Mastering change: A visual and alternative guide to Kotter’s model – Part 1

Step 1–4 of Kotter’s change management model rearranged

Change is omnipresent for today´s management. Whether it´s competition, facing complexity, cost cutting or business model renewal — Nokia´s case just demonstrated, that we cannot stay in modus operandi just by doing things right. We have to ask ourselves constantly what challenges lie ahead and what paradigm shifts we are facing in a more and more fast-changing, complex world.

What makes change successful? How can change become sustainable and part of our corporate culture?

Dr. John Kotter developed his guiding principles for change management 20 years ago — and as research shows, there is a deeper truth in its core.

Based on our experience, we developed a visual and alternative approach to Dr. Kotter’s 8-step model by adapting the principles to our own customer experiences and evaluations, which have been carried out on change management projects. By this we are combining the first 4-steps of the model in Part 1 of this series.

You can reach for further information on our website:

Step 1-4 rearranged: Creating a sense of urgency by forming a core team for developing and communicating a sustainable and sticky vision

Successful starting phases have one thing in common: teaming and developing a vision are not separated.

Therefore we recommend an integrated approach of these four steps:

Creating a sense of urgency cannot be done without a core team and the vision for change has to be developed by the core team as well. You will get significant better results when developing a strategy for change with the intelligence of a diverse and highly motivated team, who share the same mindset.

Top leaders* must describe an opportunity that will appeal to individuals’ heads and hearts and use this statement to raise a large, urgent army of volunteers.
*Leaders – not managers: Kotter is differentiating between (operational and functional) managers and leaders. Leaders are those, who can develop and share a motivating vision for change.

John Kotter suggests that for change to be successful, 75% of a company’s management needs to support the change.

So we are facing a four-fold challenge:
To make sure, Step 1 to 4 become successful, we think you have to be flexible to go back and forth between these steps, let´s start:

A) Find and create the right leadership team

If you want to make the change happen, it will be a crucial to find the right people. This would be Step 2 in Kotter´s model. Why are we putting this step first?

We think firstly you want to ensure, that the core team shares the right mindset. The mindset is essential for creating vision and momentum which leads to change. These “soft-factors” may even be more important as methodology and tools. If you do not have a positive attitude and energy, change will not happen or even things will get worse.

Another task will be to ensure, that this core team hold themselves accountable and responsible for making the change successful — for the next years, as we know, that sustainable change is an ongoing tasks and is a long shot. Off-site workshops will be a great tool for developing vision, mindset clarification and a team spirit, which will be needed when the team is confronted with resistance across the organization. Get them together and provide a look at things from the outside perspective. You may want to assign external support for moderation and team alignment.

B) Develop a vision, that creates a sense for urgency

You have a vision, when anyone of your team can explain the vision in less than 5 minutes and this leads to motivational results, when communicated.

Developing and communicating a vision for urgency and change is maybe the toughest part. These are Kotter´s Step 1 and 3.

We are combining these steps, because strategy is communication. Therefore, all elements including vision, strategy, and creating momentum and a sense of urgency have to be aligned and merged into one wholistic communication approach. By doing this you are able to ensure, that one team is communicating one message, not three or four different versions or aspects of the strategic change.

What helps? In several projects we have developed a visual storyline for communicating strategy and change elements. Evaluations have shown, that visually guided communication approach lead to a significantly higher reception on all employee levels, especially on the key questions such as the “why” and the “urgency” for strategic change. For further details please have a look on our visually guided mindset evaluation.

C) Ensure that everyone on that team is supporting the vision

You have to get everyone committed. Here come back to the teaming phase. We are very keen on this point as this step is quickly overlooked by most leadership team. As a lawyer I can assure you, that getting a commitment just by nodding in a leadership meeting is something complete different than providing a signature under a manifesting change document.

Sounds too dramatic for you? You might want to look up the holacracy model or think of the last time, you provided a signature. A manifest can determine whether you have everyone in the boat. You can clarify the objectives, the approach, the time period and everything which should be in a valid contract. Get everyone a visual copy of that manifest and you have a starting ceremony, which will provide major impact for the next 7 steps – remember, we are still at Step 1 of the visual guide to Dr. Kotter’s change management model.

D) Communicate

This is the last step and also Step 4 in Kotter´s model. You want to ensure to have a communication plan, before you start to communicate.

As obvious as this may sound, you will find a majority of projects that do not plan communication properly on every medium and message. The differentiation of stakeholder groups and channels is crucial. You need material for town hall events, but also for peer to peer communication and you want to provide FAQs and other media, when people start debating and chatting about the change initiative. We recommend a cascading communication model – please let us know, if we can assist you (Skype, E-Mail, face to face).

Bottom line

“50% of the companies fail at Step 1”, Dr. Kotter.

We all know: Phase 1 is the critical stage. Defects in concepts will lead to multiple regressions later on. If we do not design the conceptual phase properly and carefully, the next steps can hardly become successful. Our advice is: Do not rush here, however demanding the pressure may be. And you might want to get someone in the boat with a fresh and external view and who can assist you through the whole process.

Please share your feedback and let us know, if this 1st part of the series including step 1–4 of Kotter’s change management model helped you.

And here is Part 2.