Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model

Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model is a framework for implementing change in organisations or any people-centred change.
Kotters 8 Step Change Model Diagram Mutomorro
Free template for Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model

What is the Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model?

Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model is a framework for implementing change in organisations. The model consists of eight steps that are designed to guide organisations through the change process.

Developed by John Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School, the model is based on years of research and practical experience. It’s an extremely versatile change model and is considered to be an effective, adaptable and robust way to manage change in a variety of situations. Due to its flexibility it can also be integrated with other change management models.

The 8 Steps of Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model

Kotter’s model is broken down into 8 steps. Each of these steps is designed to address a certain aspect of creating positive change and has been built from his research over the years.

Kotter's 8 Step Change Model Diagram

The model’s a useful place to start because it covers a lot of common, best-practice areas which often get missed in change approaches. There’s similarities between the areas covered here and the well-know ADKAR change model. I’ve personally found Kotter’s approach useful in everything from culture change to implementing continuous improvement process.

Let’s take a closer look at each of the eight steps.

Step 1: Create a sense of urgency

A clear, powerful narrative that captures and sustains the need for change.

Kotter's 8-Step Change Model Diagram - Step 1. Create Urgency - Mutomorro

The first step in Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model is establishing a sense of urgency. This involves creating a compelling reason for change, contextualising it in a way that resonates and communicating it in an effective way to employees and stakeholders.

“Creating a high enough sense of urgency among a large enough group of people is an issue I have come to believe is of overriding importance in a fast-moving, turbulent era. When the urgency challenge is not handled well, even very capable people and resource-rich organizations can suffer greatly. When the challenge is handled well, even those who face formidable obstacles can produce results we all want for our careers, employers and nations. Put simply, a strong sense of urgency is moving from an essential element in big change programs to an essential asset in general.”
John P Kotter

As change leaders, we must help employees understand why change is necessary and what will happen if the organisation does not change. This step is critical because it creates that sense of urgency and helps employees understand the importance of change.

Inertia is one of the most difficult aspects to manage when dealing with organisational change, and this stage is designed to combat any reluctance by making the change seem important and pressing.

In Kotter’s book, A Sense of Urgency, he lists a series of factors which are important for creating a sense of urgency.

  • Find ways to bring the outside in: Kotter argues that organisations naturally become inwardly focused. This make the impact of the organisation difficult to relate with. Kotter suggests investing far more in listening to customer-facing employees to understand what’s really happening. He also suggests sharing external data (and stories) with leaders to the voice of the customer or end-user is more readily felt. Seeing the organisation from the outside in is critical in building the sense of urgency necessary for change. I often find it useful to ask how the customer’s voice is present in decision making and strategic discussions.
  • Behaving with urgency everyday: Apathy and disengagement can be catastrophic to change initiatives. Kotter emphasises the importance of maintaining a consistent sense of urgency in everyone’s mindset – consistently reinforcing and reminding people of the need for change.
  • Look for opportunity in every crisis: Unexpected events will, naturally, occur during a change process. While it’s important to manage these, it’s also important to see them as reinforcement tools to create greater urgency. Use crisis to fuel creativity and new thinking.
  • Deal effectively with the naysayers: Everyone deals with change differently, and everyone deserves to be heard. But consistently negative narrative can corrode people’s engagement, and impact the change initiative. Kotter suggests finding ways to address these perspectives or lessen their impact.

Urgency, according to Kotter, is about the removal of complacency. I.e. the tendency to stick with the status quo and be reluctant to accept the need for change. Urgency in this sense is about the energy and will to move forwards as an organisation, and maintain that energy throughout the change process.

Creating the urgency can take a variety of forms, and from my experience it’s useful to have a blended mix of:

  • The way things are today (and why they don’t work).
  • Real stories from colleagues and customers which encapsulate this.
  • Context which frames the need to change in the volatile world around you.
  • Data which backs this up and reinforces the urgency.
  • Realistic scenarios of what will happen if you don’t change.
  • A clear, unambiguous view of where you want to be.

The trick is combining these elements into a powerful change narrative, which forms the foundation of the next stages.

