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Managing change

David Ferrabee

David Ferrabee of organisational change management consultancy, Able and How, on the gaps in John Kotter’s 8 step process

Thirty years ago, when John Kotter first emerged on the business scene, he did so with some shocking data. According to Kotter 70% of change management programmes failed. To this day, no one has actually pinpointed the source of this data however there is little doubt as to the risks involved during the roll out of a change management programme.

As organisations recognise that the ability to manage change equates to a powerful competitive advantage, change management has evolved to become a permanent feature of the business landscape. As a consequence John Kotter’s seminal work has been a guiding light in many of these change management strategies.

As Kotter recognised back in the 80s, those organisations that are agile and able to harness change will benefit greatly because when change becomes a core competency a business can out-perform the competition, adapting to the market and adopting new ways of working faster than others. However business has evolved at such a rate that Kotter’s ground-breaking work now makes up only part of the equation.

The need for an upgrade

To be effective, organisational change must be able to genuinely transform the people in the business. Rolling out technical solutions on their own is no longer sufficient, neither is Kotter’s well known 8 step process.

This process, which identifies the key elements to successful organisational change, is a powerful tool that has, to a large extent, weathered the passing years. From highlighting the need for a sense of urgency during a change programme through to developing channels that ensure leadership development and succession, Kotter’s model has been transformational. But now it needs upgrading to keep step with the current business pace.

The importance of accountability

His suggested step which focuses on the importance of forming a powerful coalition has been fundamental to the backbone of Kotter’s proposed strategy. Nowadays however there is a greater need for accountability. Whereas even a decade ago it would have been relevant to ‘assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort’, now there is a requirement to go further.

The sponsor which Kotter refers to now needs to take on a whole new role and be armed with additional expertise and character traits. The so called coalition needs to be led by someone who has the resilience to engage in the process and who takes full accountability for the execution, from creating, communicating, engaging and delivering it.

Change fatigue

Kotter highlights the importance of empowering others to act on the change vision, yet increasingly we are seeing change fatigue. The change vision in itself needs to expand across the entire organisation.

Where once Kotter advocated a beginning, middle and end point to the change programme, this mindset needs to shift. Change now needs to be embedded in the corporate DNA. Today’s leaders have to remain agile and accept that change is part of their daily structure, not a programme that will evolve over a finite period of time and eventually come to a conclusion.

The new culture of change

In fact it is the realisation that there is no end point to change which drives a new culture of change and requires some of Kotter’s key processes to be reviewed. Whereas he suggests hiring, promoting and developing employees who can implement the vision, leaders now need to be looking for those who embrace an agile process and who view transformational change as an ongoing flow of productivity.

Aligning the corporate change strategies with the new business environment requires a different mindset to the one Kotter was working with 30 years ago. He certainly put change management firmly on the corporate map and has been instrumental in creating a process which has enabled thousands of change programmes to flourish. The next three decades will no doubt test the resilience of our own suggestions.


Author bio: David Ferrabee of organisational change management consultancy, Able and How.


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