Steps for Planned Change

Posted Thursday, August 16, 2012

By Dr. Allen Slade, ACC

A model for planned change can help you navigate your way through uncharted territory. There are a lot of different change models out there, and many of them are numbered. Here is a partial list:

As a change leader, should you use a change model? If so, which one?

The bottom line: Use a planned change model. As for which model, go with what works for you and know when to yield.

I generally recommend a planned change model for my clients. A model can help simplify a complex situation, provide a common language for discussing change in your organization and can focus attention to guide action. In other words, a planned change model gives insight for intelligent change.

There are differences in the number, sequence and timing of the steps, but these differences are not very important. Which planned change model you use is a matter of preference and politics. If your preference holds sway, use what works for you. If the powers that be insist on a different model, you can yield with a clear conscience. I have scars from arguing too hard for change models that were not in vogue. Almost any planned change model will help chart your course through the change.

John Kotter’s 8-step model for leading change works as well as any, so I use it often. Here are his eight steps:

1. Establish a sense of urgency. I recommend an analysis of the forces for change and the forces for stability. If the forces for change are not great enough, regroup and restart.

2. Form a powerful guiding coalition. Get the right people with sufficient knowledge, influence and commitment to guide the change. If you initiated change without the juice to make it happen, get the power brokers on board.

3. Create a vision. This should be a powerful, brief and memorable summary of the change – what is changing, why and how it affects us. A fuzzy vision will make the rest of the process harder.

4. Communicate the vision. Get the vision out there and get all parties to join the process. But don’t see communication as a “tell and sell” campaign. Engage in dialogue.  Underscore the key points and get your employees’ feedback, insights and creativity. Change your plan early and often based on this dialogue.

5. Empower others to act on the vision. You can’t do it all. Bet on your people. Encourage them to act without your tight control. The vision for change sets the boundaries and general direction. Let others sweat the details.

6. Plan for and create short-term wins. Change is hard work. Change is especially hard in the middle, after the initial excitement has died down and before the final success is clear. Discouragement must be managed. Celebrate your team’s success early and often.

7. Consolidate improvements and produce still more change. Build on your success. Leverage your successes and learn from your failed experiments.

8. Institutionalize new approaches. Lock in the new way of doing things with congruent changes to your strategy, structure, systems and culture.

If this 8-step model resonates with you, use it. If not, look for another planned change model. A good road map provides insight for intelligent change.

2 comments on “Steps for Planned Change

  1. I like Kotter’s work very much, and it makes a lot of sense to me. I do have a worry however about the ‘Creating a Sense of Urgency’ step. Taking your previous post’s message that change these days is rapid and constant, and that as soon as you finish one change, you are likely to find yourself starting the next one. My concern is, how can a leader continue to convince people that the latest (or current) change/initiative/programme etc is any more urgent than the last? My sense is that people get weary when one change runs into another, and the messages of urgency start to become hard to ‘sell’. A bit lit ‘crying wolf’. Any thoughts or views on reconciling these conflicting challenges?

    • Allen Slade on said:

      Good observation. If we cry wolf too often, people will ignore it.

      I think the key is to see change as the new normal. Then, smaller scale changes are just part of the normal ebb and flow of business. We work on our speed and capacity to implement the “normal” changes.

      “Normal” change could be almost any recurring event. I worked with a client who has large annual swings in demand. Their hourly employees faced layoffs followed by overtime, then more layoffs. A key manager was treating each set of layoffs as a one-time event, saying that “this is a temporary crisis – we will get through this.” My advice was to treat the seasonal swings as the new normal. The message became “We are in a cyclical business. We work hard during the boom times. We prepare for the downturns. When things are slow, we refresh ourselves for the next boom.” This mindset is valuable for other recurring changes like software upgrades or product development cycles.

      This preserves Kotter’s model for large scale changes that truly are exceptional. We create a sense of urgency for a change – we cry wolf – but rarely.

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