The most important aspect to remember is – people are moved by emotion, not data. A slide deck full of stats is unlikely to inspire and catalyse sufficiently to create the urgency you need. Your narrative should clearly outline the reasons for the proposed changes, the expected outcomes, and the benefits that the changes will bring to the organisation (and the people in it).

Step 2: Create a Guiding Coalition

Develop a passionate, diverse group to carry the change through.

Kotter's 8-Step Change Model Diagram- Step 2. Build Guiding Coalition - Mutomorro

The second step in Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model is creating a guiding coalition. This involves assembling a group of influential people who can help drive change. This group should include people from different levels and departments within the organisation. In fact, it’s incredibly valuable to have a diversity of perspective within the Coalition, which often means drawing from a diverse pool of people and viewpoints. I’ve found some of the most successful Coalitions involve people from the front-line working directly with the Exec team – it leads for some really powerful insight and problem solving.

The guiding coalition should have the authority, expertise, and credibility to lead change (while also including people who are directly affected by the change). Don’t be tempted to focus only on senior leadership, or on the most vocal people across the organisation. Instead, look at the building a Coalition which is able to bring as full a picture of organisational sentiment as possible. Diversity of perspective is the key to a good coalition!

One, common, way to create a guiding coalition is to identify people who are passionate about change and can influence others (change champions). Leaders should involve these individuals in the change process and empower them to lead change initiatives. The guiding coalition should also be diverse, with people from different backgrounds and perspectives.

Need some change support?

I’m James. A freelance change consultant with 15 years experience helping organisations and causes create positive change. If you’d like to explore how I could help you make Kotter’s change model fit your change plans, drop me a note.

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Step 3: Developing a Vision and Strategy

Painting a picture of the end state you’re aiming for, and what it will look and feel like.

Kotter's 8 Step Change Model Diagram - Step3. Create Change Vision - Mutomorro

The third step in Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model is developing a vision and strategy. This involves creating a clear and compelling vision for the future and a strategy for achieving that vision. The vision should be inspiring and motivating, and the strategy should be practical and achievable.

One effective way to develop a vision and strategy is to involve the guiding coalition and other stakeholders in the process. Leaders can hold brainstorming sessions and workshops to gather ideas and create a shared vision. The guiding coalition can then develop a strategy for achieving the vision and communicate it to employees.

It’s critical at this stage to engage with the whole business in exploring how this vision can be applied practically. Change often fails when the strategy has been designed behind closed doors without the involvement of the organisation, or key obstacles haven’t been acknowledged and addressed.

Step 4: Communicating the Change Vision

Communicate the change vision in a relevant way that resonates with employees and stakeholders.

Kotter's 8-Step Change Model Diagram - Step 4. Communicate Vision - Mutomorro

The fourth step in Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model is communicating the change vision. This involves communicating the vision and strategy to employees and stakeholders. Leaders must create a clear and compelling message that resonates with employees and helps them understand the importance of change.

One effective way to communicate the change vision is to use multiple channels, such as email, town hall meetings, and social media. Leaders should also provide regular updates on the progress of the change initiatives and address any concerns or questions from employees.

Step 5: Empowering Others to Act on the Vision

Enable the organisation to define, plan and carry out the change.

Kotter's 8-Step Change Model Diagram - Step 5. Empower Others to Act - Mutomorro

The fifth step in Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model is empowering others to act on the vision. This involves removing barriers and obstacles that prevent employees from taking action. Leaders must provide the necessary resources, training, and support to enable employees to contribute to the change process.

One effective way to empower others is to involve employees in the change initiatives and give them ownership of the process. Leaders can delegate tasks and responsibilities to employees and provide them with the necessary resources and support to succeed.

Step 6: Creating Short-term Wins

Focus on enabling and promoting short-term wins across the organisation.

Kotter's 8 Step Change Model Diagram - Stage 6. Short Term Wins - Mutomorro

The sixth step in Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model is creating short-term wins. This involves celebrating small successes along the way and demonstrating progress towards the vision. Short-term wins help build momentum and energize employees to continue the change process.

One effective way to create short-term wins is to identify quick wins that can be achieved early in the change process. Leaders can also recognize and reward employees for their contributions to the change initiatives.

Step 7: Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change

Keep the momentum going and consolidate gains across the organisation.

