This was the credo of the famous Scottish explorer, David Livingstone who is probably better known for H.M. Stanley’s greeting of him with the famous, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume?” Livingstone was a restless soul made famous in the late 19th century for his explorations of Africa. Change didn’t frighten him, standing still did.
There are a lot of business owners who share that same fear today. They don’t relish change, but they fear not changing more. So, how do you move forward without marching off a cliff?
John Kotter in his Leading Change offers eight steps that provide a pretty good map of the road to a successful change.
- Create a sense of urgency. Without a sense of urgency, there will be no spark to get things rolling.
- Develop a guiding coalition. You can’t bring about change alone. You need to gather a coalition … a critical mass to build momentum.
- Create a vision for change. There needs to be a clear sense of where the organization is heading; one that others can understand and buy into.
- Communicate the vision. This is one of those rinse and repeat steps. Others need to hear it and then see it modeled.
- Remove barriers. The obstacles can be people, pay structures, procedures or any number of things. This is the step when people need to get off the train if they don’t want to go forward.
- Generate short-term wins. Short-term, easy wins can generate excitement and keep things rolling.
- Don’t let up. Don’t declare victory too early! It takes a while for most changes to firm-up.
- Make it stick in the organizational culture. For change to stick it needs to be a core part of the organization. It needs to become “how we do things around here.”
Kotter’s 8 steps are a means to “go forward” and avoid most of the dangers.
- Where does your business need to “go forward”?
- What steps has your organization had the most trouble executing?
Rick Maurer said:
I like Kotter’s eight steps. He deserves credit for coming up with a practical and logical set of steps. In reading Kotter’s classic book, Leading Change, there is one thing implied in his model, but not addressed as deeply as I would like. And that’s resistance. Many of my own clients use Kotter’s model, and I advise them to ask a single question at every step along the way: to what extent are various stakeholders supporting this change and to what extent are they resisting? Too often leaders (and their consultants) go through the stages as if they were steps in a recipe. Each stage must have a feedback loop. So, his first step is creating a sense of urgency. I agree completely with that. But, it is too easy for us to look at what we do to create this urgency and not ask ourselves, Did we succeed? what’s the data that tells us people feel fire in their bellies.
Another issue that I believe is implied in his writing, but deserves more attention is engaging lots of people in the process. A guiding coalition can be an important step, but that often isn’t enough. When high involvement is handled well it can be a significant force in making all the stages work more effectively because it increases the number of people who care about making the change a success. .
Of course, everything I just said applies to any model of change that people use, it just happens that Kotter’s is the most widely discussed.