How to Apply Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model (2022)

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Kotter's change model

Adapting to organizational change has always been a challenge, with businesses facing a soaring change failure rate of over 70%

However, choosing a suitable change model, alongside effective change leadership, goes a long way in reducing any resistance to change

In this article, we will briefly describe each of the 8 steps in Kotter’s change model, as well as the 4 additional change management principles that yield the best results when used along with Kotter’s change management model. 

What Is Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model?

Kotter’s 8-step change model is a change management model that empowers organizations to tackle organizational change and digital innovation by mobilizing their workers to drive rapid adoption and implementation of a new change initiative. Kotter first introduced his 8-step change management model in 1996 in his book, Leading Change, which was later updated (and published in the book Accelerate, in 2014) to accommodate evolving business requirements and help them speed up the transformation process in an increasingly fast-paced world.

What are the 8 steps in the Kotter Change Model?

  1. Create a Sense of Urgency 
  2. Form a Guiding Coalition 
  3. Create a Strategic Vision 
  4. Initiate Change Communication
  5. Remove Barriers to Change
  6. Generate Short-Term Wins 
  7. Make Change a Continuous Process
  8. Incorporate Changes in the Org Culture

The 8 Steps in Kotter’s Change Model

Here are the 8-steps in Kotter’s change model:

1) Create a Sense of Urgency

It’s human nature to maintain the status quo and have some form of resistance to the new change. However, a sense of urgency can often spark the initial motivation to initiate a change implementation process. 

It’s crucial to communicate the need, and reason, for any change for employees to see change as a possible solution to an existing problem. As a change agent or change consultant, you must obtain the buy-in of at least 75% of the organization’s management to lead effective change. 

For example, suppose an organization is losing new customers due to a slow response time for inbound sales leads. In this case, you must reason out with evidence that a new sales CRM such as Salesforce will shorten the sales cycle and help them hit their sales goals easily. 

It’s difficult to argue with this reasoning. It provides a solid explanation of why transitioning to Salesforce is an urgent need. Plus, it addresses Kotter’s ‘Head + Heart’ principle by framing the change in a way that highlights the benefits to the sales team.

2) Form a Guiding Coalition

Driving a change initiative isn’t a one-person job. The ‘Leadership + Management’ change principle stresses that organizational changes need multiple leaders’ opinions, ideas, and support. 

Your guiding coalition comprises people you choose as your support system, including managers and supervisors under effective change leadership

Another principle applicable here is ‘Select Few + Diverse Many’ principle. Designated change leaders (select few) delegate tasks to experienced individuals (Diverse Many). Educate them about the reason for the change to feel confident in its need, to ensure that you have support from various functions.  

3) Create a Strategic Vision

A change initiative is often challenging to understand at the lower hierarchical levels. Start with a change management plan that clearly outlines all project milestones and deliverables. When the vision is only in your head, it’s easy to underestimate how long the initiatives, such as training or data migrations, will take. A documented vision helps you balance various aspects of the change implementation and set more realistic timelines. 

For example, handling customer service in Salesforce will call for additional training. Change leaders acknowledge concerns about activity by assuring their team that they will be supported by self-guided training directly in Salesforce and through weekly one-on-one check-ins with their change leader, showcasing how change appeals to the ‘Head + Heart’ principle. 

4) Initiate Change Communication

Organizations often focus more on a change’s logistics over properly communicating the change. Change must be understood and supported for it to be successful – without effective change management communication, the change initiative is likely to fail. As a change practitioner, you must:

  • Talk often about your vision and change implementation plan
  • Address employees’ concerns transparently
  • Apply your vision to all operational aspects – from training to performance reviews
  • Lead the change by setting an example 

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5) Remove Barriers to Change

The top-to-bottom approach of change imposition is often met with employee pushback. To successfully drive the change, you must identify all the factors likely to reduce its chances for success. 

Whether it’s individuals, org culture, or limited resources, there will likely be a few barriers to change. Identify these obstacles as early as possible and rely on available resources to break them down without disrupting other business areas.

6) Generate Short-Term Wins

Implementing change is a long and cumbersome process. To keep your employees motivated throughout their change journey, you must recognize and celebrate short-term wins and achievements. 

