My local football (US variety) team seems to have the ability to be winning throughout the game only to wear out, lose focus or generally find a way to lose with very little time left on the clock. Significant organizational changes, like pursuing a goal or winning a game, is not over until the change is complete and it has become part of the culture. Stage 7 of Kotter’s 8-stage process for creating major changes is consolidating gains and producing more change. Just like my local football team, you must make sure you hold on to your gains and use them to build toward the next step forward. Kotter addresses two major topics in the stage: resistance and interdependence.

As time goes by and you experience short-term successes, it is easy to begin lose the urgency that helped power a change program. Until a change is written into an organization’s culture, resistance will always be lurking. Loss of urgency can lead to programs stalling. For example, I recently discussed a change program with colleagues that had been designed to transform an organization using Agile techniques including Scrum, continuous delivery and test driven development. Scrum was implemented as the first step and generated significant benefits. As the initial benefits were recognized, a number of leaders began to argue that 80% of the benefit had been generated and that the rest of the changes would be difficult. The argument led to a loss of urgency, momentum and a reduction in funding as attention wandered to another program with less resistance. Urgency and constancy of purpose must be continually maintained or resistance can lead to regression.

Significant organizational change typically requires changes to many different groups and processes to be effective. The larger the intended change, the larger the number of moving parts and interactions that will need to be involved when making a change. As most change programs progress, they evolve. Evolution is typically generated by feedback from the short-term wins and other sources within the environment. Changes help to identify new interactions and dependencies, which add complexity and the level of effort. Kotter uses an example of the difference of rearranging an office with all of the furniture attached with rubber bands and one without. The one in which the furniture is connected with rubber bands will require significantly more planning and effort. Each item will pull against each other as changes are made. As changes are identified, the program will potentially need to add new people and resources or perhaps even new subprojects many need to be established. Senior management needs to provide a sense of urgency for the change program and a vision of where the program is going. At the same time, the complexity of any significant change program requires tactical leadership and management. Effective change programs require both strategic vision and tactical management for effective delivery. The combination of interactions and dependencies cause complexity that requires focus and constancy of purpose by senior, middle and line management to facilitate change.

While any project or program evolves as new information and knowledge is discovered, we need to continually challenge the validity of change. Change causes complexity.  The higher the complexity of any program, the less likely they are to complete, at least effectively. One of the principles noted in the Agile Manifesto, is that “simplicity – the art of maximizing the amount of work not done – is essential.” Each part of the change program, and especially any changes or additions that are discovered as progress is made, must be evaluated to ensure that only what is required to deliver the vision is addressed. Remember the adage: keep it simple stupid. The tool to manage change is the guiding collation.  Use the guiding collation to accept change and to prioritize the change program’s backlog (sounds like a product owner).

Kotter summarizes stage 7 this way:

  • More change, not less – The program must build on the credibility and the feedback of the short-term wins.
  • More help – As inter-dependencies are identified, bring new people and resources into the program with the needed experience and knowledge.
  • Continued leadership – Senior management must have constancy of purpose. They need to continually provide and maintain a clear vision.
  • Project management and leadership from below – The individual projects and initiatives require tactical leadership and management to implement the visions of senior management.
  • Reduction of unnecessary inter-dependencies – Keep the change program as simple as it need to be.

All large projects, whether they are significant organizational change programs or not, take time and evolve. At some point, as change programs progress and generate benefits it will become tempting to declare victory. Yogi Berra stated “It ain’t over till it’s over.” A change program is not complete until it attains the vision for the program and has been integrated into the organization’s culture.

Momentum is as important for change programs as it is in sports.

Momentum is as important for change programs as it is in sports.

Sports enthusiasts will understand the concept of momentum. Momentum is often used to indicate that team is moving in the right direction and that significant energy will be needed deter them from scoring or winning. The perception of momentum is as important for change programs as it is in sports. Any significant change will tend to take a long time to evolve, compete and become institutionalized. The long-term nature of significant change makes it easy for attention and energy to wane. Short-term wins, step 6 in Kotter’s 8 Step Model for Change, are an important tool to ensuring that any change program is actually given the time to succeed.

Short-term wins are points along the path to the larger goals that provide tangible results that the changes being made are working and will yield results EARLY and often. Effective short term-wins are planned, rather than left to chance. They deliver unambiguous results that are broadly visible and related to the change effort. Kotter does not include planned in his list of attributes of an effective short-term win, however I have found that unless planned, it will be difficult to truly attribute the win to the change program. While opportunistic wins are great, you cannot count on them to magically appear when needed. For short-term wins to happen, be observed and to be easily attributable requires a combination of active leadership and management. Leadership provides the vision and energy for the change and the steps along the way while management delivers the organization and tactical execution. Both are needed.

Kotter suggests that short-term wins play six different roles in supporting change. They are:

  1. Provide evidence of value – It is very difficult to ask people and organizations to sacrifice for something far in the future. Short-term wins provide feedback that sacrifice now has value now and in the future.
  2. Positive feedback to change agents – Leading and promoting change is difficult work requiring reward. Short-term wins provide a platform for an “attaboy” or a pat on the back that is helpful for providing motivation.
  3. Tuning – Agile methods leverage retrospectives of all types to generate feedback for tuning the trajectory of a tasks or project. Planned short-term wins provide feedback that is useful as tuning mechanism.
  4. Undermine resisters – Nothing breaks through resistance like success. Few if any significant change programs do not have detractors, without positive feedback and success along the way it is easier for the voices of detractors to gain credence. Success generates creditably for the change and those leading the change program while reducing the credibility of those that are actively resisting.
  5. Keep stakeholders on board – The first of Demining 14 Points for Management is that management must generate constancy of purpose toward improvement. Short-term wins are helpful for keeping stakeholders on board with the long-term plan for change.
  6. Build the big MO – Visible momentum toward a goal paradoxically is a reflection of the positive energy a change program exhibits and a mechanism for generating long-term energy toward progress. Short term wins generate momentum.

Most change programs are based on empirical models. Changes are planned, implemented, observed and then changed and adapted. Organization changes, just like turning a large ship or stopping a freight train, generally do not happen overnight. Without positive feedback, short-term wins, it will be easy to wander off course or for another bright shiny idea to capture organizational attention and causing failure.

Re-read Summary to-date

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.