How to Lead Change

Leading change is one of the true tests of leadership. Harvard Business professor, John Kotter, is perhaps one of the best thinkers in this area and presents a great process for creating change in his classic book, Leading Change. Kotter’s 8-stage process includes:

Stage 1: Establish a Sense of Urgency – The first stage involves understanding reality and identifying and discussing crises, potential crises, and major opportunities. If a leader cannot create a sense of urgency that change must happen, they will never go any further. See my post on “Urgency” for more details.

Stage 2: Create the Guiding Coalition – With a sense of urgency established, leaders must then assemble a group of people with enough influence to lead change. This group must work together to become a team. It’s my belief that the best teams have a mix of influencers, innovators, investors, and initiators.

Stage 3: Develop a Vision and Strategy – Next, a clear vision needs to be articulated along with executable strategies that will generate progress toward the vision.

Stage 4: Communicate the Change Vision – Using every communication strategy possible, the new vision and strategies must be shared with the entire organization. Furthermore, the guiding coalition must take the lead by modeling the behaviors expected by employees.

Stage 5: Empower Broad-Based Action – This stage involves the removal of obstacles, making changes in systems or structures that undermine the vision, and employing risk-taking and innovative ideas.

Stage 6: Generate Short-Term Wins – Making progress is essential and therefore planning for improvements and recognizing and rewarding those who generate wins is essential. Small wins open the door for greater change. By celebrating the small wins you make the big wins possible.

Stage 7: Consolidate Gains and Produce More Change – The credibility gained from positive change should fuel the pursuit of more change as well as the hiring of people who can implement more change.

Stage 8: Anchor New Approaches in the Culture – Finally, the culture should reflect better performance, an orientation toward productivity, connections between new behaviors and organizational success, and appropriate succession planning.

Each stage to leading change can also be flipped to reflect the errors to creating change. For example, allowing too much complacency is the opposite of creating a sense of urgency. Declaring victory too soon is the opposite of consolidating gains and producing more change. Kotter asserts that a successful change transformation is 70%-90% leadership and only 10%-30% management.

Again, the ability to successfully create change is the true test of leadership. While the book is a classic, the principles in Leading Change are very relevant today. This book is a must read for any leader.

Question: Which stage of change do you need to give attention to right now?