Six change approaches (Kotter and Schlesinger)

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Six Change Approaches: this article explains Six Change Approaches, developed by John Kotter and Leonard Schlesinger in a practical way. After reading you will understand the basics of this powerful change management tool.

The Kotter and Schlesinger six change approaches, an introduction

Change is not always experienced as pleasant and it often leads to resistance in organizations. John Kotter and Leonard Schlesinger developed six change approaches to minimize resistance and they set out six approaches to deal with change resistance.

Four reasons for change resistance

Before any approach methods are used, it is important to understand why people resist change. John Kotter and Leonard Schlesinger identify four reasons:

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1. Parochial self-interest

Some employees are more concerned about the consequences of change for themselves. They focus on their own interests instead on those of the organization.

2. Misunderstanding

This occurs due to communication problems and because incorrect or inadequate information is provided by the organization.

3. Low tolerance

Working in a certain way for years means security and stability. Employees find it hard to exchange this for the unknown.

4. Different assessments of the situation

During the change process two groups arise; employees who agree with the changes and are open to this and the group that does not agree with the change and who will not display flexible, cooperative behaviour.

What are the Six Change Approaches?

Based on scientific research,John Kotter and Leonard Schlesinger describe Six Change Approaches to deal with organisational change resistance:

1. Education and Communication

Informing employees beforehand so that they will be involved in the change process will prevent that the information that is provided by the organization comes across as inaccurate. Good communication can be supported by training or other forms of education.

Employees will have a better understanding of the purpose of the change process and they will be more inclined to be cooperative.

2. Participation and involvement

By increasing the involvement of employees or by giving them specific assignments, the resistance to the intended organizational change will be reduced.

As a result, employees will be more loyal and they will focus on teamwork for which reason they will cooperate more closely from the different organization units so that the desired change can be implemented.

3. Facilitation and Support

Employees that experience adjustment problems during the change process will benefit from supportive management. It helps them deal with fears during a transition period for instance when they experience fear transfers, job loss or other forms of reorganization.

By providing support or facilitating training and counselling, these fears can be largely removed.

4. Negotiation

When employees for example lose powers or tasks during the change process, it is important to keep them motivated.

Offering (financial) incentives can move employees into a positive direction. The employee can be offered incentives to leave the company early, their contracts may be adjusted or another job or promotion is offered. These incentives are often offered to employees that have senior positions.

5. Co-optation and manipulation

When other tactics do not work or are too expensive, this method is used. It is an effective technique to co-opt with people who are resisting the change and who, through their leadership role, have a large influence on the rest of the employees.

Through open communication they are kept under control. They are involved in a symbolic role during the change process and the decision-making process.

6. Explicit and implicit coercion

Coercion can be used when speed is essential or as a last resort. The necessity of the intended change is more important than the interests of the employees. It often involves dramatic consequences such as loss of jobs, dismissals, employee transfers or not promoting employees.

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It’s Your Turn

What do you think? What is your experience with organisational change? Do you recognize the practical explanation about the Six Change Approaches or do you have additional information? What are your success factors on organisational change, change and resistance management?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

More information

  1. Kotter, J. P. (1999). John P. Kotter on what leaders really do. Harvard Business Press.
  2. Kotter, J. P. (2012, 1996). Leading change. Harvard Business Press.
  3. Kotter, J. P. & Schlesinger, L. A. (2008). Choosing strategies for change. Harvard business review, 86(7/8), 130.

How to cite this article:
Van Vliet, V. (2011). Six Change Approaches (Kotter and Schlesinger). Retrieved [insert date] from ToolsHero:

Published on: 05/12/2011 | Last update: 08/20/2023

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Vincent van Vliet
Article by:

Vincent van Vliet

Vincent van Vliet is co-founder and responsible for the content and release management. Together with the team Vincent sets the strategy and manages the content planning, go-to-market, customer experience and corporate development aspects of the company.


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