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Some Things Never Change...

They say some things never change such as death, taxes and politicians. How about why transformation efforts fail?

John Kotter, the author of 'Leading Change', outlines a practical 8-step process for change management in his book.

  1. Establishing a Sense of Urgency;

  2. Creating the Guiding Coalition;

  3. Developing a Vision and Strategy;

  4. Communicating the Change Vision;

  5. Empowering Employees for Broad-Based Action;

  6. Generating Short-Term Wins;

  7. Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change;

  8. Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture.

Kotter’s book stemmed from a 1995 Harvard Business Review article he authored titled ‘Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail’ and some twenty years on, his insights are just as relevant today, particularly around:

In coming up with his 8-step process for change management, Kotter highlighted the eight errors that constantly lead to failed initiatives:

1. ‘Allowing too much complacency’ - In organisations where the complacency meter is high, transformation is always a washout. Complacency and successful transformation are jointly exclusive, so you must build a sense of urgency all over your organisation.

2. ‘Failing to create a sufficiently powerful guiding coalition’ - Experts often advise that transformation initiatives can't thrive without support from the upper management, however it actually takes a lot more than that. Yes, you most definitely need the CEO's support, but you also need the active participation of department heads, business-unit leaders, general managers, divisional managers and perhaps another 50 individuals dedicated to drawing together to transform your company's future vision into reality. In effective case studies, this ‘guiding coalition’ is very influential. It comprises the majority of the company's most dynamic executives, and many others who have the formal titles and the implicit or overt authority to move mountains and get things done.

3. ‘Underestimating the power of vision’ - Change needs a vision that guides the groups where to head. Identifying the vision tells them when they have reached. Vision influences, encourages and delivers a sense of direction. If people aimlessly wander without a clear direction of goal, your transformation project will lose enthusiasm.

4. ‘Under communicating the vision by a factor of 10 (or 100 or even 1,000)’ - Change often demands sacrifice. A few meetings or inter-office memos (today read emails) just won't help. Leaders communicate in both word and action. Over communicate your visualisation and make certain, your deeds and words deliver the same message.

5. ‘Permitting obstacles to block the new vision’ - The fact is you must move forward whatever comes in the way. If your company's organisational framework is dragging things, perhaps it's time to confront the framework. Your worst competitors will be the passive resisters. If someone in upper management can escape with filibustering attitude, what does that say to the line workers about the authenticity of your company's commitment to change?

6. 'Failing to create short-term wins' - Transformation is like a marathon, not a sprint. However, if you don't stop to recognise a few benchmarks along the way, the journey can become very dispiriting. Many individuals have problems in envisioning the importance of actions beyond an 18-month horizon. Without intermediate achievements, your agenda could lose pace, so the answer is to create ‘short-term wins’ develop the numerous attainable short-term goals in the initial year of the new setup to honour transformation leaders, identify key participants and celebrate mutual success.

7. ‘Declaring victory too soon’ - One of the worst things you can do is declare to people that the game has already been won. Change needs to absorb into the depth of any culture to have a long-term effect, but once you proclaim your victory to others, you will struggle every day to keep people from reverting back to business as usual.

8. ‘Neglecting to anchor change firmly in the corporate culture’ - Did you ever wonder why something is done in a particular way, only to be told, ‘That's just the way we do it around here’. Until your change initiative penetrates so deeply into your corporate culture that it's considered ‘just the way we do things around here’, you risk falling back to the conventional ways of doing things. As soon as the urgency that first brought on the initiative starts to disappear, individuals may begin to relapse back to the experienced, factual and easy way of doing things.

All of these errors are preventable if one recognises how corporate leadership, not just simple management, is compulsory to lead an organisation through the challenging course of change, let alone a full-scale transformation.

Twenty years ago, Kotter’s keys to successful transformation were:

  • Address the eight key errors that lead to strategic change initiatives failure;

  • The most integral error is failure to generate an internal sense of urgency to justify the change. Others include inadequate vision, miscommunication and time mis-management;

  • Transformation needs many high-level devotees to work together;

  • Make all efforts to over communicate your vision to your workforces;

  • If someone tries to obstruct your program, passively or actively, you must react. Ignoring the staller questions your commitment;

  • Transformations reveal over a long period. Proclaiming success too early is a huge mistake because it devalues and dismisses the organisation’s sense of urgency;

  • To motivate others, create a few definite, "short-term wins" they can revel in;

  • Until your change initiative is accepted culturally as ‘how we do things here’, as opposed to being rolled back or deactivated;

  • Managers are trained to think in a linear way. Transformational change needs leadership moving on multiple façades simultaneously;

  • In the future, companies will function among a ‘persistent sense of urgency’.

Today, more than ever, each of the above points will contribute to a rock solid platform that will enable transformation success.

If you would like to discuss how Exceed Global can help your transformation efforts, contact Simon Bennett today.


Simon Bennett

Director of Consulting

Exceed Global

+61 419 042 640


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