Change Management

Change Management


Organisational change often aims at solving performance problems, including internal organizational aspects such as efficiency and profitability, or it is necessitated by changes in market opportunities. Change management efforts are hence usually directed at changing or enhancing organizational assets, capabilities and resources. We often see companies engage in highly structured initiatives such as Six Sigma, TQM and process re-engineering. But change management is also seen in a different perspective that takes into account the social dynamics of leadership. The leadership perspective on change management goes to a level higher than the organizational processes and assign a more prominent role to organizational leadership as the main sponsor and initiator of change.

The most renowned leadership framework of change management is Kotter’s eight steps of change management (Kotter 1996) which include: establish a sense of urgency; create a guiding coalition; develop a vision and strategy; communicate the change vision; empower broad-based action; generate short-term wins; consolidate gains and produce more change; and anchor new approaches in the corporate culture. The following is an outline of Kotter’s model of change management, including findings of a sampling of key literature that support the model.

1. Establish a sense of urgency

Your team members need to know the need for change before they could be motivated to participate in the change project being implemented. The rationale for change could originate in external factors such as competition or emergence of a new technology that is being adopted by competitors to achieve market advantage. Internal factors, mostly related to organizational performance, could also call for a change in organizational processes and practices. This need is then required to be communicated dramatically to help in sensemaking of change, and to rally everyone and create a buy-in for change. In order to achieve this sensemaking of change, leaders need to engage in constructive discussions to bring out the positive and negatives of the change agenda, personally interact with team members to explain the rationale of change, and make the rationale for change a frequent topic of conversation (Jansen 2004). Team members need to be provided with clear expectations in terms of their role in the change process and the scope of the change agenda, a clear sense of the feasibility of change, and portrayed a positive attitude towards change (Kotter, 1995).

2. Create a guiding coalition

Make change a true team effort. First, create a core team of change agents who have power, expertise, credibility, and leadership qualities. This core team then works with others to further achieve buy in, helping in the efforts to create a sense of urgency, and implement change. Those in positions of power play a crucial role in steering efforts toward the desired change as such people thwart efforts of the naysayers who try to block change (Lines, 2007). However, the use of power to implement change does not mean a ‘command and control’ monarchical attitude as this would most likely stifle employee sensemaking and buy-in (Paper et al 2001). A clear distinction needs to be made between change leaders and change managers where the former provide the necessary vision and authority to a transformative change agenda. Change managers, working at the functional or departmental level, are crucial to change implementation as they work with teams at grassroots level and get into the nitty gritty of change implementation. Guiding coalitions need to effectively formulate and communicate the change agenda through developing a vision and strategy.

3. Develop a vision and strategy

A vision creates a coherent picture of the positive outcomes of the change agenda, and strategy coherently explains the rationale and features. Change should not ideally be a set of apparently incompatible and complex projects cobbled together around a vague goal. A clear vision, appealing to the long-term interests of all stakeholders, makes the painful change steps bearable for the change implementers and recipients. A clear vision means a clear understanding of the change agenda by all organizational actors. However, some argue that the actual execution and perceptions of appropriateness of change are more important than a grand vision of the change itself (Cole et al., 2006).

4. Communicate the change vision

A sense of urgency and a grand vision need to be communicated well. The goal is to decrease ambiguity and improve employee satisfaction with the change agenda and its implementation process. Team members need to clearly see the link between organizational performance and the change agenda (Nelissen & van Selm. 2008). Some suggestions in the literature on effective communication include:

  • Weekly meetings at the departmental level, encouraging dialogue and free flowing critique of actions, to reinforce the rationale of the micro level elements of change and progress in change implementation is recommended to improve change receptivity (Frahm & Brown, 2007).

  • The change vision needs to be diffused and repeated through several media so that ideas sink in deeply (Dansereau & Markham, 1987).

  • Face to face ‘corner meetings’, and small group interactions by mid-level managers to bring out concerns that are usually the elephant in the room in large meetings.

