9 Jun 2022


John Kotter: Leading Change

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Academic level: Master’s

Paper type: Book Report

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Change is an inevitable occurrence in the lifespan of an organization. It is depicted that this may occur at least once in the period that the business is in existence. The process is an integral technique for survival and transform into competitive forces possibly better than it was previously. These alterations may manifest in numerous aspects including turnarounds, total quality management, culture change, reengineering, restructuring and rightsizing. The main goal of such processes is to conduct operations differently as a means of coping with a changing market. There instances where some organizations have achieved distinct success while others were complete failure. Nevertheless, majority lay somewhere in between with many on the lower end of the scale. John Kotter studied over 100 organizations experiencing organizational change over a ten-year period where he was able to identify the problem and the solution while providing an 8-step process of undertaking transformation. In his book that details this research he predicts significant implications of such change over the companies in the 21 st century. 

The Change Problem and Solution 

Before making any effort to develop an antidote for the numerous failures that businesses and large corporations have encountered during a process of change, it is essential that a researcher uncovers the problem in itself. Kotter took a decade to study different companies that were all experiencing change (1996). Though the actual change varies from one organization to the next, the process has similar effect on the entire company or at least a crucial sector. Inability to cope with the transformation leads to imminent disaster for the enterprise no matter how large or financially capable. The researcher identified that majority of the affected parties perceived that the negative effects of change were only a passing tide in the economic period. As a result, many of them predicted it would come to an end soon hence there was no need to make any effort (Kotter, 1996). However, what most of these corporations did not realize was that the macroeconomic forces were at play and they could be even more powerful over the following decades. 

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A number of reasons for failure were depicted in this research including high levels of complacency, failure to establish a powerful guiding coalition, understating the power of vision, failing to communicate it effectively, not removing the obstacles, poor strategic planning, declaring victory too soon and inability to anchor the changes to the company’s culture (Kotter, 1996). These practices have been evident over the years where organizations fail to make bold attempts to conquer the changes that they pursue. For instance, the error of complacency is the most common and widely practiced. There are employees who may predict potential problems in the near future while others may not share a similar concern (Kotter, 1996). As a result, the company cannot a foothold of the changes brought about by the former staff as there is little sense of urgency. If the error occurs in high levels its impact is fatal to the company. 

As presented by Kotter (1996), the process of change is systematic usually beginning at the highest ranks in the organization and trickling down to the front-level workers. He asserts that undertaking major change without the support or the active involvement of the CEO or company President, it is bound to fail. In this case, the major leaders within the corporation should be involved along with other low-ranking members (Kotter, 1996). In most cases, not all senior members will be involved, at least not immediately. This initial group is necessary to develop a plan and ideal goal for the enterprise to achieve. Through this coalition, the company can influence other members in their various departments and sectors of operation. In this way, enforcing the ideas of change becomes simpler and more seamless. Kotter (1996) noted that even though the workers have a sense of urgency and have a strong guiding coalition, inability to adhere to other factors in the process will be insufficient to achieve success (Bucciarelli, 2015). In this regard, the members should develop an effective plan for that will be followed throughout the transformation. 

At the time of the research, the process of change was not at its peak. However, after undergoing traumatic and heartbreaking change efforts rather than making efforts to control such an impact, these individuals are pessimistic whenever the subject comes up (Chappell et al., 2016). They view the proponents as suspicious and with fury. Though it is indeed true that change cannot be managed, the leaders and managers of change can make efforts to cope with an unpredictable and disorderly external environment. Some of these factors that are driving the continued occurrence of change include innovation of technology, integration of international economies, the downfall of communism as more countries practice capitalism, and the maturation of developed countries creating a slower rate of growth (Chappell et al., 2016). In this case, the occurrence of globalization is credited for the creation of opportunities of large markets and hazards such as increased speed of market. These events taking place prompt the organization to undertake major changes that will help alleviate the risks while maximizing on the arising opportunities. 

The Eight-Stage Process 

The 8-stage or-step process was created based on the foundation that there are a number of problems that could occur during change that significantly affect its success. Therefore, to build an effective and potentially successful system for change will require the business to enforce a strategy that tackles the problems systematically and in detail (Chappell et al., 2016). Over simplicity of a plan may be fatal for the company as it may reduce the level of urgency in alleviating the risks in the future. Nevertheless, overly complex systems are not good either as they create confusion within the organization. Employees may wonder which task comes before the other when the tasks look similar and more likely to go hand-in-hand (Kotter, 1996). In some cases, the contingencies and restrictions of the plan make it impossible to follow through. 