Kotter's 8-Step Change Model Diagram - Step 7. Consolidate Change - Mutomorro

The seventh step in Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model is consolidating gains and producing more change. This involves building on the momentum created by the short-term wins and continuing to make progress towards the vision. Leaders must continue to provide the necessary resources and support to sustain the change process.

One effective way to consolidate gains and produce more change is to involve employees in the process and encourage them to share their ideas and feedback. Leaders should also adjust the strategy as needed based on feedback and changing circumstances.

Step 8: Anchoring New Approaches in the Organisations’s Culture

Integrate the change into the culture, systems and process and make it stick.

Kotter's 8-Step Change Model Diagram - Step 8. Anchor Change - Mutomorro

The eighth and final step in Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model is anchoring new approaches in the organisation’s culture. This involves embedding the changes into the organisation’s culture and processes to ensure that they are sustained over time. Leaders must ensure that the changes become part of the organisation’s DNA.

One effective way to anchor new approaches is to reward and recognise employees who embody the new culture and processes. Leaders should also incorporate the changes into the organisation’s policies and procedures and provide ongoing training and support to ensure that employees understand and embrace the changes.

Applying Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model to Real-life Scenarios

Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model can be applied to a wide range of change initiatives, from technology implementations to organizational restructuring. Let’s take a look at two examples of how the model can be applied in real-life scenarios.

Example 1: Implementing a New Technology Platform

An organisation is implementing a new technology platform to improve efficiency and streamline processes. The implementation will require significant changes to the organisation’s workflows and processes.

Step 1: Establishing a sense of urgency – Leaders communicate the need for change and the benefits of the new technology platform.

Step 2: Creating a guiding coalition – The organisation assembles a group of influential people from different departments to lead the implementation.

Step 3: Developing a vision and strategy – The guiding coalition develops a vision for the future and a strategy for achieving the vision.

Step 4: Communicating the change vision – Leaders communicate the vision and strategy to employees and stakeholders.

Step 5: Empowering others to act on the vision – Leaders provide the necessary resources and support to enable employees to contribute to the implementation.

Step 6: Creating short-term wins – The organisation identifies quick wins, such as improved process efficiency, and celebrates them.

Step 7: Consolidating gains and producing more change – The organisation builds on the momentum created by the short-term wins and continues to make progress towards the vision.

Step 8: Anchoring new approaches in the organisation’s culture – The organisation incorporates the new technology platform into its policies and procedures and provides ongoing training and support to ensure that employees understand and embrace the changes.

Example 2: Restructuring the Organisation

An organisation is restructuring its operations to improve profitability and competitiveness. The restructuring will involve job cuts and changes to the organisation’s structure.

Step 1: Establishing a sense of urgency – Leaders communicate the need for change and the potential consequences of not changing.

Step 2: Creating a guiding coalition – The organisation assembles a group of influential people from different levels and departments to lead the restructuring.

Step 3: Developing a vision and strategy – The guiding coalition develops a vision for the future and a strategy for achieving the vision.

Step 4: Communicating the change vision – Leaders communicate the vision and strategy to employees and stakeholders.

Step 5: Empowering others to act on the vision – Leaders provide the necessary resources and support to enable employees to contribute to the restructuring.

Step 6: Creating short-term wins – The organisation identifies quick wins, such as cost savings, and celebrates them.

Step 7: Consolidating gains and producing more change – The organisation builds on the momentum created by the short-term wins and continues to make progress towards the vision.

Step 8: Anchoring new approaches in the organisation’s culture – The organisation incorporates the restructuring into its policies and procedures and provides ongoing training and support to ensure that employees understand and embrace the changes.

Benefits of Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model

Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model offers several benefits for organisations. First, the model provides a clear and practical framework for implementing change. The eight steps are easy to understand and can be applied to any change initiative. Second, the model emphasises the importance of communication and involvement. Leaders must communicate the vision and strategy and involve employees in the change process. This helps create buy-in and ownership of the changes. Third, the model helps organisations sustain the changes over time. The final step of anchoring the changes in the organisation’s culture ensures that the changes become part of the organisation’s DNA.

