The 8 Step Kotter Theory to
Master Organizational Change

The philosophy behind the Kotter theory in managing change is: "The fundamental purpose of management is to keep the current system functioning. The fundamental purpose of leadership is to produce useful change." He wrote a fantastic book, Leading Changewhich covers the sequential change process for organizational change.

With any organizational change process the focus should be mostly on people. There are over a handful of change models out there, and in my opinion this process does a better job than most. If the leaders at least grasp that people are not "machines", employees would be more accepting to change.

John Kotter identified key barriers to change within the organization and came up with an 8 step change process in sequential order.

Here's the summary of Kotter's 8 Step Process to Change:

First Step in Kotter Theory: Establish a Sense of Urgency

The only way to get people to change is to get them to want to change in the first place. Motivate them to take action. According to Kotter, 75 percent of the leadership needs to be convinced that business to change for this 8-step process to work. So, don't move to the next step if most of the people aren't inspired to change.

If enough people start talking about change, then use that momentum to push forward. (the organization is going to need it - lasting change is difficult).

Action Ideas:

  • Identify the cost and consequences for not taking action now.
  • Come up with opportunities the organization can use to their advantage
  • Begin an open, honest communication process and give persuasive reasons to get people talking and thinking.
  • Get support from people outside the company to build your case (customers, investors, credible authorities, etc)

Second Step in Kotter Theory: Form a Powerful Guiding Coalition

Doing anything alone is difficult, very difficult so this step you build a team that supports your change vision.

People generally do not follow titles, they follow the leaders. At this stage, find the other visible leaders within the organization that people follow. These are people that have respect in any areas such as status, job title, political connections, skill level, etc.

Once your change team is in place, always remember that momentum to change is your friend, keep communicating the urgency to change.

Action Ideas:

  • Find the other leaders within the organization
  • Request their trust and commitment
  • Maintain a constructive, trusting environment with a unique set of people
  • Look for areas of synergy and blind spots

Third Step in Kotter Theory: Create a Change Vision

Have the change team establish a change strategy and vision. There will likely be lots of ideas floating around, so 'tie-in' the best ideas that will produce good results.

Action Ideas:

  • Get clear on the organizational values
  • Create a one or two sentence summary that clarifies the future of the organization after the change
  • Develop the change vision and strategy
  • Be sure your team can communicate a change vision under 5 minutes
  • Polish the change "vision speech"

Fourth Step in Kotter Theory: Communicate the Vision

After the vision has been created, now communicate that vision clearly to the rest of the organization. Involve as many people as possible and communicate the core elements. Don't over complicate, a confused mind always says "no".

Communicate the vision at every opportunity as often as possible, not just at the formal meetings. This allows the change vision to be focused on.

In addition, the vision will establish far more credibility if the leaders "walk the talk". Why should anyone within the organization change if the leaders are not? Apply the words from Gandhi, "be the change you wish to see".

Action Ideas in Kotter Theory:

  • Frequently communicate the change vision
  • Use every possible communication medium to communicate vision and strategies
  • Be open and honest when addressing others concerns
  • Tie the vision to all operations within the organization

Fifth Step in Kotter Theory: Empower Others to Act on the Vision

This is where the execution of the change vision begins. The previous four steps dealt with managing people and creating a road map. If the job is well done, then people will be motivated to benefit from the change vision.

This is where you take a long term view to identify processes or systems in place that are getting in the way of the change vision.

Be sure to get feedback from as many people within the organization and reward peoplf for making real progress.

Action Ideas:

  • Acquire change leaders (inside/outside the organization) to deliver results based on vision
  • Encourage educated risk-taking ideas that fits within the vision
  • Listen and identify people who are still resisting change
  • Take decisive action to clear obstacles to change

Sixth Step in Kotter Theory: Plan for and Create Short-Term wins

Success breeds success. Create the momentum early on by making smaller changes that are visible to the entire organization. This allows people to get a feel for success.

So, strategically identify the steps that are achievable and enable the organization one (or two) steps closer to the change vision.

Action Ideas:

  • Identify tasks that will avoid the biggest critics of the change
  • Choose easy and cheap targets that are relatively easy to obtain
  • Evaluate pros and cons for each of the targets. Early success is critical according to Kotter
  • As mentioned in the previous step, recognize and reward people for contributing to improvements

Seventh Step in Kotter Theory: Consolidate Improvements and Produce More Change

True lasting change doesn't happen overnight, and requires persistence and patience. According to Kotter, lots of organizations declare victory too soon.

Action Ideas:

  • Establish reporting on the important change targets
  • After achieving every target, analyze what needs work and what went well
  • Continue to build momentum by setting solid targets
  • Apply kaizen principles

Eigth Step in Kotter Theory: Make Change Stick

The final stage is to maintain continuous effort that the changes are indeed working and continue on that path. This can be done by integrating new values within the organizational culture, promoting those who support the change, and recruiting new people.

It's easy to fall back to old ways, so continue to look for ways to make sure the changes will stick. Create policies, processes that will reinforce the values of the changes that works well.

Action Ideas:

  • Keep talking about how well the organization is doing with change. People love to hear stories. Create the connection between action and success
  • When hiring staff members, embed the "new" values of the organization in training and/or interviewing.
  • Always reinforce the behavior you want by rewarding those who are consistently working on the change vision

To summarize, Kotter also identified the 8 associating pitfalls that can prevent a change process.

  1. Not Establishing a Great Enough Sense of Urgency
  2. Not Creating a Powerful Enough Guiding Coalition
  3. Lacking a Vision
  4. Under communicating the Vision by a Factor of Ten
  5. Not Removing Obstacles to the New Vision
  6. Not Systematically Planning for and Creating Short-Term Wins
  7. Declaring Victory too soon
  8. Not Anchoring Changes in the Corporation’s Culture

Return to Strategies for Change 

Return to Home from Kotter Theory 

(Picture from Ray Devlin on

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