As depicted previously on the major causes of change management failure is complacency. Therefore, to achieve the alternative outcome the enterprise must realize some sense of urgency. This practice does not mean that the company should go into a state of panic. Rather, they should realize the importance of the problem and create cooperation among the associated stakeholders. The next task on the fore is to develop a group that will develop strategies and goals that the company should realize (Brewer, 2016). In this case, a number of companies have received widespread praise for their ability to cope with the change taking place. Chrysler recovered from bankruptcy, Wal-Mart transformed from a small-scale retail store to an industry leader while IBM transformed to become a technology giant (Kotter, 1996). Though these success stories hinge on the efforts of impeccable leaders Lee Iacocca, Sam Walton and Lou Gerstner respectively, this is not the approach that other corporations should take (Kotter, 1996). During the process of major change, a powerful force is necessary to cope with multiple obstacles as well as the numerous decisions to be made. This cannot be achieved by a single leader, but his active participation is critical (Hackman, 2017). 

Once a powerful guiding coalition is formed another obstacle that threatens the change process is lacking vision or a strategy to attain the goals. During such developments, it is essential that the most appropriate form of leadership is employed (Kotter, 1996). The author highlights the severity and critical state of change hence the need to enforce a style of leadership that gives subordinates hope and not commands. A transformational leader is more equipped to ensure the members of the group can create a system that is innovative and will cope with the various obstacles along the way. When a great vision is in place and understood by only a few people, it can achieve its purpose. However, it power is depicted when all or majority of the members understand it (Brewer, 2016). The sense of sharing a burden or carrying the mammoth task together is motivating and leads to high levels of productivity. Communication is crucial to achieving the sense of togetherness and understanding the direction to take. 

One of the ultimate moments of change in the organization is evident when all participants have the ability and resources to undertake their respective roles. Empowerment of employees is depicted as a critical measure of the progress made in the organization (Pollack & Pollack, 2015). However, staff members have increasingly become disappointed at the use of such a term as it is common that it will mean nothing but a political mantra. Some factors that create this feeling of powerlessness include discouragement from bosses, lack of necessary skills, formal structure of organization and personnel as well as information systems (Kotter, 1996). The process of empowering the employees does not end in the previous step as it continues when the company generates short-term wins (Pollack & Pollack, 2015). In this case, it is important that the organization does not set only long-term goals. It is essential that shorter and less tasking goals are established. They provide workers with a new sense of attitude towards the vision and the new changes in the firm. 

The next error that an organization may fall for is celebrating too early. In many cases, once the CEOs identify the occurrence of the short-term wins, many of them will identify their enthusiasm with their subordinates. In some cases, they may offer some awards and significant commendation for a job well done. However, this action may only kill the sense of urgency that has driven the key leaders in the change (Bucciarelli, 2015). The leaders should instead consolidate the positive gains of the process and use it to compel the production of more change. The focus should now be on the long-term goals (Kotter, 1996). Finally, change sticks to the firm when it becomes a common practice or a part of its identity. If the pressure for change is reduced, the new behaviors may become degraded hence the need to ensure consolidation of the gains and production of more change (Kotter, 1996). 

Implications for the 21 st Century 

Kotter predicted that the rate of change taking place is less likely to reduce its pace. Indeed, he was right as after more than a decade and a half, the changes in the external environment that have affected the various industries are immense (Kotter, 1996). Some of the corporations have been unable to cope with the rate of change many of whom are left behind or are at the brink of disaster. The structure, practices, systems and culture have been noted as significant factors causing a drag of company to cope with the change rather than influence its sustenance (Chappell et al., 2016). However, to keep up with the rate of continued changes, it is essential that the company maintains a persistent view on the sense of urgency in the workplace. The superior level of technology available in the current century is integral to keeping up with the changes. 


The research conducted by John Kotter on leading organizational change is an important read on the development an effective strategy to cope with particular changes in the firm. The book draws information from real life companies as they made attempts to pursue various changes. Through their failures or successes, they provide insight of what to do differently. In a society that is fast paced and the elimination of the national boundaries as a result of globalization, the impact of changing environments could be more severe for a company that fails to adapt. 


Brewer, M. L. (2016). Facilitating the dissemination of interprofessional education and practice using an innovative conference approach to engage stakeholders. Journal of Interprofessional Education & Practice , 2, 33-38. 

Bucciarelli, L. (2015). A review of innovation and change management: Stage model and power influences. Universal Journal of Management , 3(1), 36-42. 

Chappell, S., Pescud, M., Waterworth, P., Shilton, T., Roche, D., Ledger, M., ... & Rosenberg, M. (2016). Exploring the process of implementing healthy workplace initiatives: mapping to Kotter's leading change model. Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine , 58(10), e341-e348. 

Hackman, T. (2017). Leading Change in Action: Reorganizing an Academic Library Department Using Kotter’s Eight Stage Change Model. Library Leadership & Management , 31(2), 1-27. 

Kotter, J. (1996). Leading Change . Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. 

Pollack, J., & Pollack, R. (2015). Using Kotter's eight stage process to manage an organizational change program: Presentation and practice. Systemic Practice and Action Research , 28(1), 51-67. 

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