Leading Change Why Transformation Efforts Fail

Topics: Change management, Management, Transformation Pages: 5 (5244 words) Published: August 3, 2015
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Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail
by John P. Kotter

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Editor’s Note: Guiding change may be the ultimate test of a leader—no business survives over the long term if it can’t reinvent itself. But, human nature being what it is, fundamental change is often resisted mightily by the people it most affects: those in the trenches of the business. Thus,


leading change is both absolutely essential and incredibly difficult.

January 2007 Issue

Perhaps nobody understands the anatomy of organizational change better than retired Harvard Business School professor John P. Kotter. This article, originally published in the spring of 1995, previewed Kotter’s 1996 book Leading Change. It outlines eight critical success factors—from establishing a sense of extraordinary urgency, to creating short-term wins, to changing the culture (“the way we do things around here”). It will feel familiar when you read it, in part because Kotter’s vocabulary has entered the lexicon and in part because it contains the kind of home truths that we recognize, immediately, as if we’d always known them. A decade later, his work on leading change remains definitive.


ver the past decade, I have watched more than 100 companies try to remake themselves into significantly better competitors. They have included large organizations (Ford) and small ones (Landmark Communications), companies based in the United States (General Motors) and elsewhere (British Airways), corporations that were on their knees (Eastern Airlines), and companies that were earning good money

(Bristol-Myers Squibb). These efforts have gone under many banners: total quality management, reengineering, rightsizing, restructuring, cultural change, and turnaround. But, in almost every case, the basic goal has been the same: to make fundamental changes in how business is conducted in order to help cope with a new, more challenging market environment.

A few of these corporate change efforts have been very successful. A few have been utter failures. Most fall somewhere in between, with a distinct tilt toward the lower end of the scale. The lessons that can be drawn are interesting and will probably be relevant to even more organizations in the increasingly competitive business environment of the coming decade.

The most general lesson to be learned from the more successful cases is that the change process goes through a series of phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time. Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces a satisfying result. A second very general lesson is that critical mistakes in any of the phases can have a devastating impact, slowing momentum and negating hard-won gains. Perhaps because we have relatively little experience in renewing organizations, even very capable people often make at least one big error.

Eight Steps to Transforming Your Organization 1. Establishing a Sense of UrgencyExamining market and competitive realitiesIdentifying and discussing crises, potential crises, or major opportunities2. Forming a Powerful Guiding CoalitionAssembling a group with enough power to lead the change effortEncouraging the group to work together as a team3. Creating a VisionCreating a vision to help direct the change effortDeveloping strategies for achieving that vision4. Communicating the VisionUsing every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategiesTeaching new behaviors by the example of the guiding coalition5. Empowering Others to Act on the VisionGetting rid of obstacles to changeChanging systems or structures that seriously undermine the visionEncouraging risk taking and...
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