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A Look at Kotter's 8-Step Change Model

written by: Vaseem Khan • edited by: Michele McDonough • updated: 5/19/2011

The article acts as a guideline for project managers as to how to use the change management process to increase the productivity of the project management team. Kotter's 8-Step Change Model is one of the change management models which is useful in implementing the change management practice.

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    Significance of Change Management Practice

    In today's world a typical business process undergoes continuous changes. Change has become a necessity so that business processes can be optimized repeatedly. Change Management is a practice that is followed by most project managers and team leaders in an organization to enable changes in that organization. Kotter’s 8-Step Change Management Model is one such model which can be used by project managers to bring necessary changes into the execution of projects.

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    Step 1: Creating Urgency

    Timely deliverables are important in project management. A project manager’s credibility is at stake if he fails to execute projects on time. According to Kotter, it becomes necessary to develop a sense of urgency in the organization so as to ensure that the work is done on time. A sense of urgency can be created among employees by a project manager though the following:

    • Explaining the importance of the project and the value of timely execution associated with it.
    • Identification of project based risks and providing a detailed plan on mitigating those risks.
    • Discussing how to bring change in the execution of a project and who will be responsible to bring those changes.
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    Step 2: Forming Coalitions

    Kotter's 8-Step Change Model 

    Team work is a necessary aspect of project management. Lack of leadership in guiding team members would lead to a decrease in productivity among the team members. According to Kotter, forming a coalition in the organization is critical as it helps in successful execution of projects. Powerful coalition can be built if the following are practiced by project managers:

    • Forming teams which have a balanced skill set, useful for executing projects.
    • Identifying key personnel from the teams and electing them as leaders. They should be held accountable for the teams’ success or failure for execution of a project.
    • Give the decision making power to the leaders and monitor their activities.

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    Step 3: Creating the Change Vision

    Project managers should develop necessary reasons for bringing in change while executing a project. Enforcing change without a vision is not considered to be good practice in project management. According to Kotter, productivity will be increased between the team members and the manager if a manager creates a change vision and acts on it. The following characteristics are essential while developing a change vision:

    • The change which will be brought should be in interest with the stakeholders of a project. The vision created should be desirable and also should be imaginable by the stakeholders.
    • It should be feasible to implement and communicable to the stakeholders.
    • Change should be focused and flexible. It should also undergo minor adjustments if found necessary.

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    Step 4: Communicating the Change Vision

    Multiple obstacles arise when a project manager tries to bring change while executing an existing project. One such obstacle is from the team members. According to Kotter, obstacles arising from the team members can be avoided by communicating the reasons behind the change. The change vision can be shared by practicing the following:

    • Eliminating the jargon associated with the change vision and explaining the change vision in the simplest of the ways.
    • Organizing regular meetings by conducting multiple forums and sharing the change vision among the team members.
    • Demonstrating the change vision through a manager’s actions, so that the team members can get inspired by his actions.
    • Explaining the reasons behind the actions of the leaders necessary in bringing change to a project.
    • Establishing a feedback oriented work culture so that both the team members and the leaders can interact and bring necessary changes to the project.

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    Step 5: Empower team members

    To implement change in an organization, it is critical to motivate the team members to accept the change. The natural tendency of the team members is to avoid change and use traditional ways to execute a project. According to Kotter, it is very important to remove all the obstacles which stop empowering the team members to accept change. The guidelines below help a project manager to empower the team members to accept and implement the change necessary for executing a project:

    • Early identification of the change resistors and counseling them to accept change.
    • Rewarding the change implementers.
    • Removing man made or technology based obstacles.
    • Hold team leaders accountable for change to occur in the workplace.

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    Step 6: Creating Short Term Wins

    Nothing motivates an employee or a team member more than successful execution of a task or a project. While bringing change in an organization, it becomes important for a project manager to create short-term wins for his team. According to Kotter, creating short term wins motivates the team members to bring change completely as they will be able to verify the results at multiple intervals while executing a project. The following are the steps which will guide a project manager to create short term wins:

    • Set multiple achievable targets at regular intervals so as to keep the team members motivated.
    • Communicate with the team member’s specific pros and cons of not meeting the deadlines.
    • Recognize and reward individuals who are able to meet the targets set by the team leaders while executing a project.

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    Step 7: Consolidate Improvements

    If a project manager has been monitoring various stages of execution of a project, he should be able to consolidate the improvements arising from each stage. Doing so will give a project manager a clear indication of what change worked and what did not. According to Kotter, the success obtained in creating multiple short term wins helps in executing more complicated projects. The following needs to be done by a project manager to consolidate improvements:

    • After every short term win, analyze the best practices and repeat them.
    • Identify the changes which did not work and brainstorm with the team to find the areas which need improvement.
    • Bring in fresh ideas by recruiting change agents or employees and add them in to the existing coalition.

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    Step 8: Anchoring Changes

    After identification of the changes which work, it is essential for a project manager to anchor those changes. The following are the things which a project manager can do to anchor those changes:

    • Document the changes and prepare a best practices guideline.
    • Train the new employees on the best practices and also provide them an opportunity to modify existing changes with new ones.
    • Find out the key changes responsible for bringing corporate success and share them with the stakeholders.