John Kotter is the youngest man given tenure and a position as full professor at Harvard Business School. His excellent little book entitled “Leading Change” is a business classic that ought to be on every pastor’s shelf. Time after time we see change efforts go badly because the common grace wisdom principles about people, organizations, and change aren’t understood (this falls under Proverbs 15:22).
What follows is an executive summary of his change landmines:
- Not establishing enough sense of urgency – A transformation program requires the aggressive cooperation of many individuals. Without motivation, people won’t help and the effort goes nowhere.
- Not creating a powerful guiding coalition – Organizations that fail in this phase usually underestimate the difficulties of producing change and thus the importance of a powerful guiding coalition.
- Lacking a vision – Without a sensible vision, a transformation effort can easily dissolve into a list of confusing and incompatible projects that can take the organization in the wrong direction or nowhere at all.
- Under communicating the vision – Transformation is impossible unless hundreds or thousands of people are willing to help, often to the point of making short-term sacrifices.
- Not removing obstacles to the new vision – Sometimes the obstacle is the organizational structure: narrow job categories can seriously undermine efforts to increase productivity or make it very difficult even to think about customers. Sometimes compensation or performance-appraisal systems make people choose between the new vision and their own self-interest. Perhaps worst of all are bosses who refuse to change and who make demands that are inconsistent with the overall effort.
- Not systematically planning and creating short-term wins – Creating short-term wins is different from hoping for short-term wins. The latter is passive, the former active. In a successful transformation, leaders actively look for ways to obtain clear performance improvements, establish goals in the yearly planning system, achieve the objectives, and appropriately reward or recognize the people involved.
- Declaring victory too soon – Instead of declaring victory, leaders of successful efforts use the credibility afforded by short-term wins to tackle even bigger problems.
- Not anchoring changes in the corporation’s culture – Change sticks when it becomes “the way we do things around here,” when it seeps into the bloodstream of the corporate body. Until new behaviors are rooted in social norms and shared values, they are subject to degradation as soon as the pressure for change is removed.
Finally, John P. Kotter writes, “There are still more mistakes that people make, but these eight are the big ones. In reality, even successful change efforts are messy and full of surprises. But just as a relatively simple vision is needed to guide people through a major change, so a vision of the change process can reduce the error rate. And fewer errors can spell the difference between success and failure.”