change and transform

8 Steps to Lead Change and Accelerate transformation

Narinder Sharma

My previous blog post discussed Change resistance and ways to overcome it, in this blog post, let’s discuss the leading change and transformation process further from the lens of Dr John P Kotter, a thought leader in business, leadership, and change. Change is a common thread that runs through all businesses regardless of size, industry, and age. Our world is changing fast, and organisations must change too. Organisations that handle change well will thrive, whilst those that do not may even struggle to survive. Over the decades, Dr J P Kotter observed hundreds of large & small organisations aiming to change and transform – including Ford, General Motors, and British Airways. He watched efforts in several directions and under many banners like total quality management (TQM), re-engineering, right-sizing, restructuring, cultural change, and turnaround. All to help the business cope, adjust and rise to the challenging market environment situation.

Why do organisations undergo significant organisational change & transformation?

The need for major organisational change may come from either opportunity or threat perceived. Some of the most compelling reasons for the transformation push are as below:

  • Increase revenue/profits 
  • Decrease costs 
  • Become more effective or efficient
The need for major organisational change & transformation
The need for significant organisational change

Unfortunately, most transformation and change initiatives, whether intended to boost quality, improve culture, or reverse a corporate death spiral – generate only lukewarm results, and many fail miserably.

Kotter noticed only a handful of the corporate transformations’ efforts became successful. Furthermore, most of such efforts failed or fell short of achieving the desired goals during the beginning/middle part of the transformation journey. Kotter originally suggested a series of 8-steps for organisational transformation improve on this. He noted using the proposed 8-step technique. As a result, organisations will enhance their chances of success in leading change and transformation. Here is the overview of Kotter’s “Leading Change” model:

John P Kotter Leading Change Model
John P Kotter Leading Change Model

Kotter suggested that the successful transformation process depends upon a series of change steps. Skipping the steps creates only an illusion of fast-track success and usually results in poor outcomes or failures. Leaders and managers often see transformation as an event, not a process. Transformation advances through stages that build on each other and usually takes years. Pressured leaders and managers skip steps to accelerate the process, but shortcuts don’t work.

Years later, Kotter observed further, recognised, and noted that the world is changing a lot faster than we can cop. So he revisited and revised his 8-step leading change model to accelerate organisational change & transformation. Following are a few highlights of core differences between the two models: the ability to run multiple steps concurrently, volunteer army representation and network flexibility, and finally, capitalising & building on small wins.

Kotter's Leading change to Accelerate change
vs Kotter’s New Accelerate Model

The disruptive and fast-paced world demanding agility requires change acceleration, making Kotter’s change model v2 much more relevant and meaningful. Kotter’s accelerate model also has 8-steps and, in many ways similar to his original “Leading change model” below is the summary of the 8-steps accelerate model:

Kotter's Accelerate Change Model

1 CREATE – a Sense of Urgency

Leaders must communicate why we must move away from the “status quo” and generate a sense of urgency. Show and make people understand the big opportunity available, may close in future. Failing to create and sustain this urgency is the most common reason for transformation failures. The leader’s role is to communicate “the big opportunity effectively”, bring people together, and direct/align their energy towards the transformation vision.

“Disrupt or be Disrupted”

2 BUILD – a Guiding Coalition

Bring together and create a group of members from multiple layers of the hierarchy to collaborate, innovate and lead the change. The group must adequately represent experts and leaders to enable faster, informed, and intelligent decision-making.

3 FORM – a strategic vision & initiative 

Create and paint the vision to help direct the change effort, develop strategies to achieve that vision and make that a reality. Show people & clarify “the vision” of the “Big Opportunity”, how it will be different from the past, and how it will become a reality.

 Characteristics of an Effective Vision

  • Imaginable: Conveys what the future will look like
  • Desirable: Appeals to the interests of employees, customers, stakeholders
  • Feasible: Realistic, attainable goals
  • Focused: Clear enough to guide decision making
  • Flexible: Adopt the changing condition
  • Communicable: Short and Sweet – Easy to communicate

“Data, Fact and figures alone are not enough, leaders must tap in head and hearts of people”.

4 ENLIST – a volunteer army 

Use all available channels to communicate the new vision and strategies constantly. Large-scale change can only occur when significant numbers of employees amass under a shared opportunity and drive in the same direction. Leaders must build excitement around the change vision opportunity that adequate force is willing to act towards it.

Top tips on communicating the vision

  • Simplicity: Eliminate jargon & technobabble.
  • Metaphor: Use analogy & examples
  • Forums: Use multiple platforms – big, small, formal, or informal 
  • Repetition: Clear, consistent, and repeated message 
  • Leader by example: Exhibit behaviour consistent with the vision 
  • Explain Inconsistency: Address inconsistencies to improve credibility
  • Give & Take: Two-way communication is always more powerful

5 ENABLE – Action by removing barriers

Remove barriers & obstacles and provide the freedom & environment for collaboration to thrive. Common barriers include silos, quick fixes, tactical mindset, complacency, legacy rules, or procedures. Instead, create a culture of openness and trust. Empower people, provide training, and align systems to influence change and push vision.

“Amazing things are waiting to happen – Just show people greater meaning of their effort and connect to the purpose“.

6 Generate – Short-Term Wins

Plan & create visible performance improvements or wins; A win – “big or small” helps move toward your opportunity. Reward change agents and recognise people who made the wins possible. Small wins are the building blocks of big results and must be communicated early and often to energise and drive change. A small win could be as simple as actions taken, a lesson learned, a process improved, or a new behaviour demonstrated.

Short terms wins are testimony evidence that sacrifices are worth it. These wins help fine-tune vision & strategies, keep bosses on board and build momentum.

7 SUSTAIN – Acceleration

Once you have had a few wins & successes, it’s easy to become complacent and relaxed. Instead, this is the time to press harder and use those wins as momentum to further fuel the change. Use increased credibility to change systems, structures and policies that don’t fit together and don’t fit the transformation vision and don’t stop until the vision becomes a reality.

Change leaders must adapt quickly to maintain speed. Whether it’s a new way of finding talent or removing misaligned processes, stay the course towards the vision.

8 INSTITUTE – Change 

Articulate and communicate the connections between new behaviours and organisational success to cement the new behaviours. You must build a record of accomplishment of new experiences to create lasting change. It takes years to anchor and institute a “change culture”. Most alterations in norms & shared values come at the end of the transformation process. 

Leading and Accelerating Change – Final Words

Understanding Kotter’s 8-steps of leading change and acceleration will boost your organisation’s chances of a successful transformation. It will fuel positive change over the long haul, and this agility is vital in the current disruptive world. This agility and resiliency culture will pay its dividends in future as change will become organisational capability and a recipe for failure.

“There is nothing permanent except change.”



Avoiding the Corporate Death Spiral

Strategy Execution and Change Management Consultants – Kotter

Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail