During a recent interview, David Carder – Engagement Leader at Kotter International, shared specific techniques in how clients apply John Kotter’s 8-Step Process to drive large scale transformational change.
I would like to share parts of this interview and talk about how my recent change experience aligns with these observations. I want to show you “how to accelerate change!”
Essence of the 8-Step Change Process
Mr. Carder reminds us of a couple of things…first of all that, in forty years observing change efforts, Mr. Kotter saw 70% of change initiatives fail. Secondly, the 8 Steps are now referred to as “accelerators” or ideas that can be applied through a transformation. A great example can be seen in Step 1 where sharing a sense of urgency to change is not simply something that is crossed off the list once it has been done. The sense of urgency must be repeated over and over again throughout the initiative. Another example is that the concept of quick wins is something that must occur over and over again. It is not a matter of achieving a quick win and moving onto the next step.
I agree completely with Mr. Carder. Many of the executive leaders I have worked with fail to embrace the concept that the 8 Step Process is not simply an exercise to check off the steps. Finding opportunities to continuously integrate previous steps back into the process is truly an indication of active and visible sponsorship. Yes, it takes a lot of effort but isn’t that the job of the executive leaders!
What is the real shift we are talking about?
Large scale transformation does not have a start date and a distinct end point as we might have thought it did 20 years ago. Transformation represents a shift in culture…a new way of thinking and doing. A new way of thinking and doing doesn’t have an end date…it must continue to evolve. Shared leadership is really the key to large scale transformation in today’s world. We need to develop leadership capacity at all levels of the organization. We need everyone involved rather than a small number of key people like we did 20 years ago.
I have worked with organizations where this shift has not been embraced. Staff and executive leaders keep asking, “…so, when is this transformation going to be finished? Unfortunately, many of them are still stuck in the past…they haven’t really unfrozen from the past and allowed for a transformational shift!
Looking at why attempts at organizational transformation often fail?
It’s interesting to note that the most significant driver of failure is not having a sense of urgency to drive the change. And, yes, that is the first step in the process! Research shows that organizations need 51 percent of their employees to be engaged and supportive for the need to change.
I’m always curious about how people within an organization are often outspoken about what is broken and that things need to change but when the executive leaders finally decide to make a change, people are not so quick to “sign up” for the actual change. Talking about change and doing change are two different things. There is a disconnect between the urgency of the change for the executive leaders and the people within the organization.
What can be done to drive urgency?
In Kotter’s latest book, Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World, he talks about the importance of creating a sense of urgency around a single big opportunity which is now the centre of the model. The Big Opportunity is a positively articulated and highly energizing description of where the company is going. It is no longer based on a fear driven burning platform. The Big Opportunity becomes the fuel for the urgency. Kotter talks about the hand selection of an urgency team that drives urgency in many creative ways.
It is not easy to persuade organizational leaders to focus on urgency. They start with a desire to follow the process but, in my observation, quickly forget about the process. Attempts to pull them back to urgency and focus of increasing hope for the future fall on deaf ears, much to the peril of the transformational change!
What are the criteria for selecting the Urgency Team?
- Influence: Identify people who have demonstrated, over time, peer to peer influence
- Respect: From anyone’s perspective, who are the most highly regarded and respected by their colleagues
- Energy Level: Who are the people who have demonstrated tenacity…they are the people of others look to always finding a way “to do” rather than give up
- Can Set Their Own Ego Aside: These are the people who don’t care who gets the credit. These people focus on working as a team to get something done rather than as an individual hoping for recognition.
In one of my projects, I saw the power of peer to peer influence. This influence did far more to help achieve us the project outcomes than anything our executive leaders did. My job as a project sponsor was to empower them and then get out of their way…let them influence and shift the conversation!
Difference in Attitude: “Want To” v. “Have To”
What impact on your organizational change would you notice if you built a “volunteer army” driving short term wins and the early critical steps? What would happen if you you found people who are so excited about pursuing changes above and beyond their
day job…people who want to make it happen? The answer is easy…you are on your way toward the large scale transformation you are looking for.
This is the culture shift that can occur if you are able to increase employee engagement as research shows the impact of increased employee engagement on transformational leadership. Click here to read more about this impact.
Okay, how can you create that feeling of “want to” in your organization?
Put your hand up if your organization “picks” the members of a guiding coalition…yes, I thought there would be many hands in the air! What if you created the foundation for “want to” by inviting interested people to apply for the opportunity to be part of the guiding coalition? What if you even left the decision on who to select to the urgency team rather than executives? Wow, this sounds like more “peer to peer” engagement!
I have seen this in action and it is a powerful approach. I led this type of approach and saw a shift that empowered a guiding coalition with support from the executive team. Another great benefit for the organization…an opportunity to build leadership capacity as many of these early coalition team members have now become leaders in the organization.
What about communication…
A critical part of building urgency is communication. The language of the message must be common and this can help make the guiding coalition more successful.
It is amazing to see how the use of common language by executive leaders, urgency teams and coalition teams can break down silos and help people see themselves as “one” rather than seeing themselves within their respective program area. Yes, integration can only support organizational transformation!
Does everybody need to be involved?
As previously mentioned, Kotter says that 51 percent of your organization being fully engaged in the change can result in transformation. It is a fact that, in many cases, almost half of your people are skeptical of the change. Your guiding coalition could adopt a key message that says “there is no need for you to join us right now and we only ask that you not actively block us as we try to make a difference.”
It’s amazing what can happen when your coalition team goes out and starts achieving short term wins…those skeptics start paying attention as they notice credible successes that are hard to argue with! The number of supporters for your transformation start to increase and suddenly the number of skeptics starts to shrink and you notice fewer barriers being erected.
Don’t forget four core principles of the 8-Step Process!
- Management v. Leadership: transformation needs more “leadership” at all levels of the organization
- Head and Heart: transformation is driven by people who have a passion to do something extraordinary…transformation is NOT driven by a fear based burning platform
- Want To v. Have To: speaks for itself!
- Few v. Many: Transformation will only occur when there are many, many “volunteers” engaged in leading a change…transformation will NOT occur when it is led a few experts
==>Go here for another awesome resource “Leading Change”<==
How are you going to write your story of transformation?
==>Go here for Kotter’s Book “Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World”<==
What do you think…I would love to hear from you. Here is a link to my profile.
All the best!
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