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John Kotter is known for his
unrelenting work in understanding and accomplishing true, effective
organizational change. In general, firms establish cultural expectations at the
conception of a firm—large or small. Culture embeds itself within company employees
from one worker to the next. Kotter begs the solution for seeking and
implementing change when established norms no longer service the needs of the
organization. When major evolution is necessary for the survival for the
business, how does an organization execute resonating, effective, and
sustainable change? Kotter offers a comprehensive 8-step approach to ensure
quality change for organizations of any size.

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            Change can be an intimidating
and uncertain, but necessary challenge that many organizations encounter to maintain
profitability, productivity, and competitive edge. John Kotter has conducted
over 400 interviews from individuals from 130 companies in the last decade to
observe and understand the victories and pain points of organizational change.
Through his observation, he found that the important part of change is not just
the implementation, but also the follow through. Change should be a medium to
the truth of organizational growth and improvement not only evident in company
policy shifts, but also an overall shift in employees’ attitudes and


Strategic planning and policy shifts are the simple part of
change, and most organizations stop there. The expectation is that as the
company changes, employees should follow in suite. In general, there lacks an
effort to sell the change to employees. This is a big mistake. If employees are
the heart of an organization, then they must also be the heart of true,
effective, and long-lasting change. Kotter recognized the gap between the implementation
of company change and the whole-hearted adoption of a new culture by the
entirety of the organization. Kotter found that organizations commonly
overlooked the following 8-steps that are necessary for organizational change:

1)    Increase

5) Empower

2)    Build
the Guiding Team

6) Create
Short-term Wins

3)    Get
the Vision Right

7) Don’t Let Up

4)    Communicate
for Buy-in

8) Make Change


Increase Urgency

first step of Kotter’s 8-step approach seems simple but is incredibly
important. Initial urgency is the snowflake that the giant snowball of
long-lasting change stems from. Urgency sets the tone for the entire attitude
and importance of organization change from the beginning. If the urgency from
the beginning is flat and inconsistent, the challenge of determining a solid,
buildable sense of urgency will continuously need to be addressed taking away
from the subsequent steps of this process.

is sometimes hindered by those who are supposed to be participating in the act
of change and are generally categorized by four attitudes: complacency,
immobilization, stubbornness, and pessimism. The overall foundation of these
attitudes lies in a lack of motivation. In the text Organizational Behavior and Management, motivation in job
performance is identified in three ways: willingness to perform, capacity to
perform, and opportunity to perform. Each negative attitude toward change can
be addressed by one of the three motivation indicators given by Ivancevich,
Konopaske, and Matteson (p. 111). All employees have the opportunity to perform
in an organization’s need for urgency—it is up to management to then provide the
capacity and tools to perform and then employees to demonstrate willingness to
embrace the opportunity and the capacity to perform. Change leaders begin the
most important and foundations of sustainable change. “Seeing is believing,” so
presenting an issue and inspiring the idea that change is necessary to improve
circumstances is essential to the true essence of creating meaningful change.

Build The Guiding Team

next step to Kotter’s approach is building a diverse team to drive the change
force. It is important that this team is made up of many different individuals
with varying backgrounds and varying interactions and relationships with others
in the organization. It is not enough for this team to have executive power—the
goal is the team carries out the subsequent steps to change. These team members
should have multiple degrees of connection with others in the organization, leadership
skills and credibility, and their expertise in the particular department should
inform the group of how the change strategy affects a particular business unit.
The idea is that the guiding group reaches out to and represent a whole
organization in a tangible format that can translate change to the rest of

Konopaske, and Matteson touch on the necessity and origins of groups in their
text stating that “one of the most compelling reasons people join groups is
because they believe members in a particular group will help them to satisfy
one or more important needs” (p.  272). At
one point or another, change is deemed necessary for the common interest for
the success of the company. So, it is important that the guiding team is not
only a well-rounded group of leaders, but all amicable and ready to work
together to solve any issue and pave the way for success for the entire
organization. Further, their text also enforces the benefits of a diverse
working group stating that “heterogeneous groups may outperform homogenous ones
in certain situations because they have a richer variety of knowledge,
information, and experience to draw on” (p. 266). Since the outcome of true
change is so important and the ultimate end goal, it is important that
organizations seek the strongest leadership group possible to communicate and
execute plans for change.

Get The Vision Right

vision is important because it paints a simplistic yet critical image about the
goals which the organization seeks that justify the change presented. Since the
vision will be communicated to the entire organization, the vision should be
concise, understandable, and very effective. Kotter listed suggestions for
vision success and suggestions to avoid: clearly and quickly articulate the
vision, create a vision that is “moving,” establish a bold strategy that can be
implemented quickly. Try to avoid the thinking that plans and budgets create a
clear enough picture, visions that rely too heavily on fiscal and analytical
aspects, and visions focused solely on cost cutting.

means that the guides of change have a lot of deliberation and work ahead of
them to ensure they get the vision just right. A vision does not come
pre-thought for the guides of organizational change—they must first identify
and analyze the issue as mentioned in Organizational
Behavior and Management (p. 405). Further, the text suggests that multiple
solutions to the issue should be explored, not just one that seems “the best”. From
those alternatives, the group should collaborate to ensure the change vision
permeates through the entire organization (p. 406-409).

