate The Change Vision

With a clear vision developed, the next step is to communicate it in a way that resonates with those who are involved in its implementation. The more often you talk about the vision, the fresher it will feel and the more zealous everyone will be. The most efficient way to communicate a vision is through leading by example and demonstrating what is expected.

5.   Empower Employees For Broad-Based Action

Those employees who show the biggest potential to accelerate the rate at which the proposed change can be implemented should be adequately compensated and given the freedom to take guarded risks and think outside the box. Obstacles to change should also be eliminated at this point. On the other hand, employees who resist change must be identified in a timely manner and managed appropriately.

6.   Generate Short-Term Wins

The implementation of long-term change tends to lose some of its momentum as time goes on. One way to regain lost momentum is to create short-term wins and celebrate them as major steps on the road to success. Don’t forget to reward those who help you meet targets adequately.

7.   Consolidate Gains 

Every gain you make, no matter how large or small, holds the key to additional gains. You can discover these keys by analyzing what went right and what didn’t. This way, you can keep on improving and producing more change for as long as you’re able to keep ideas fresh. At this stage, the credibility attained so far can be used to change any existing systems, policies, and structures that do not fit the vision. Employees who can push the vision forward may also be hired, promoted or trained to further empower them.

8.   Anchor The Change

“Ensure that the change becomes an integral part of your organizational culture and is visible in every organizational aspect,” write MSG Experts. The urgency that was created in the first of the eight steps should be retained.


Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model is a useful approach for implementing change successfully and with the least level of resistance possible. The easy-to-follow nature of the model makes it suitable for organizations and businesses of all sizes.

John Kotter's eight step model heavily influences current thinking on organisational change.  Here's a brief summary of the model, along with thoughts on its strengths and weaknesses, supplied by Larry Reynolds.

What is the model?

Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School, says that organisations frequently make the same mistakes when trying to bring about change – they allow too much complacency, they fail to communicate and so on. According to him, these failures can be avoided by following eight specific steps, in the right order. Here they are:

1.     Establish a sense of urgency
All too often organisations get into the ‘what' and the ‘how' of change, without really addressing the most important question of all – why? The change will fail unless people know the answers to the questions ‘why change?' and ‘why change now?'

2.     Create the guiding coalition
Before deciding exactly what the change will be, you need to put together a group of people who are in broad agreement about the kind of change needed. Jim Collins says something similar in Good to Great, where he encourages leaders to get the right people on the bus, before articulating the details of the change.

3.     Develop a vision and strategy
Kotter is very clear what a vision is: it's not a vague aspiration, but a ‘picture of the future with some implicit or explicit commentary on why people should strive to create that future'. In other words, it's a big, exciting goal.

4.     Communicate the change vision
Use metaphors and examples, and use different communication channels to continue repeating the message.

5.     Empower employees for broad based action
Make sure people have the skills, the tools and the systems to bring about the change

6.     Generate short term wins
It's common for change initiatives to lose momentum quite early on. A lot of hard work is usually involved before the benefits of the change become apparent. Create short term wins to keep people motivated.

7.     Consolidate gains and produce more change
Don't give up too soon.

8.     Anchor new approaches into the culture
It's common to think that unless you change the organisational culture, nothing really changes. Hence the many change initiatives that are specifically focused on changing organisational culture. Kotter thinks that attempting to change culture first is a mistake – better to make the practical changes to structures, processes and behaviour and let these changes lead to a culture change.

The Pros and Cons of Kotter's 8 Step Model

The greatest strength of Kotter's model is its first two steps – creating a sense of urgency and creating the guiding coalition. Far too many leaders lurch into a programme of organisational upheaval without having properly convinced people first that there is a genuine need for change. Often leaders think they can drive change by the force of their own personality, rather than genuinely engaging a broader group of people who also understand the need for change. Individuals seldom have all the skills and insights needed to bring about successful organisational change. That's why a change leadership group – a guiding coalition as Kotter puts it – is so useful.

Kotter's approach provides a very robust checklist of most of the things you need to think about during the change process. One very skilled change leader I once worked with forgot to make sure that her organisation's IT systems were aligned with the new change, and this came close to destroying the whole project. Kotter's fifth step would have reminded her to make sure the right systems were in place.

The need to create short terms wins just as people are beginning to lose faith in the whole change process is also a very useful insight for change leaders.

On the downside, there are three principal drawbacks to Kotter's model.

First, it is essentially a top down model. Kotter has a lot of experience of working with organisations on big change projects, and most of that experience is with very large corporations. If you are in a setting where people expect a more participative or bottom up approach to change, something like appreciative enquiry is likely to be more useful.

Secondly, it is a bit mechanistic. Organisations are not just machines, they are also communities of people. As a checklist, the model is great – as a step by step prescription for change, it is less useful than Peter Senge's work on systems theory.

Finally, although Kotter's model is very strong on initiating change, I can't help feeling it's bit weak at sustaining it. Step seven in particular – ‘consolidate gains and produce more change' – doesn't give much in the way of specific guidance for sustaining change.

We're running a course onLeading and Managing Change - 9 July 2015 in London.

See also NHS Culture Change Resources

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