We complete the re-read of John P. Kotter’s book Leading Change by reviewing the implications from the last two chapters of the book.  Part Three paints the picture of a world in which the urgency for change will not abate and perhaps might even increase.  In chapter 11, titled The Organization of the Future, Kotter suggests that while in the past a single key leader can drive change, collaboration at the top of organizations is now required due to both the rate and complexity of change.  He argues that one person simply can’t have the time and expertise to manage, lead, communication, provide vision . . .  you get the point.  The message in the chapter is that for organizations of any type to prosper in the 21st century the ability to create and communicate vision is critical.  That skill needs to be fostered and developed over the long term just as any other significant organizational asset.  Long-term and continuous development of leadership is not accomplished simply by providing in a two-week course in leadership. While leadership is critical, it only goes so far in creating and fostering change and must be supplemented by a culture of empowerment. Broad-based empowerment allows organizations to tap a wide range of knowledge and energy at all levels of the organization.

Boiling the message of Chapter 11 down, Kotter suggests that an organization that will be at home with the dynamic nature of the 21st century will require a lean, non-bureaucratic structure that leverages a wide range of performance data. For example, in an empowered organization performance data must be gathered and analyzed from many sources. Performance data (e.g. customer satisfaction, productivity, returns, quality and others) gains maximum power when everyone has access to the data in order to drive continuous improvements. The culture of the new organization needs to shift from internally focused and command and control to an externally focused, non-bureaucratic organization. While Kotter does not use the terms lean and Agile, the organization he describes as tuned to the 21st Century reflects the tenants of lean and agile.

Chapter 12, titled Leadership and Lifelong Learning, circles back to the concept of leadership. It is a constant thread across all facets of the eight-stage model of change detailed in Leading Change. Kotter describes the need for leaders to continually develop competitive capacity (the capability to deal with an increasing competitive and dynamic environment). The model Kotter uses to describe the development competitive capacity begins with personal history and flows through competitive drive, lifelong learning, skills and abilities to competitive capacity.  Lifelong learning is an input and a tool for developing and honing skills and abilities. Skills and abilities feed competitive capacity. In our re-read of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey culminated the Seven Habit with the habit call Sharpening the Saw.  Sharpening the Saw is a prescription for balanced self-renewal.  Life-long learning is an important component in balanced self-renewal. Whether you read Kotter or Covey the need to continuously learn is an inescapable necessity of any leaders.

As a rule, I am never overwhelmed by the chapters after the meat of most self-help books (I consider Leading Change a management self-help book, part of a continuum that Covey’s Seven Habits of Highly Effective People would be found on also). Part Three of Leading Change ties the book together by reinforcing the need for the eight-stage model for change and to address the need for continuously sharpening the saw.  Kotter’s model is a tool that requires leaders to apply therefore organizations and leaders must foster the capacity to address needed changes.

Re-read Summary

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. Short-term wins provide the feedback and credibility needed to deliver on the change vision. The benefits and feedback from the short-term wins and other environmental feedback are critical for consolidating gains and producing more change. Once a change has been made it needs to anchored so that that the organization does not revert to older, comfortable behaviors throwing away the gains they have invest blood, sweat and tears to create.

The need for change is not abating. The eight-stage model for change requires leadership and vision.  Organizations need to foster leadership while both organizations and the people in those organizations must continually learn and hone their skills.

Next week we will review the list of books that readers of the blog and listeners to the podcast have identified as having a major impact on their career to vote on the next book we will tackle on Re-read Saturday.  Right now The Mythical Man Month by Fred Brooks is at the top of the list.  Care to influence the list?  Let me know the two books that most influenced your career.