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8 steps to leading successful change

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Leading change is a core function of a leader.

But few of us are taught how to do it.

There are multiple leading change management models (e.g. the Prosci ADKAR model).

One of our favourites is John Kotter’s 8 steps for leading change.

Using this can be as simple as creating a two by eight matrix in a Word document. Put the eight headings down each cell on the left. Then dot point some thoughts and actions in each cell on the right.

Momentum, not perfection: an hour of change planning can go a long way towards ensuring successful change.

John Kotter’s 8 steps for leading change

1. Create a sense of urgency

During an emergency, nobody sits around resisting or questioning change. While we don’t want or need to wait for emergencies, we can create a sense of urgent want for change within an organisation. For example, by raising people’s awareness around the pain that the status quo will bring and the promise of the proposed solution.

2. Build a strong coalition

Recruit a small team of people who passionately believe in the need for change. Work with them to promote and lead the change throughout your organisation.

3. Create a vision for change

Articulate a clear and compelling vision for what life will look like after the change has been successfully implemented. This will help build people’s understanding of why the change is important. And create a strong sense of purpose in people to do the work that the change will require.

4. Communicate the vision

Communicate your vision for change to all who will be affected by it. And overcommunicate it. As author Patrick Lencioni points out, we often need to communicate key messages as many as seven or eight times (and in ideally different ways and mediums) before people internalise them.

5. Remove obstacles

Identify barriers to change and remove them. Eliminate the real and perceived issues that people might use to resist the change or excuse their lack of commitment.

6. Create short-term wins

Build a sense of momentum, by celebrating small wins regularly along the change journey. Use this as positive reinforcement that the change is progressing successfully.

7. Build on the change

Analyse the change effort as you go, to work out what is working well and what isn’t working as expected. Adjust the plan and recommit as you go. Change often fails, because people declare victory too early, before the change has stuck.

8. Anchor the changes in corporate culture

To make change stick, it must become internalised in an organisation’s culture or ways of working. Effort must be sustained until the change is just part of the “way we do things around here”. This involves incorporating it into routines and procedures.

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