Management March 24, 2010 Last updated March 25th, 2010 3,666 Reads share

“Failure is the tuition you pay for success” What Kotter learnt

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To get a better understanding of the components of successful transitional leadership, it is helpful to examine and understand its counterparty – failure.

For his paper Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail, John Kotter meticulously researched the reasons why some change initiatives succeed and others fail – for this blog we can use ‘change initiative’ as a proxy for transitional leadership.

But on a positive note, Kotter identified a series of inter-dependent phases that successful change initiatives tend to go through i.e. a potential template for ensuring success and I believe we can also use this ‘template’ for transitional leadership.  Drawing on Kotter’s findings, here’s a three phase approach to transitional leadership, broken into eight steps, as follows:

Create a climate for change

Step One: Create Urgency

For change to happen, it helps if the whole company really wants it. Develop a sense of urgency around the need for change. This may help you spark the initial motivation to get things moving.

Step Two: Form a Powerful Coalition

Convince people that change is necessary. This often takes strong leadership and visible support from key people within your organization.  To lead change, you need to bring together a coalition, or team, of influential people whose power comes from a variety of sources, including job title, status, expertise, and political importance.

Step Three: Create a Vision for Change

When you first start thinking about change, there will probably be many great ideas and solutions floating around. Link these concepts to an overall vision that people can grasp easily and remember.

Engage and enable the Organisation

Step Four: Communicate the Vision

What you do with your vision after you create it will determine your success. Your message will probably have strong competition from other day-to-day communications within the company, so you need to communicate it frequently and powerfully, and embed it within everything that you do. When you keep it fresh on everyone’s minds, they’ll remember it and respond to it.

Step Five: Remove Obstacles

If you follow these steps and reach this point in the change process, you’ve been talking about your vision and building buy-in from all levels of the organization. Put in place the structure for change, and continually check for barriers to it. Removing obstacles can empower the people you need to execute your vision, and it can help the change move forward.

Step Six: Create Short-term Wins

Nothing motivates more than success. Give your company a taste of victory early in the change process. Within a short time frame (this could be a month or a year, depending on the type of
change); you’ll want to have results that your staff can see. Without this, critics and negative thinkers might hurt your progress. Create short-term targets – not just one long-term goal.

Implement and sustain the change

Step Seven: Build on the Change

Kotter argues that many change projects fail because victory is declared too early. Real change runs deep. Quick wins are only the beginning of what needs to be done to achieve long-term change. Launching one new product using a new system is great. But if you can launch 10 products, that means the new system is working. To reach that 10th success, you need to keep looking for improvements.

Step Eight: Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture

Finally, to make any change stick, it should become part of the core of your organization. Your corporate culture often determines what gets done, so the values behind your vision must show in day-to-day work.

Note: While this post can be read standalone, it is the final part of a ‘Transitional Theme’ and Part IV can be found here.

Kelvin Gillen

Kelvin Gillen

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