To drive change, you must be pointed in the right direction from the start.

To drive change, you must be pointed in the right direction from the start.

Leading Change by John P. Kotter, originally published in 1996, has become a classic reference that most process improvement specialists either have or should have on their bookshelf. The core of the book lays out an eight-step model for effective change that anyone involved in change will find useful. However there is more to the book than just the model.

If we take it as fact that we live in a world that full of dynamic forces that cause markets to change and evolve, then all organizations will need to change or become irrelevant. In this environment, effective change has become a required capability for the health of the organization. Given the need for change, you would expect that change agents and organizations would have become good at change. However, the anecdotal evidence as seen on business pages of any major newspaper suggests that organizations will fail at change. Kotter begins Leading Change by describing the reasons why many changes fail. Understanding why changes fails is a prerequisite to understanding how change can succeed. In chapter one, titled “Transforming Organizations: Why Firms Fail” Kotter identifies the common errors organizations make when trying to address change.

  1. Allowing too much complacency – Without a sense of urgency it difficult to break the inertia that history and the day-to-day generate. I have often said that a good organizational near death experience makes breaking through organizational inertia much easier.
  2. Failing to create a sufficiently powerful guiding coalition – Any significant change will require organizational power to create and institutionalize. The power to generate change requires active support and resources of personnel with that organizational power.
  3. Underestimating the power of vision – A vison of the future is required to generate a unified action. Change without vision of the future is much akin to taking a trip without knowing the destination.
  4. Under communicating the vision (by a lot) – The vision defines the future, it must be continuously communicated to ensure everyone is aligned.
  5. Permitting obstacles to block the new vision – Nothing should be allowed to get in the way of the change. It is easy to allow other initiatives or even day-to-day activities to get in the way of change. In environments where “multi-tasking” is encouraged any number one priority will have to vie for focus and attention with other initiatives.
  6. Failing to create short-term wins – Most significant changes require time to complete and institutionalize. Short-term successes help reinforce commitment and momentum to attaining the vision. Short-terms wins need to be planned and generated rather relying on wishful thinking.
  7. Declaring victory too soon – Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades. Declare victory only when the change has been institutionalized.
  8. Neglecting to anchor changes in the corporate culture – Until any change or process becomes part of corporate culture, the natural tendency will be toward reversion. Think about a person with an organ transplant, without support natural antibodies will attempt to reject the organ. Anchoring change to the culture is the support needed to avoid reversion to the old normal.

Understanding of common errors that cause change to fail is a step to toward successful change. In the next installment we will address the forces that drive successful change. Please share your thoughts and ideas as we re-read the book together.

If you need a copy feel free to buy it using the SPaMCAST associate link (Buy Leading Change) with helps pay for bandwidth, supplies and edit for the podcast and blog. H

Re-Read Saturday is a new feature on the Software Process and Measurement blog. We are starting this feature with a re-read of Leading Change. Leading change has been on my bookshelf for many years and I consider it an important tool The re-read will extend over a twelve Saturdays as I share my current interpretation of a book that has a major impact on how I think about the world around me. When the re-read of Leading Change is complete we will dive into the list of books I am compiling from you, the readers and listeners of my blog and podcast. Have ideas for the next re-read? Let me know the two books that have influenced your career the most!