5. Empower broad based action

To translate a vision of change to action, leaders and managers need to go beyond just communication and need to facilitate action toward change implementation. A broad based strategy to facilitate action involving removing obstacles in structures, skills, systems, and supervision (Kotter, 1996).Rigid organizational structures and systems limit change implementation; supervisor attitude is a factor in employee perceptions and buy-in of change; training helps developing skills that facilitate change implementation(Klidas et. al., 2007). Training and coaching that has a special focus on change in corporate culture has also been found to play a crucial role in change implementation (Ellinger et. al., 2010). Broad based action around change implementation is best facilitated when all employees are empowered through team work and skill development.

6. Generate short term wins

People need to see progress and recognition as a result of action toward change implementation. Long term change and transformation may involve slow progress but people are best motivated when they see small wins on the way to long term achievements. Early victories create confidence and a self-belief that achievement of bigger more difficult goals is possible (Pietersen, 2002) . Short terms wins also become a feedback mechanism for the leadership to test whether the change agenda is working under real conditions and tweak the change implementation process in case of need. In order to create short term wins, the change implementation protocols need to create a cascading set of milestones that progressively add up to the achievement of long-term goals. In this way, feedback on goal achievement and opportunities for small wins are engineered to be part of the change process.

7. Consolidate wins and produce more change

Early success and small wins help managers and leaders test the validity of the change vision and strategies, and respond to critics of change. Such wins then should help the organisation consolidate the wins by strengthening the legitimacy of the change agenda, making way for more changes that initially were too ambitious or controversial. Hence, in this way, change makers add momentum to the change implementation processes, increasing the speed with which long term goals are achieved1. Such momentum is also important in change efforts that encourage continuous improvement where an organization is essentially envisioned to be in a state of perpetual change. In such scenarios, employees or change recipients are encouraged to experiment, achieve quick wins, and build on their success to further justify novel practices or ideas (Kerber & Buono, 2005).

8. Anchor new approaches in the corporate culture

Change is not lasting if the changes made to organizational structures and practices are not permanently embedded in organizational culture. In order to embed change in organizational culture, the changed structures and practices need to be part of the taken for granted social norms in the organisation. They should be the accepted part of organizational standard operating procedures, best practice and employee socialization/training (Jacobs, 2002). Another way of looking at this anchoring process is to identify the hurdles that could derail change and work on removing those hurdles. Such hurdles could include: indifference of senior managers, lack of acceptance of change by the employees in general as the change does not match the personal interest of the employees, among others (Buchanan et. al., 2005). At a deeper level, change needs to be part of the value system of the organisation so that engaging in the changed practices may not only have a functional reason in terms of improving organizational performance, but also invoke a normative aspect as well in terms of reflecting ‘doing the right thing’.

In conclusion, change implementation is a complex process, and the above steps are not to be construed as linear. The feedback loops created in the change process should dictate the direction and pace of a change management process. The most important lesson, often missed in change initiatives around technology, is that organizational change initiatives almost always involve human beings who are not only driven by practical considerations, but also have emotional and social needs.


  • Buchanan, D., Fitzgerald, L., Ketley, D., Gollop, R., Jones, J.L. and Saint Lamont, S. (2005), “No going back: a review of the literature on sustaining organizational change”, International Journal of Management Reviews, Vol. 7 No. 3, pp. 189-205.
  • Cole, M.S., Harris, S.G. and Bernerth, J.B. (2006), “Exploring the implications of vision, appropriateness, and execution of organizational change”, Leadership & Organization
  • Dansereau, F. and Markham, S.E. (1987), “Superior-subordinate communication: multiple levels of analysis”, in Jablin, F.M., Putnam, L.L., Roberts, K.H. and Porter, L.W. (Eds), Handbook of Organizational Communication: An Interdisciplinary Perspective, Sage, Beverly Hills, CA, pp. 343-88. Development Journal, Vol. 27 No. 5, pp. 352-67.
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  • Pietersen, W. (2002), “The Mark Twain dilemma: the theory and practice of change leadership”, The Journal of Business Strategy, Vol. 23 No. 5, pp. 32-7.

Amer Khan
Amer Khan

Amer is a Senior Learning Designer and was previously a Lecturer at various universities. Amer joined Atomiv to share his experiences in leadership and change management.