Try out innovative reward systems such as rewarding team members with gift cards or extra vacation days. Tools such as  Lattice or Honey allow you to publicly recognize employees for their efforts. These small acts can go a long way in keeping your team on track and motivating new members to adopt the change.

7) Make Change a Continuous Process

There is a large gap between implementation and complete adoption. A change initiative can easily fail if the people driving the change become complacent due to short-term success or get disheartened due to barriers. 

Therefore, change leaders must set SMART goals in advance and keep analyzing simultaneously to improve to reap long-term benefits.

8) Incorporate Changes in the Org Culture

Change initiatives require behavioral change, and for a change to be fully adopted, it must be deeply rooted in an organization’s culture and processes. According to Accelerate, “accelerators 1-7 are all about building new muscles.” The final aspect of Kotter’s 8-step change model is about maintaining those new muscles.

It’s crucial to offer continuous employee training methods until the change is reinforced as a habit. If you abandon your team members too soon, you risk them falling back into old practices and losing all the new muscle memory you fought so hard to build. Success stories keep employees on board with better and continuous process improvements

Corporate Example of Applying Kotter’s Model of Change

The cloud data services and management organization NetApp was on the verge of losing its business, as it faced tough new competitors. It applied Kotter’s 8-step change model to achieve three strategic goals:

  • Grow its market share
  • Implement global partnerships
  • Drive organization efficiencies

Applying these goals led NetApp to bundle its solutions into packages, as well as create a new streamlined approach to sales. After the application of Kotter’s model, NetApp saw a 44% increase in revenue, a 55% increase in sales, and a $14 billion growth in market capitalization.

Advantages of Kotter's Change Model

Given that Kotter’s model dates back to the 90s, is it still relevant for organizations? To answer this question, let’s look at the advantages of using Kotter’s change model:

  • It is an easy-to-implement, step-by-step change management model that provides a clear description of the entire change process.
  • Emphasis is on the involvement and acceptability of the employees by forming a guiding coalition and getting organizational buy-in for the success of the change initiative.
  • It highlights the importance of creating a sense of urgency. Therefore, this mindset, combined with a well-drafted change vision, can set your organization up for success. 

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Disadvantages of Kotter's Change Model

Like any other change management model, Kotter’s model also has certain flaws, and while implementing this change model, you must balance out the following drawbacks:

  • The process focuses highly on creating urgency but lacks detail
  • The model is sequential and time-consuming. Missing out on any steps can lead your change management team astray
  • Being a top-down model, it limits the scope of employee participation, resulting in frustration

4 Principles of Kotter’s Change Management Model

While Kotter’s book- Leading Change encourages completing eight steps sequentially, Accelerate recommends running the steps concurrently and continuously. 

Instead of treating them as separate steps, they should be worked on simultaneously and should include the four change principles:

  1. Leadership + Management- Managers must support the change the administration requires for the initiative to succeed.
  2. Head + Heart- Data and logic alone are unlikely to motivate people to adopt a new business process or software implementation, communicating how they will personally benefit from the alteration to make what’s new more appealing or, even better, desirable.
  3. Select Few + Diverse Many- You need a core group of supporters from different hierarchy levels and varied job experiences. Prepare to recruit support from multiple levels of management, including those closer to the employees whose day-to-day work is most affected by the transformation.
  4. “Have To” + “Want To”- Transitions run more smoothly — and faster — when those affected by it want it to happen.

Working concurrently through the steps can help you move through the change process faster, but it only works if you have a large amount of support from all levels. 

The Leadership + Management and Select Few + Diverse Many principles help you build the foundation. The Head + Heart and “Have To” + “Want To” principles are designed to keep momentum throughout the organizational transformation. 

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Final Thoughts

Kotter’s 8-step-model is a people-centric, structured approach that helps organizations reduce change resistance – the most common barrier that delays the change management process. Plan and seek out the support of change management tools to easily embrace the change. 

Contact Whatfix to discuss how our customized digital adoption platform can speed up employee onboarding, provide on-demand training, and support your team through significant organizational changes.

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