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Leading through change

So if we understand that every change goes through certain phases, what can leaders do to drive their change at each phase? Harvard professor John Kotter created an 8-step model of just that after studying change initiatives at hundreds of different organisations.

The 8 steps represent actions that a leader can take to plan and prepare their own change process from an early stage, or approaches that they can take when changes slows down or stakeholders aren’t engaged. Each step presents options for action as well as possible mistakes that need to be combated.

1. Create a sense of urgency

Make stakeholders understand the necessity of the change – this might not be the same logic for everyone and it might help to bring in relevant feedback from external stakeholders, market behaviour etc.

2. Build a driving coalition

Collect powerful, like-minded individuals from key areas of the organisation around you to support your change – don’t forget gaining support from key employees with wide informal power

3. Develop a vision

Describe in visual language what the desired future state will be and make it as achievable and as simple as possible – invest time and energy of others in helping develop a vision that will speak to many

4. Communicate the vision

Communicate the vision to the right people, in the right way and with the right persistence – encourage dialogue to delay doubts and fears and use as many communication channels as possible (if you think you’ve communicated enough, you haven’t).

5. Empower others

Support stakeholders to identify barriers that hinder the change and to overcome them – it’s vital to demonstrate leadership will to reduce hurdles at this point and to consider structural and cultural barriers equally

6. Show short-term gains

Plan your change implementation to highlight short-term gains and communicate these ‘low-hanging fruit’ to keep up engagement and motivation – make short-term results public and reward those who achieve them

7. Consolidate gains

Use the energy of the short-term gains to spread the change wider in the organisation, involving more stakeholder groups and bringing speed to your change – be aware of declaring success too soon as it’s still key at this step to continually drive those structural changes necessary to support your goals and develop those stakeholders who can integrate the results into their everyday work

8. Anchor in culture

For the change to be part of everyday culture, all the involved processes, systems, tools and structures need to be adapted and the new behaviours required by the change need to be understandable and lived up to on a daily basis – emphasise progress and success in this step and integrate the required behaviours into any training or recruiting measures.

Sustainable change is a marathon, not a sprint and different leaders bring different strengths at different phases of a change. Some will be strong in communication and connection with stakeholders, while others are expert in adapting processes and structures to the change. Some will be able to invest huge energy at the beginning of a change, while others have the endurance and tenacity that is required in the later change phases. It’s important to have different skill sets in your change team!

Unfortunately it’s not as simple as following all 8 steps in this order, but if you understand where your change is stalling, then you can use these steps to ensure that you’ve covered all bases. The time and energy you should invest at each step will depend on your particular change situation.

When to use it…

  • To plan the implementation of your change with your change team
  • To define targeted actions that drive your change at the adequate pace
  • To troubleshoot when your change slows down or stalls

Further information…

Mastering Change

Find out how to visualise your own change initiative to highlight progress so far and identify challenges and their options.

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