Cornerstone knowledge: Kotters 8 step model for change management

Changes are an inevitable part of all life, and especially if we are responsible for the productivity and development of a business. Focusing on the key steps of change in  a working environment you may have much more success that was expected.

To confirm the necessity of management changes here is the review of J. Kotter’s model of change management

John Kotter is an outstanding author of transformational management theory. In 1996 his publishment “Leading Change” became a genuine breakthrough and cornerstone must read in the society of the big companies’ leaders.

In 2002 united with Dan Cohen they gave birth to the a business guide “The Heart of Change”. John Kotter worked on the weak points and problematic zones which could arise before implementing change. The central concept in their scope touched the key element in behavior – including dealing with people’s feelings, which empower and enhance the successful transformations.


I will try to clearly explain the logic of the 8 steps of Kotter’s change management model, answering the question: How do you get from deciding on implementing an initiative in top management, to making the whole organization bottoms up accept, welcome and embrace the change initiative?

This article introduces the 8 steps on the way to positive transformations within organisations. Be inspired by having a look upon the tips in the content for quick insights.


Change Management Leading to Results

Kotter considers the 8 step structure as a model of changing behavior for betterment of existing climate in the company. These steps are complementary and strictly consistent for the following. Logically it can be divided into separate phases:

  1. Preparing for changes
  2. Engaging & enabling the Organization
  3. Implementing & sustaining change


Kotter included the importance of each key moment in the process of change, whether it is the moment for action and decision, engaging participants, sense of urgency, transparency of expected results, and effective channels for communication, good leadership skills or the performance of planning.



This is quite a common situation which occurs in the beginning  of management change process: organisation runs short of initial interest of  coming change and resists doing efforts towards the new transformations.


Create a sense of Urgency

Presentation of the project to the leading managers does not make sense if it is not convincing. Management leaders must see the apparent need to make changes and give responsibilities to the brainy team thus empowering them. Understanding the crisis-based grounds for transformations (e.g. mixture of discontent client, high prices, low incomes, etc.) will bring sense of Urgency.

Wasting time on analysis instead of effective actions results in losing momentum. Crisis is an essential part of changes; consequently, when people cope with a problem, that moves them to bring to the light the need of change. The Heart of Change insists on focusing on flashy topical cases to find the answers for problems,  to wean off all ready established methods and procedures, even though persuasions will be used. True facts and captivating data for both customer and stakeholder make strong emotional connection to allow changes happen. As a matter of fact something new appearing in the horizon strikes a deep chord in the people’s heart. The new things will probably intrigue some people, so their strong interest will decrease all possible doubts for the need for change.


Form a Powerful Coalition

The more desire to introduce changes motivates one, other participants will join this process. The right people are attracted by the appropriate conditions, similar goals and trust. And this step is about getting the right people together.

Outspokenness between team members, emotional honesty and sincerity – everything that characterizes positive goal-oriented behaviour will lead to productive dialogue and solving problems which are traditionally expected in such a situation and mostly avoided. There appears the atmosphere of trust, with no crushable initiatives, critics, and fears to be ignored.


However, the manager may not express desire to look into deep roots of the problem. What will you do then? The simple truth is that you will go on escaping awkward situations and be the untrustworthy man.  Before building up a dream team (experiencing leadership aptitudes, acknowledgement of reliability, performing the right skills) must be a person to explain the ongoing changes. Otherwise, it would seem incompatible with reason. That is how a problem should be solved.


Though, successful changes will surely happen when it is open dialogue between team members. Moreover, confrontation, conflicts and misunderstanding, happening while working out the issue, may contribute to defining the true leader of change. He emerges, feels the urgency, brings others together and directs the team.

Definitely, the threat of hastily arranged team doesn’t disappear. As a top manager passes responsibility for an approved transformation project to a senior manager, there is a high risk to have an inept team. There could be given incorrect tasks to the wrong people, misguided and less productive.

It is taken for granted, that workers perform other job tasks and are not totally engaged with their own ideas into the change project. Surely, workers are well-spoken, can express their ideas. Nonetheless, with low trust none of outspoken ideas will grow into serious actions. It is plain to see the problems but what is about the resolutions? Whenever participants of team work start their discussion, they should know how to be fair-minded and flexible with each other.

