Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Change Model 3: John Kotter's 8 Steps of Leading Change


For leaders of organizations, managing change is an important strategic task. In the last ten years, there have been numerous studies which all confirmed that between 60-80% of all change projects fail fully or partly: either the objectives of the project are not achieved or the projects cannot be completed in time or on budget. Usually, a lot is at stake: money, personal reputation, and the health of the organization.

So, the 1 million dollar question for any change leader is: How can I make sure that my change project is successful? John Kotter, one of the leading management thinkers and writes has given his answer to this question by providing an eight step model for leading change. Except for the mother of all change models - Kurt Lewin's unfreeze-move-freeze, which I yet have to describe in this series - Kotter's eight steps model is probably the best known and the most applied.

Originator of the Model:

John Kotter, his book "Leading Change" (1996)

Phases of the Change Process (taken from strategicconnections.com):

John Kotter's 8 step process - an overview
Steps Transformation Suggestions
1. Increase urgency
  • Examine market and competitive realities
  • Identify and discuss crisis, potential crisis, or major opportunities
  • Provide evidence from outside the organization that change is necessary
2. Build the Guiding Team
  • Assemble a group with enough power to lead the change effort
  • Attract key change leaders by showing enthusiasm and commitment
  • Encourage the group to work together as a team
3. Get the Vision Right
  • Create a vision to help direct the change effort
  • Develop strategies for achieving that vision
4. Communicate for Buy-in
  • Build alignment and engagement through stories
  • Use every vehicle possible to communicate the new vision and strategies
  • Keep communication simple and heartfelt
  • Teach new behaviors by the example of the guiding coalition
5. Empowering Action
  • Remove obstacles to the change
  • Change systems and / or structures that work against the vision
6. Create short term wins
  • Plan for and achieve visible performance improvements
  • Recognize and reward those involved in bringing the improvements to life
7. Do Not Let Up
  • Plan for and create visible performance improvements
  • Recognize and reward personnel involved in the improvements
  • Reinforce the behaviours shown that led to the improvements
8. Make Change Stick
  • Articulate the connections between the new behaviors and corporate success


The Kotter model can be applied for all top-down change processes, i.e. for projects that have been decided at the top management level of an organization. The US Army applied it to prepare the troops for the new forms of asymetrical threat.

Does the Model Relate to Complexity Theory?

No. Kotter's eight steps is a linear model that assumes predictability and manageability of change processes.

  • Focus on buy-in of employees as the focus for success
  • Clear steps which can give a guidance for the process
  • Easy to understand
  • Can be successful when all steps are well communicated
  • Fits well into the culture of classical hierarchies

  • The linearity of the model can lead to wrong assumptions.
  • Once the process has started, it is difficult to change the direction.
  • The model is clearly top-down, it gives no room for co-creation or other forms of true participation.
  • Can lead to deep frustrations among employees if the stages of grief and individual needs are not taken into consideration.

More Resources:

Website of John Kotter.


Logos Noesis said...

Good analysis. Like you, I feel that the greatest weakness of the model is its linearity. If instead of thinking "steps" you can think of a fluid process that might need twists, turns, backtracking, and constant adjustments, the general idea is good.

Dr. Ada

Project Management said...

That is some really powerful tips / steps I will be sure to add in my organisation. Thanx for sharing them


Dear Sir

I thank you for this excellent site,

Indeed, it is very interesting to know these principles when the company already exists, we can thus react downstream and cure, try to create a new breath in the existing resource, but this article is also very interesting for the managers of new companies, that allows to avoid the errors, to build on the solid from the beginning and upstream

With my cordial greetings

Miss Nasserine AIB

sam said...

Hi Holger, would really appreciate if would comment on other change models like lippitts, harris and moran, anderson etc

joe said...

I have been looking for a simplified version of the model for my management case study...was almost giving up! Thanks for this. Exactly what i was looking for ! :)

Joseph said...

Joseph, Nov 2013

Kotter's approach may be justified in a theretical perspective, but in reality, the process may not be linear. Occasionally more than two or three steps may continue to be in focus and need attention from the change leader and the team.

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