Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model

Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model - toolshero

This article explains Kotter’s 8 step change model, developed by John Kotter in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful organisational management tool.

What is Kotter’s 8 step change model?

Research carried out by the American change and leadership guru John Kotter has proved that major change efforts unfortunately do not always have the desired outcome. He found out that there is only a 30% chance of organisational change success. This is why organizations implement changes unsuccessfully and fail to achieve the intended result.

John Kotter introduced the “Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model” to improve an organization’s ability to change and to increase its chances of success. By following this step plan organizations can avoid failure and become adept at implementing change. As a result, organizations no longer need to adjust the changes and they will increase their chances of success.

Change success factors

Employees do not always experience change as something positive. However, they are important when it comes to the implementation of change. Following the Kotters 8 step changemodel plan will help organizations to succeed at implementing change. The first three steps of Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model are about creating the right climate for change, steps 4 up to 6 and link the change to the organization. Steps 7 and 8 are aimed at the implementation and consolidation of the change:

kotter's 8 step change management model - ToolsHero

1. Create a sense of urgency

This first step of Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model is the most important step according to John Kotter. By making employees aware of the need and urgency for change, support will be created.

This requires and open, honest and convincing dialogue. This convinces employees of the importance of taking action. This could be accomplished by talking with them about potential threats or by discussing possible solutions.

2. Create a guiding coalition

It is a good idea to establish a project team that can occupy itself with the changes the organization wants to implement. This group manages all efforts and encourages the employees to cooperate and take a constructive approach.

Preferably, this coalition is made up from employees working in different jobs and positions so that all employees can rely on the group and identify themselves with the team members. Because of the open character, the groups can also function as a sounding board, which enables an open communication.

3. Create a vision for change

Formulating a clear vision can help everyone understand what the organization is trying to achieve within the agreed time frame. It makes changes more concrete and creates support to implement them.

The ideas of employees can be incorporated in the vision, so that they will accept the vision faster. Linking the adopted vision to strategies will help employees to achieve their goals.

4. Communicate the vision

The most important objective of step 4 of Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model is to create support and acceptance among the employees.

This can only be achieved by talking about the new vision with the employees at every chance you get and by taking their opinions, concerns and anxieties seriously. The new vision must be fully adopted across the entire organization.

5. Remove obstacles

Before change is accepted at all levels, it is crucial to change or, if necessary, remove obstacles that could undermine the vision. By entering into dialogue with all employees, it will become clear who are resisting the change.

To encourage acceptance of the vision by the employees, it helps when their ideas are incorporated and implemented in the change process.

6. Create short-term wins

Nothing motivates more than success. Create short-term goals so that the employees have a clear idea of what is going on. When the goals have been met, the employees will be motivated to fine tune and expand the change.

By acknowledging and rewarding employees who are closely involved in the change process, it will be clear across the board that the company is changing course.

7. Consolidate improvements

According to John Kotter many change trajectories fail because victory is declared too early. However, change is a slow-going process and it must be driven into the overall corporate culture.

Quick wins are only the beginning of long-term change. An organization therefore needs to keep looking for improvements. Only after multiple successes have been achieved, it can be established that the change is paying off.

8. Anchor the changes

The last step of Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model. A change will only become part of the corporate culture when it has become a part of the core of the organization.

Change does not come about by itself. Values and standards must agree with the new vision and the employees’ behaviour must provide a seamless match. Employees must continue to support the change. Regular evaluation and discussions about progress help consolidate the change.

Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model example

Change is a part of daily life in the business world. The corporate environment is responsive to a variety of factors and is ever-changing. Companies have to react quickly in order to hold onto their position on the market. The 8 step change model by John Kotter can help with this. Below is an example of company owner Jeffrey. He applies Kotter’s change model step by step.