The story of Roland de Vries, considered by J. Kotter and D. Cohen in The Heart of Change, encourages dealing with any problem while working in team. Here is the illustration how to give a leading group exact image of direction with the help of tenacity and credibility.


  1. Create a Vision for Change

Changes are somewhat distanced in time, that is the reason why we need to put the questions. Organisations must ask themselves: what kind of transformations they are expecting to be; what are the crucial aspects to get alterations started; what eventual future they want to happen.

Unfortunately, many people have neither concrete image, nor sense of way of changes.

Having tons of plans and finance reports is no use to clarify the future. That’s exactly why future must be visualized through remarkable content. Demonstrative and attractive cases give others a clear point of problems and solutions.

The brighter you create your vision of the future, the more people are getting ready to move, regardless of detailed scopes. Unquestionably, changes are transformational as they emphasize the unknown in the future. Thus, a brand new approach to fix less attention on analytics and budget-based representation is urgently needed. It is necessary to create a vision, which drives  people and focus on the speed in which changes are possible to implement.

Here are the steps to create vision of the future. In the beginning figure out the vision which leads to the final result; then prepare strategic tips for achieving this vision. After that you perform the plans according to your strategy. In the final stage you form the budgets to be confident with the material possibility of your plans.



The 8-step change model discloses the nature that impacts people’s feelings. We have discussed experiencing need of immediate actions which lead people to move forward and collaborate in the guided teamwork for the clarified vision of future. The next step is about communication processes upon the vision and general strategy.

  1. Communicate the Vision

Organisational changes usually bring plenty of information to the surface. The particular inquiry can be lost as people do not see concrete messages what the needs for changes are. By the reason of incorrect emotional request people won’t be able to contemplate an idea and start resisting. Actions speak louder than words, therefore Kotter and Cohen illustrate successful communication for activity:

  • Under-communicating. The reason is to lead the organisational changes by means of attracting people from aside and realise common purposes. Thus, information must correspond to possible queried points and be applicable.
  • Information for improvement. It underlines the probable conflict tone of communication when changes are in the progress, especially dealing with data. Consequently, gentle and intelligent open dialogue is a sufficient part of the change implementation.
  • Sticking to the point. Here is about what J. Kotter calls “Deeds speak volumes”. Distance between actions and words does not contribute to the proper business situation. Moreover, it increases skepticism and disbelief, hence changes are endangered. The conclusion is evident – to act steadily according to your own vision.

Keeping in mind others’ moods, also possible mistrust and overreactions, can play a critical part in carrying out communication. Giving message to people should be precise and simple, so that channels will be effectively used.


  1. Empower Action

Sometimes removing barriers means to find a way to change the mind of a dis-empowered manager. When people get the message about changes to be, their reaction is rather clear – they figure out what to with it. Yet they are back-strapped as their boss can’t make up his mind with the transformations and thinks conservatively.

Certainly, there are some extra ways to deal with this demotivating factor – to ignore his view and stand the ground, struggle his orthodox approach, insist on advanced training courses etc.

On the other hand, here is one more reason of dis-empowerment. It is about organisational life – structure, processes and inner systems. Such thing as bureaucracy impacts on leading the business. It is difficult enough to remove the greatest barrier of changes – the mind. Programmed and experienced feelings of failure, which can appear in attempts to introduce changes, block people doing new tries. Learned beliefs in that they can’t fulfill their plans keep them at a safe distance from changes.

Therefore, the only one chance to get rid of this problem, according to Kotter’s change model, is to show people why change is necessary. If the boss is given a new task or a role, he will state the necessity of changes. He will see how his new position is uncommon, and understand that without changes he won’t succeed. To enhance the effect encouraging stories and different cases from workforce are in hand. The more you show, the more confidence and positive emotions are boosted. However, these stories must be about real success and drive appropriate effect. Otherwise, efforts will be crushed by skepticism and mistrust of organisational management.


