John Kotter's Leading Change

Overview of steps to renew your organisation

Overview

An overview of the steps to renew your organisation and summaries to support your project management activities as outlined in John P. Kotter's seminal book Leading Change* first published in 1996. It is, now more than ever, a go-to book to understand how to deliver change in businesses and organisations. With growing pressure to change and adapt in response to the economic climate, technological advances and an increasingly competitive market, change for many organisations is a given.

Initially published as a Harvard Business Review Article in Spring 1995, the headline Why Transformation Efforts Fail no doubt generated a lot of interest. At that time, organisation wide change implementations went by the name of business re-engineering and were often driven by finding and implementing efficiencies based on analysis and numbers. In the years since we have come to understand that changing the processes, systems or structure of an organisation is only part of what is needed to deliver a successful culture shift. The process Kotter describes (notably he refers to it as a process, not an event) challenges organisations, particularly where resistance exists either through previous failed attempts or simply minimal experience in leading or delivering organisational change.

Such has been the influence of the steps described in Leading Change* that the terminology has entered the everyday language of change management professionals. Unfortunately the level of understanding in the wider business community of change management remains luke warm at best, with change and transformation efforts often seen as exercises to reduce headcount rather than an opportunity to realise a brighter future for the organisation.

Steps

Kotter's process for Leading Change is broken down into eight steps starting with Establishing a Sense of Urgency ending with Institutionalising New Approaches. These steps should be carried out one following the other, however in the book her discusses the reality of several steps being underway concurrently and the complexities this brings to delivering change. In this regard, the methods supporting programme management such as the Managing Successful Programmes (MSP) framework, recognise this complexity and aim to provide a practical framework in which Kotter's eight steps can be delivered.

For Programme and Project Managers to understand how their work fits within an organisation wide change or transformation effort, it is important to understand each of Kotter's eight steps to Leading Change. Kotter explains the importance of both Leaders and Managers in the change process, and also the importance of getting the two to work together and understand their roles in leading and delivering change.

In this series, we explore each of these steps, the importance of their order and supporting tools to put the information into practise.

Further Reading*

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