Eight Steps to Leading Transformational Change

Change is constant. Changes may be large, like a major shift in direction, or small, like the integration of new team members. Regardless of the scope, transitions can be tricky to lead and John Kotter’s Eight-Step Process for Leading Change, outlined below, offers valuable insights.

To successfully integrate change, address the human dynamics of the process and creatively lead transformations as the positive and productive force they can be. People are at the center of any change process, and to secure their acceptance and alignment, help them feel and see the better future that the change is designed to produce.

Harvard Business School professor and practitioner John Kotter developed an eight-step model for leading transformation in organizations. His model emphasizes a strategic approach to integrating changes into an existing system.

Step 1: Create a Sense of Urgency

  • Examine realities and identify and discuss potential crises or major opportunities.
  • Appeal to the hearts and minds of your team.

Illustrate how the program would benefit from the change or be harmed if the change didn’t occur. Key team members need to feel that the change is consistent with their values. Appeal to both hearts and minds to create agreement around the need for a different approach.

Step 2: Form a Guiding Coalition

  • Assemble a well-functioning team with the power, commitment, knowledge, motivation, influence, and credibility to champion the change.

Identify the right mix of people to sway merits for the proposed change. Informal influencers are important and are largely responsible for implementing change efforts. Mutual trust and effective communication are essential.

Step 3: Establish a Strategic Vision

  • Craft a vision that instills inspiration and reminds stakeholders that the change is positive, worthwhile, and consistent with the overall effort.
  • Make your vision easy to understand.

Develop a vision of realistic aspiration that is attainable and allows the team to creatively stretch to achieve the change. Answer “what is the better tomorrow that our change will provide, and how will that be accomplished?”

Step 4: Communicate the Vision

  • Continuously and persuasively communicate the vision.
  • Openly address team members’ concerns about the change process.

Other responsibilities and distractions will compete with the message. Take every chance you get to repeat the vision. Change evokes anxiety; take time to listen and answer questions. Honest dialogue serves as a check on the realism of the goal while also increasing buy-in.

Step 5: Empower Others to Act

  • Remove obstacles by creating structures that enable the team’s movement toward its goal.
  • Encourage risk-taking, and ensure that people are recognized and rewarded for their achievements.

Cede power and accountability to those not previously tasked with such responsibilities. Position individuals for success through continuous learning and professional growth. Build skills around strengthening communication, decision-making, conflict management, problem solving, and strategic thinking. Publicly recognize teamwork and individual accomplishments.

Step 6: Create Short-Term Wins

  • Plan for systematic, targeted, unambiguous victories to build on credibility and enthusiasm.

Identify ways to publicly demonstrate the merits of the new approach to build credibility and enthusiasm for the change. Share internally and externally to signal that the new approach is working.

Step 7: Build on the Momentum

  • Drive change deeper into your organization.
  • Evaluate progress during every stage to improve your approach.
  • Document lessons learned.

Keep up the urgency, be flexible, and be on the lookout for ways to reinvigorate the transformation process. Document progress and lessons learned. Identify areas for improvement and form strategies to make those improvements.

Step 8: Institutionalize New Approaches

  • Anchor the change into your team’s culture.
  • Make the victories part of your story by repeating what you did, and how it made an impact.

Make the successful transformation a part of your organization’s history and culture. As new staff join the team, repeat stories that reflect how the team achieved what they did and why it matters. Use these stories to  frame future efforts to deal with new challenges.