Criticisms of Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model

While Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model has many benefits, it also has some criticisms. One criticism is that the model is too linear and does not account for the complex and unpredictable nature of change. Change is often messy and nonlinear, and the model may not apply to all change initiatives.

Another criticism is that the model does not address the emotional aspects of change. Change can be stressful and emotional for employees, and the model may not provide enough support for addressing these emotions.

Summary of Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model

In conclusion, navigating organisational change can be challenging, but it is necessary for organisations to stay competitive. Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model provides a clear and practical framework for implementing change. The model emphasises the importance of communication, involvement, and sustaining changes over time. While the model has some criticisms, it can be applied to a wide range of change initiatives with success. As a change management consultant, I highly recommend using Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model to navigate organisational change.

Free – Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model PDF Template

You can download a free, PDF version of the template I’ve used in this article.

Case Studies Examples

Real-life Case Study 1: Successful Transformation Using Kotter’s Change Model

The first case study involves a Fortune 500 company faced with declining profits and increasing market competition. The company’s leadership recognised the need for change and opted to use Kotter’s Change Model to guide their transformation.

The first step in Kotter’s model is to create a sense of urgency. The company did this by clearly communicating to all employees the challenges facing the business and the need for change. This helped to galvanise the workforce and create a shared understanding of the need for change.

The company then formed a guiding coalition, as per the second step of Kotter’s model. This coalition was composed of key stakeholders from across the business, who were charged with driving the change process. The coalition worked together to create a clear vision for the future of the company, aligning it with the third step in Kotter’s model.

Real-life Case Study 2: Implementing Kotter’s 8-Step Model for Positive Change

Our second case study is of a mid-sized technology company that had been experiencing stagnant growth. The management decided to implement Kotter’s 8-step model to reinvent their business strategy and reignite growth.

As per the model, the company began by creating a sense of urgency, highlighting the need for change amidst the fast-evolving technology landscape. A guiding coalition was then formed, consisting of leaders from various departments who were passionate about driving the change.

This coalition then worked on developing a vision and strategy, the third step of the Kotter change model. They envisioned the company as a leader in innovative technology solutions and outlined a strategy to achieve this vision. This provided a clear direction for the change initiative and helped to align all employees with the new strategic direction.

Real-life Case Study 3: Overcoming Business Challenges with Kotter Change Model

The third case study is of a small manufacturing business struggling with low employee morale and declining productivity. The leadership team decided to use Kotter’s 8 step model to address these issues and transform the company culture.

Creating a sense of urgency was the first step taken. The management communicated the performance issues and their impact on the company’s sustainability, creating a compelling reason for change. A guiding coalition was then formed, comprising managers and employees who were influential and respected within the company.

The coalition then developed a vision of a positive and productive workplace, in line with the third step of the model. They also crafted a strategy to achieve this vision, which included initiatives aimed at improving communication, recognition, and employee development.

Lessons Learned

These case studies demonstrate the power of Kotter’s Change Model as a structured and effective approach to managing change. A key lesson is the importance of creating a sense of urgency as the first step. This helps to galvanize the organization and create a shared understanding of the need for change.

The second lesson is the value of forming a guiding coalition. This group acts as the driving force behind the change initiative, providing leadership and direction. It’s important that this coalition includes individuals from different levels and areas of the organization to ensure broad support and buy-in.

The third lesson is the necessity of having a clear vision and strategy. This provides a roadmap for the change initiative and helps to align all employees with the new direction.

Useful Resources

To understand and apply Kotter’s Change Model effectively, there are numerous resources available. Books such as ‘Leading Change‘ and ‘The Heart of Change‘ by John Kotter provide in-depth insights into the model.

Online resources such as articles, webinars, and courses also offer valuable information and practical guidance. Websites like Harvard Business Review and the Kotter International website are particularly useful.

In conclusion, Kotter’s Change Model is a powerful tool for managing change. By understanding and applying this model, businesses can successfully navigate organisational transformation, ensuring their longevity and success in the ever-evolving world of business.

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 James Freeman-Gray 

I'm James. A change consultant and organisational development specialist. I've been working in people-centred change for over 15 years. I partner with causes, champions, teams & leaders on projects for social, environmental, technological & human good. If you think I can support in making your change a success, drop me a message. 

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