Communicate for Buy-in

an organization’s biggest change opponent are the employees. Up to this point,
little information about the impeding organizational change may have been shared
and many employees will have questions about what brought about the change, how
it will affect the jobs, when it will be put in place, etc. In general, the
introduction of large scale change often invites insecurities like anxiety and
uncertainty. It is critical that the guiding team allows appropriate mediums
for employees to express the curiosity, anxiety, and any other concerns. The uncertainty
is natural and leaders should invite the opportunity of transparency to fosters
a cleare trust and understanding of the change. To combat this, both Kotter and
Ivancevich, Konopaske, and Matteson encourage “Face-to-face meetings,
newsletters, e-mails, instant messages. company blogs, reports, speeches, conferences,
and other methods of communication can lead to a better understanding and trust
about changes” (p. 511).

explores another aspect of communication buy-in explaining that once a vision
is delivered, the company should begin to “walk the walk” so to speak. For
instance, if a firm’s change is rooted in environmental sustainability
practices aimed to reduce the firm’s impact on the environment that limits
employee resources like paper printing, the firm’s executives should also make
a point to eliminate travel on private planes. The firm’s proposed change will
have a very difficult time finding footing in its employees if all members of
the organization are not on board. Transparency and creditability are crucial.

Empower Action

that guiding leaders have developed a sense of urgency, a vision is established
and strategy determined, and the change plan has been presented to the whole
organization, it’s important to ensure that there are as few obstacles as
possible. This is a delicate time since the change is new and employees are
learning to maneuverer through gingerly. Even the most insignificant obstacle
can undo a lot of the reassurance the team has invested in creating confidence
in the new change.

obstacles must be removed. In other words, if the change sought requires more
advanced technology, the organization must be ready to accommodate the need. Organizational Behavior and Management also
suggests that teams engage in teambuilding exercises (p. 521) to temper
individuals who are not quite on board with the change. Team building can
accomplish a few things that include clarifying the tasks that change is
designed to accomplish. Also, it can be helpful for a resistant employee to
observe and participate in teamwork outside of a rigid work environment.

Create Short-term Wins

should begin monitoring their change strategy as soon as possible. Since much
of their assessment of the solution has been based on theory, the beginning of
change can often feel like trial runs. Short-term goals should be established,
completed, and analyzed to perfect the change strategy. The short-term goals
provide change teams with valuable information about the efficacy of the
change, draws attention to any strategy gaps, and also proves to employees that
some aspects of the change are truly for the better. Also, from a developmental
stand point, an opportunity arises to evaluate change-resistant employees from
one short-term goal to the next to determine progress.

text Organizational Behavior and
Management suggests that companies should set focused, short-term goals (p.
132) citing research that shows “specific goals lead to higher output”. This is
important for assessing how much of a difference the change to the organization
is implementing. The goal of setting short-term goals is to encourage further
motivation but also to catch any issues the strategy may have early on before
the behavior becomes imbedded in the company’s culture.

Don’t Let Up

team might be feeling confident about the way implemented changes are shaping
up. From all accounts, the change is paying off and it may feel safe to assume
the shift was successful and all can rest easy. Complacency at this point can
derail all of the hard work the team has invested in enforcing the change
strategy implemented. It is important to continue to build the momentum for the
change. While short-term goals have been successful, the true goal is to
engrain these changes into the company’s lasting culture. Managers should
continue to set important, meaningful goals to celebrate wins the team
accomplishes together. Leadership is very important at this point. Managers
must recognize the valuation of individual goals and choose to concentrate
their efforts on those goals that give the biggest pay off for the amount of
recourses needed to achieve them.

each employee must own the change of their organization, managers become
increasingly valuable and important. Kotter and Ivancevich, Konopaske, and
Matteson reinforce this idea, “If motivation is to be energized, sustained, and
directed, managers must know about needs, intentions, preferences, goals, and
comparisons, and they must act on that knowledge. Failure to do so will result
in many missed opportunities to help motivate employees in a positive manner”
(p. 135). Goals must continue to be assigned with a special attention to
prioritizing high-value goals over less impactful ones.

Make Change Stick

that change norms are established and it seems that the strategy is working,
the focus must shift to ensure that the change achieved sticks. Change must mold
into organizational culture. The ultimate goal is to see the change strategy
turn into a company culture that transcends employees, managers, and leaders
that carrier out the initial strategy. This is accomplished when an
organization goes all in and reestablishes company expectations, norms,
rewards, and policies to reflect the change policy.

pointed out in Organizational Behavior
and Management, organizational culture can either encourage or discourage
effectiveness (p. 528) so it is important that the organization is vigilant
about the norms and values adopted into its newly form culture. This is a
critical moment where expectations are shifting, promotions of current
employees, and training of new employees will adopt cultural shifts from
organizational change.


Kotter is an expert in his field. From his decade’s worth of study and
observations, Kotter is able to identify where many organizations shine and
others fail during their transitions. Every organization is different and
perhaps not every change circumstance can be tested using this formula.
However, Kotter’s 8-steps give evolving organizations insight about maneuvering
critical moments through the change process. The coaching raises at least 8 red
flags for leadership to look out for when building a strategy for change. 

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