  1. Create Quick Wins

Results that are achieved quickly contribute to optimism and motivation. Therefore, it is necessary to display small wins to others so they can feel no fears. Step by step small goals will bring you and your team forward, to the perspective future. While leading people provide little rewards – challenges which result in short-term wins. This would be visible approach to great changes.

Near-term winnings imply few purposes.

  • Assess the credibility of chosen strategies, reflect the ongoing results.
  • Give people way to be recognized, approved and encouraged.
  • Develop confidence in the project of changes, so people from aside can take an active part in it.
  • Lower the level of skepticism and cynicism.

Besides, taking up lots of projects in the same time endangers the success of changes. It may lead to chaotic activity with no effect. Consequently, try to find the easier and cheaper task to complete. As a result you can demonstrate the power and potential of the teamwork, and others will appreciate that.



Given step is a “non-stop” moment, when you feel the wave and keep going forward. All goals and plans are set, team is prepared for hard work, and this is the high time to bring the vision into life.


  1. Build on the Change

The main idea how to sustain the changes consists in the following. You keep moving forward until the ultimate result is not achieved. Every situation or event, which can support team while working the issues, must be used. Having vision as a reality, encouraging workforce with outstanding examples of success will empower people of taking risks and fearless actions.

Don’t let up – means removal of corporate barriers. Even when bureaucracy or political games occur, give the people power to rearrange the matter and create the brand new solutions to the problems. That will be the innovation, the step forward to changing future. Otherwise, nothing is to be replaced, corrected or updated. Without changes in delegation of tasks and sharing responsibilities you won’t free up time and open your mind to the global transformations in organization.

All we know the conditions, when people are tasked to solve some problems. They do it day by day, just an ordinary job. What will it be, if someone charges them on these tasks and let them start the new ones? This way people see the perspectives, not get tired of talks about changes and improve their own career. Here is an evident need of changes. The sense of urgency, which does not lead people to frustration, moves the workforce.

From that point, people see the ongoing changes, relate them to visible image of future, enforce their responsibilities and make to find out the right solutions. When you show more and more to team members, that means two things: changes provoke the new challenges and give no chance to relax; there are lots of promising tasks to fulfill team potential. Thus, fast wins, simple presentations, whatever provides feedback, gives people to feel their values and be related to the highest goal, the most important visionary idea.


  1. Make it Stick

This is the step in Kotter’s 8-step change model as a provocative crucial moment in implementing of the idea.

The notion of changes must be inculcated into organisational culture before all. That is to be naturalized and needed for further development of a company. Change has to be approved in the culture; and the new methods of work follow this culture, but a little bit forgo the transformations.

Make it Stick is closed to:

  • Having fast achievements to state the changes are going on.
  • New behaviours are connected with results and general orientation of a company.
  • Demonstration of successful examples and advanced training of workforce.
  • Rewards and acknowledgement of those who embed the new norms, by means of promotion.
  • Going towards results until all is done, and keeping people motivated.




Kotter and Cohen argue that people need to feel the changes. They understand more, when experience feelings of urgency to transform their behaviours. When they face the challenges or have successful stories of leaders before eyes, they cultivate inner striving for changes. Definitely, the center of changes is the people’s heart; that is why people-driven approach, which the authors recommend, absolutely works.

Three crucial components for the better future are needed: to see, to feel and then change. By incredible storytelling, compelling and providing bright examples of success people are shown the solutions of problems. By creating a visible image of future they can be empowered to do the productive actions. Going through the new feelings of small wins and achievements people display better results and keep up the momentum.



Step Action New Behaviour
1 Create urgency People moves each other with words of support: “Let’s go. Changes are needed!”
2 Form a powerful coalition Formed group is reliable and powerful enough to start the changes.
3 Create a vision for change The team creates the visible image of future and set the steps to achieve the results.
4 Communicate the vision People get more engaged and interested in the happening transformations.
5 Empower action People are empowered and confident to deal with every problem on their way.
6 Create quick wins Common vision and small victories assure success.
7 Build on the change People keep going as tempo of work is increasing.
8 Make it stick Support of new norms and positive feedback on ongoing changes ground the new culture in company.