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Kotter’s 8-Step Change Management Transcript

Thanks for joining me on another episode! This week, I wanted to break away from what I normally do to explain a change management model that people considering initiating change could use.

This eight-step process for leading change was introduced in 1995 after Dr. Kotter observed countless leaders and their organizations trying and struggling with change initiatives. Simply put, Dr. Kotter saw the change process as a three phased approach that supported his observations and of course, his model.

The three phases involve cultivating the climate for change which touches on steps one through three. The cultivation of an environment for change is essential to the stakeholders being comfortable with the change and of course comfortable in communicating their concerns. Rising from the climate for change comes the opportunity to engage and enable the organization for the initiative. While the first three steps pump the prime for change, these steps create the level of enthusiasm for the initiative. This is where your teams will either become opponents or supporters of the project so focus in this area is essential! The final two steps of the project take place after the project is executed. During these last two steps the organization will see the benefit to their efforts and the initiative becomes engrained in the fabric of the company processes.

So, since we have broken the eight-step process down to three phases, why don’t we look at the individual steps of the model?

In step one, the change manager needs to create urgency from the stakeholders. This means that the manager should look to communicate the need and the benefits for the initiative. While the goal is urgency, the secondary goal needs to be transparency. Simply put, if your request is vetted and your claims seem or are proven to be overstated, your project loses valuable credibility in the potential sponsor, executive level, and the stakeholders’ eyes. However, if your case for change is compelling and logical, your team will be quicker to jump on board and you will gain the essential executive-level sponsor and the majority support from the executive which is crucial because if you don’t gain the support of the executives, your project will never truly be embraced by the organization.

So you have developed the urgency for your project and you have secured your executive sponsor, your project is well underway right? Well, not exactly. You see in step two of the process, you need to start building a guiding coalition out of highly effective people. These people will guide the initiative through the various processes and will help you coordinate your efforts. But when you are looking to build this coalition, it is important to look at not only how effective the person is, but whether they are respected among the peers and throughout the organization and of course, are they capable of influencing others along the way. During this step, it is imperative that your coalition begins pushing others to both understand and support the change project. It really helps as well that you enlist people from all disciplines in your organization as they will be able to spot and overcome potential issues and will have the important ability to execute the change. Imagine if you were a manager on a production line and noticed that the paint department isn’t running as efficiently as it should. You present your case and since money is being lost, it is considered urgent enough for senior management support great right? Well, if you don’t have the support of say operations and accounting, who will pay for the initiative? See how quickly it can fall apart without the multi-disciplinary support?

But you are moving along, and you are ready to go right? Let’s just start because the sooner you start, the sooner you finish! You need to think the project through strategically and create a vision of what you see AFTER the project is completed. Remember though, that your vision really needs to speak to the organization’s future and how it positively impacts the organization so that your coalition can communicate the vision and begin to build the framework and subtasks for the change going forward. A vision statement is so important since you have nothing tangible to show, so people need so see it in their mind.

Alright so this makes sense so far, right? Good! You are halfway there! So, you have identified your stakeholders, secured your sponsor, and have even enlisted a coalition to help steer the project.  However, without full-scale support from those who are going to help fulfill the vision and are going to work with the solution every day, the change will be difficult to execute. Afterall the Kotter organization states that “large-scale change can only occur when massive numbers of people rally around a common opportunity”. These people need to be all understanding the communicated vision and all be moving toward executing it. The best way to manage this step is to communicate the message frequently while focusing on the WIFM or what’s in it for me benefit. Address the pain points and talk about how the solution eliminates these concerns.

There are so many potential barriers that a project faces that the removal of all of them may be impossible. You may need to focus on removing some or as many as you can to truly achieve the success of your vision statement. Some of these barriers are fear from the people impacted by the change, organizational inertia, lack of technical skills or infrastructure, or the one that can immediately sink a project – the lack of funding. If you can strategically remove all or most of the barriers that have been identified will allow you the freedom necessary to work across the silos created by the organizational disciplines.

There is no secret in the world of change management. To be successful, you need to see the bigger picture and start with smaller short-term wins. For example, I am a hockey fan, so I am going to talk about the St. Louis Blues in 2018/2019. On January 2, 2019, with half of their season gone, the team sat 31st out of a 31 team league. Their season was awful. Then the captain suggested that they turn it around and do the impossible – win the Stanley Cup that year. The coach, or in this example the executive sponsor jumped behind the idea, as did the ownership group, the team President, and the General Manager. The idea had the backing of Senior Management to make this happen. But just saying we are going to win the championship wasn’t obviously good enough, they had to set short-term goals for themselves. In this situation, they focused on the next game on the schedule and went out to win it. If they did, they celebrated the victory, if they didn’t, they reflected on why they didn’t win and built on the failure to overcome the issue in the future. They kept working and celebrating the wins because they knew with one or two wins came more as success builds momentum. The short version of this story was that they kept winning and completed the improbable. They went from very last place and won the Stanley Cup in the same year, because the upper management supported the idea, the sponsor got on board, and the captain built the coalition and enlisted the volunteer army all were working toward that common goal and they celebrated the short-term wins, one at a time.

With the wins coming in fast and furious, you need to continue to press harder as the changes take place. Remember how I said on the previous slide that winning builds momentum? Well, it also builds credibility within your organization and as more wins pile up, more people will begin to support your idea. This affords you the opportunity to implement changes more seamlessly with respect to systems, policies, and structures, but the challenge is human nature. People will naturally want to revert back to their old ways, so the immediate challenge is to avoid this at all cost. Lastly, you should always focus on communication. Keep sharing your vision and communicate the benefits while announcing the victories this will keep morale up when things get tough.

You are finally there. Your last step of the process is to articulate the connections between the new behaviours and success and how they have helped the organization. This helps the project replace the old habits with the new ones that support the initiative. A good idea in this stage is to document the new processes so that everyone is both familiar and following the instructions for consistency. A good place to start here is a process called total quality management, but of course this is another course unto itself. By documenting the change, you are also embedding it into the existing systems and the operational policies, procedures, and processes.

So there are many ways for you to plan and execute change in the business world and each one of them come with their strengths and of course disadvantages, but one thing is clear as you embark on the journey, following proven methods of change help structure ideas, build the teams necessary and communicate your change. A well-executed initiative will bring benefits to an organization for decades to come, and after all, we are looking to change for just this reason.

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