Leading Change: Overview
The book Leading Change by John P. Kotter, Professor of Leadership at Harvard Business School, explores the concept of change management in great detail. The author begins with a thorough explanation of reasons for failure on the part of managers to realize new strategic goals, motivate employees, sustain organizational growth, and achieve business success. Kotter also describes factors that define a need for change, and he provides a rationale for organizations to be highly adaptable to environmental fluctuations.
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The central part of the book focuses on describing an eight-step change model, highlighting the psychological, cultural, and leadership foundations for successful shifts to achieve desired organizational transformations. In this paper, the discussion will primarily revolve around these main themes and will include personal opinions regarding the implementation of Kotter’s ideas in practice. It is worth noting that the book is written in accordance with the best principles of the professional and academic disciplinary genres, combining scientific rigor with Kotter’s profound knowledge and expertise in the field of management. As a result, the final information product will serve as a useful guide for organizational improvement in any industry, including military.
The main idea in Leading Change is that a successful organizational transformation can be attained simply by following a sequence of eight steps in a gradual and consistent manner. These eight steps are
- “establishing a sense of urgency,”
- “creating the guiding coalition,”
- “developing a vision and strategy,”
- “communicating the change vision,”
- “empowering broad-based action,”
- “generating short-term wins,”
- “consolidating gains and producing more change,”
- “anchoring new approaches in the culture” (Kotter, 2012, p. 23).
The first four processes can be regarded as preparatory because they aim to “defrost a hardened status quo” (Kotter, 2012, p. 24). In other words, they facilitate preparing employees to take necessary actions by changing their views, aligning them with a strategic vision, and eliminating possible psychological barriers to change through effective communication patterns. The other four processes focus on actual restructuring and reorganization efforts. They denote implementing new organizational behaviors that have been previously developed throughout the defrosting stage and institutionalizing them as standard practices.
Overall, the process of change in accordance with Kotter’s model should start with an environmental analysis. Evidence about outside risks and opportunities provides a basis for showing employees that a change can benefit the organization while the maintenance of the status quo, in contrast, can be detrimental. It is particularly important to persuade the senior management team that change is needed because, as Kotter (2012) states, it is essential to form a team of people with sufficient power to lead the transformation, working together and communicating new visions and objectives downwards. At the same time, it is important to remember that developing a sense of urgency by using external analysis of data as well as creating and sharing visions at different organizational levels are closely interrelated activities. Therefore, it is essential to maintain a good balance among these processes and pay equal attention to their implementation.
In addition, managers should conduct an internal organizational analysis while proceeding to the actual reorganization efforts. According to Kotter (2012), a failure to eliminate organizational barriers to the realization of a new vision and employee behaviors is one of the crucial errors a manager can make during the change management process. Obstacles can take almost any form, including inefficient motivation and reward systems, lack of necessary competencies in workers, reduced employee autonomy, and so forth.
Thus, aligning individual interests with organizational needs for change is particularly important at this stage because when employees do not see any personal gain in changing their behaviors or perceive the transformation as a threat to their well-being, they will certainly resist new initiatives. The formulation of strategic objectives and aspiration for their realization should therefore be supported by a new environment that is designed to be conducive to greater employee motivation to modify the way they have been used to working.
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Mainly due to the reasons mentioned above, corporate culture becomes a key to sustaining desired organizational behaviors. Kotter (2012) states that “until new behaviors are rooted in social norms and shared values, they are always subject to degradation as soon as the pressures associated with a change effort are removed” (p. 14). Therefore, management should persist in developing a culture that will decentralize innovation efforts and that consolidates new behaviors in a way that each employee will understand his or her importance and act in accordance with the set strategic direction. This final step is associated with the creation of a new status quo that will mark success in shifting toward the sought-after change.
The main learning point taken from Kotter’s book is the necessity to recognize the differences between management and leadership. While the former approach primarily focuses on tasks, the latter considers people and the psychological aspects of performance and motivation. The typical key management activities include staffing, policymaking, budgeting, monitoring of results, planning, budgeting, and so forth (Kotter, 2012).
On the other hand, leadership is primarily concerned with establishing long-term direction, fostering cooperation through alignment of individual needs with organizational goals, motivating employees, and so forth (Kotter, 2012). Kotter (2012) notes that overly bureaucratic and political organizational systems may interfere with change. Thus, task-oriented management is not enough to lead transformation initiatives to success, whereas leadership may be more efficient in this regard.
The development of leadership qualities is important and highly beneficial for an Army warrant officer, taking into account the professional roles he or she plays on a daily basis. Not only do warrant officers manage situations, solve problems, and plan, but they also influence soldiers and motivate them toward continual improvement. As the ideas Kotter (2012) presents in his book demonstrate, coercion and reliance on planning activities alone may not be sufficient to achieve long-term positive results.
Conversely, the development of a vision, consideration of employees’ interests and needs, and effective communication can help increase subordinates’ internal motivation to act in the desired way. It is possible to assert that although the military environment is highly formalized and hierarchical, implementing the principles of the leadership approach throughout the sequence of steps in Kotter’s change model can maximize favorable results in terms of modifying and sustaining right and productive organizational behaviors.
Organizational change is a complex and often unpredictable process that requires effective management. Kotter’s eight-step model outlines the basic milestones and practices that a leader should implement in order to attain success. This change management model can be said to be among the most efficient approaches known today as it captures multiple facets of the organizational environment and thoroughly focuses on eliminating possible barriers to transformation.
Considering that cultural and psychological elements constitute the core of the activities in Kotter’s model, it is valid to conclude that leaders must take a more people-oriented approach while in the process of guiding innovation efforts. In addition, planning and structuring can provide a solid ground for employee control and monitoring performance, but promoting values and aligning people will allow for creation of a more complete environment for sustainable improvement.
Kotter, J. P. (2012). Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press.