Example: creating urgency

Jeffrey has a company with 100 employees. Over the past quarter he has lost revenue to his competitors. After some research he discovers that his competitors are investing in certain technologies that help them in their daily business, causing them to have an advantage. Jeffrey now has to convince the organisation to also invest in this technology. What are the odds for the company? What does the future look like if we don’t invest in this technology?

Example: guiding coalition

Jeffrey now must select the people in the organisation and recruit them to guide the change process. To do this, he must select individuals from all layers of the organisation. After the team of experts has been put together, Jeffrey must win the trust and commitment of this team. By building a powerful coalition of key figures in the change process, he ensures that the execution of his plans is efficient.

Creating a new vision

In this step, Jeffrey concentrates on strategy and organisational values to create a vision for the changes. A strong vision will motivate employees within the organisation to get to work on the change process.

Creating a support base

Now it is essential that Jeffrey is able to effectively get his vision across to his people. Strong communication is a must for this. Jeffrey’s vision for change includes automatisation among other things, which means people will have to make changes to their way of working. People with less developed skills in technological products could be worried about this. Communication in such situations ensures that employees realise the change process is also to their benefit.

Removing obstacles

Jeffrey has now convinced his employees to take part in the change initiative. However, there can still be obstacles. It is up to Jeffrey and his coalition to address these obstacles and remove them.

Ensure short-term successes

Jeffrey wants everyone to see the benefits of the change process. When employees can see benefits in the short term, they will become more motivated towards the full plan. Short-term goals are extremely important to keep employees motivated and focussed.

Consolidate improvements

At every step Jeffrey and his team must analyse the results to see how their short-term goals contribute to the goals in the long term.

Secure the changes

To hold onto the change initiative, it must become a part of the business culture. Jeffrey and his managers should therefore concentrate on the development of a culture that stimulates innovation and change.

Pros of using John Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model

The correct use of John Kotter’s 8 step change model has a few attractive benefits for organisations and managers. The most important motivators to implement the model are listed below.

  • John Kotter’s 8 step change model is very simple and can be applied step by step. It gives a clear description of what should happen in each stage of the change process.
  • The emphasis in this model is on the commitment and wellbeing of the employees. According to the model, that is key is the resolution and the success of the project.

Strengths and weaknesses of the Kotter’s 8 step change model

Strengths

The first two steps in the 8 step change model by John Kotter are the biggest strength of the entire model. Many company leaders dive into a change programme without first considering how their employees will respond to it. This can lead to agitation and distrust.

Additionally, the method of John Kotter offers a robust framework, serving as checklist, with aspects for managers to consider.

Shortcomings

Like other models, the change model by John Kotter isn’t perfect. For example, some theoreticians have pointed out that change is a more organic process, rather than a linear process with multiple steps. Additionally, Kotter’s model does not account for the financial, political, and other forces that can impact change initiatives.

Critique based on these shortcomings is valid, but those weaknesses can be almost completely be eliminated by employing another method, such as Lewin’s Force Field Analysis.

Recommendations by John Kotter

When all steps of Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model have been followed, John Kotter recommends taking the new vision as a starting point when recruiting and hiring new staff. This also applies to the training of (current) staff.

The new vision and the changes must be given a solid place in the organization. Employees who have actively contributed to the change must receive public recognition. Their support is enormous and therefore they will be asked again for their support and help when another change needs to be brought about.

It’s Your Turn

What do you think? Is the Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model applicable in today’s modern companies? Do you recognize the practical explanation or do you have more suggestions? What are your success factors for applying the Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Kotter, J. P. (2012, 1996). Leading change. Harvard Business Press.
  2. Kotter, J. P. (1995). Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail. Harvard Business Review OnPoint (March-April), 1-10.
  3. Kotter, J. P. and Cohen, D. S. (2002). The Heart of Change: Real-life Stories of how People Change Their Organizations. Harvard Business Press.

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5 comments

  1. It’s good to see how Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model resonates in McKinsey’s research and article on what constitutes success in Digital Transformation – and how significant people management is!

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