A trail map enables hikers to choose their own path!

A trail map enables hikers to choose their own path!

Change is a fact of life.  John P. Kotter’s book, Leading Change, defines his famous eight-stage model for change. The first stage of the model is establishing a sense of urgency. A sense of urgency provides the energy and rational for any large, long-term change program. Once a sense of urgency has been established, the second stage in the eight-stage model for change is the establishment of a guiding coalition. If a sense of urgency provides energy to drive change, a guiding coalition provides the power for making change happen. A vision, built on the foundation of urgency and a guiding coalition, represents a picture of a state of being at some point in the future. Developing a vision and strategy is only a start, the vision and strategy must be clearly and consistently communicated to build the critical mass needed to make change actually happen. Once an organization wound up and primed, the people within the organization must be empowered and let loose to create change.

I view the stages the precede stage five to be a build up to the beginning of the main course. Each step is incredibly important and ignoring any of the steps will lead to problems and failure.  However, if the change you are attempting to generate is to be broad based and long lasting, you will need to empower people.  In this chapter Kotter discusses removing barriers to empowerment. Kotter singles out four categories of barriers for examination:

  1. Structural – Organizational structure defines how the lines of authority and responsibility are constructed in order to deliver the organization’s products and services. An organization’s structures are generally developed to effectively and efficiently deliver services and products based on a specific way of working. Structures are built to guide and control work AND to resist change. Managers often defend the current structure and their own base of power leading to specialization. Specialization generates silos; fragmenting the work so that to deliver a product or service, many handoffs are required.  Handoffs slow the flow of information and communication, which accentuates the need to foster stable processes over innovation. Breaking through structural barriers requires a constant sense of urgency and senior management oversight and dedication.
  2. Skills – Change often requires reskilling employees who have spent years acquiring knowledge and skills and believe they have been successful. The act of having to acquire new skills and change what has worked in the past generates fear of the future and resistance. People fear change they do not think will benefit them or at least can’t predict will be positive. A training strategy needs to couple the experience and concepts to convince those involved with the change that they will be successful. Training to reskill employees must be designed to combat resistance and to address adult learning (see Training Strategies for Transformations and Change: Synthesis).
  3. Systems – Systems of all types need to change to empower and support employees in making change. Systems include information technology applications (e.g. customer relationship systems and logistics systems) and business processes (e.g. objectives, hiring processes, promotions). Changes to the process and systems are critical to making change possible and then supporting change.
  4. Supervisors – Not all supervisors and middle managers will support the vision and strategy for change adopted by the organization. When these leaders baulk at empowering their employees, change often grinds to a halt. Kotter suggests that you should confront the recalcitrant with honest dialog. I would add that that when the dialog occurs (the earlier the better) that the power that urgency, vision and constancy of purpose be used to get holdouts on the change train. Employees with supervisors that actively resist the change will never feel safe enough to be empowered.

Empowering employees generates power and action.  They are required to transform a vision and strategy into something tangible rather than something ethereal.  Without empowered employees, change fails.