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This post is based on the books Leading Change and Our iceberg is melting, by John Kotter

In every manager’s lifetime it will happen:



Necessary change, unwanted change, unnecessary change and very welcome change, big change, small change: you’ll get to deal with it at one (and often many more) time(s) in your career.
And with dealing with it, -in the case of the manager- comes leading it. Or at least co-lead it with some of the other managers around.
So. In today’s blog I want to give you the ins and outs on how to lead change succesfully. And – a bit unlike me – I’m going to refer to science…
Dr. John Kotter spend thirty years researching change management, and found that ‘70% of all major change efforts in organizations fail’. Of course he’s got a simple answer to this bombshell statement:
‘Why? Because organizations often do not take the holistic approach required to see the change through’.
And even though I’m not that fond of theories, in this case the theory is spot on, as I found over and over again. And by the way, he had me at ‘holistic approach’ of course ☺
So here you have it, there’s a first for everything!
The 8 steps to succesfully leading change, as described by John Kotter.

Create a sense of urgency

Help people see why change is essential and why action is needed NOW.
Many companies fail right here at the first step. In their eagerness to get going, they either underestimate how hard is to get people to leave their comfort zones, or they overestimate how much of that is already accomplished. Or they are just too impatient and action driven.
In creating the sense of urgency, it’s really valuable if you can connect to people’s values and beliefs, says Kotter. My Speaking your Truth Infographic might be helpful for that.


Create the guiding coalition

Leading a change program generally is a huge thing. No one I’ve ever met could do it alone. So always create a strong team to lead the process with you.

Make sure the team is balanced out, make sure to have people on it who’s talents complement each other.
Four important elements to consider when selecting:

Position Power: are there enough key players on board so that those left out cannot block progress?
Thinking power: is there enough relevant expertise available, so that informed and intelligent decisions can be made?
Credibility: will the group be seen and respected by those in the firm so that others will take the group’s pronouncements seriously?
Leadership: does the group have enough proven leaders to be able to drive the change process? This doesn’t all team members should be executives as leadership is so much more then position only, as you know.


Develop a vision on how the future will be different from the past

There’re 3 important benefits that come with a clear vision. First, it simplifies thousands of more detailed decisions. Second, it motivates people to take action in the right direction even if the first steps are painful. Third, it helps to coordinate the actions of different people in a remarkably fast and efficient way. A clear and powerful vision will do far more than an authoritarian decree or micromanagement can ever hope to accomplish.

An effective vision should be imaginable and desirable. It should also be focused, yet flexible enough to leave room for individual initiatives and adaptability in case anything changes along the way (Trust me. Something will.)


Communicate the vision to ensure that as many people as possible understand and accept it.

Spread the news and be creative in doing that. Realize that for people to change successfully, they need to both think and feel positively about what they need to do. So in your communication, speak to heart and mind both.
Of course, to be able to speak to their heart, you have to know what their feelings are. So listen to what people talk about and to the messages they communicate indirectly. Then create surprising, compelling, and visual experiences, because experiences really change feelings much more then talk can.

Maybe most important element in communication: WALK the TALK. Whatever message you’re sending, make sure your actions are in sink with it. There’s really no bigger change-killer then leaders who show different behavior then they’re asking for.
So, this is your moment to ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world’!


Empower others to take action

Get rid of all obstacles that prevent or demotivate people to start doing things in the spirit of the vision. Barriers could be anything from procedures or too many other tasks, to limiting managers. Really, unleash people to do their best work!


Generate short-term Wins

Essential in implementing change, because this is what will keep people going after the first buzz has gone down.
So, create visible, unambiguous (directly related to the change effort) small successes as soon as possible. These will provide evidence that the sacrifices that people are making are paying off.
BTW, it’s smart to actually plan these. Quick wins rarely simply happen, but are the result of smart teams planning ahead.


Don’t Let Up!

Once you start see the change your were looking for: DO NOT LET UP! Keep producing more change, adding more projects to drive the change deeper in the organization. If you don’t, you risk critical momentum being lost and regression following suit. The new behaviors and practices must be driven into the culture to ensure long-term success. This part, BTW, really separates the leaders from the managers, as Kotter says ‘managers, by their nature, think in shorter timeframes. It is up to leaders to steer the course for the long-term’.


Anchor the new ways deep into the culture

Every individual that joins an organization is indoctrinated into its culture, generally without even realizing it. It’s extremely difficult to change norms and shared value, and it will take quite some time to do it. But if you don’t do it, your change is lost! ‘It takes the majority of the organization truly embracing the new culture for there to be any chance of success in the long term’, Kotter emphasises.

A mistake I often see being made, is to start the cultural change in the beginning of the change process. But: cultural change comes last! Kotter explaination for that: you must be able to prove that the new way is superior to the old and the success must be visible and well communicated.

That’s it. You can go out and start changing!

You and I both realize that every change program has many many challenges, and eventhough we covered the basics here, you’ll probably have questions and run into some problems when you’re actually doing it. When you do, consider hiring me to work with you 1:1, as in leading change, someone to mirror with and advice you is really helpful!
John Kotter is – to me – the leading man on change management. He wrote a series of very insightful books on the topic. I would recommend reading Our iceberg is melting, if you want to dig a bit deeper, because it’s fun and easy to read and explains the process perfectly.

I would love to hear your opinion on change manegement! Join the discussion by adding your experiences to the comments.

And of course, please share if you liked reading this article,
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