8 Critical Stages for Anyone Creating Change

May 20, 2013

It’s been said that the term “change management” is a misnomer because if you are trying to “manage” change, you’re already too far behind! Change must be led from the front. Because of that, when I first discovered John Kotter’s eight stage process for creating major change in a university textbook (and published in his international bestseller Leading Change), I knew I had stumbled onto something incredibly valuable.

Change

So how do you go about creating change in your organization? Change seems like it should be simple enough – until we experience resistence from people who want things to stay the same. What’s the solution?

Below are John Kotter’s eight stages:

1. Establish a Sense of Urgency

According to Kotter, the biggest mistake change practitioners make is allowing too much complacency. The organization has been successful so far, so why change things now? Or, if a change is necessary, they do not make enough of case for how critical it is. So do your homework first. Is the change critical or merely a whim? If critical, how much? What opportunities will the change bring? What crises will take place if no change occurs?

2. Create the Guiding Coalition

The guiding coalition needs to have enough organizational influence (including positional authority, I’ve found), to pull the change off. They not only need to be committed to the change itself, but able to work together as a team to that end. If you are responsible for creating a major change but do not have enough positional authority, make sure to enlist the influence you need or you’ll likely waste your time.

3. Develop a Vision and Strategy

The change vision is the picture of what the present will look like – in the future after the change has taken place. Urgent data can’t inspire the masses the way a vision can. As a rule of thumb, the shorter, more concise and easier to communicate the vision is, the more likely it will be caught. The strategy is simply the plan for accomplishing the vision. Both the vision and strategy create enormous context for all the decisions that will be made down the line.

4. Communicate the Change Vision

Don’t just communicate the change vision. Over-communicate it. Use any and every possible method available. Then refuse to stop, no matter how far along in the process you get. The most influential communication is the modeling of new expectations by the guiding coalition. Communication with words is powerful. Communication with deeds is infinitely more so.

5. Empower Broad-Based Action

Oftentimes change in one area preempts change in another area. If you want change in behavior, you will probably need to change the environment as well. In this stage, it is critical to remove the barriers that impede the change you seek, whether systems, processes or infrastructure. Employees should be empowered to take risks in removing change barriers.

6. Generate Short-Term Wins

If there is no payoff for the change you are working to create until the final end, most people won’t be able to weather the storm. Part of your strategy needs to include visible improvements in the short-term. Once these short-term wins are reached, publicly recognize and reward the people responsible. Point to the desired end result, but be patient enough to celebrate in the present.

7. Consolidate Gains and Produce More Change

Whatever you do, do NOT declare victory too soon. Stay the course. Celebrating a win and declaring victory are much different. Don’t use wins as an excuse to get sloppy, but to reinvigorate the process with new projects and themes. Find ways to include people who haven’t gotten a shot on the front lines as of yet. A lack of focus will allow old traditions to seep back into the mix.

8. Anchor New Approaches in the Culture

Kotter points out that, “change sticks only when it becomes ‘the way we do things around here.'” Once victory has been achieved, it must be protected with shared values, performance standards, leadership development and succession decisions – all over time. Make continual references to the relationship between new behaviors and organizational success.

What changes are you attempting to lead? What’s your change plan?

Nathan Magnuson is a leadership consultant, coach, trainer and thought leader.  Receive his new ebook Trusted Leadership Advisor by subscribing to his website  or follow him on Twitter.