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Leading Change

Author: Kotter, P. John
Copyright: ©1996
Publishers: Harvard Business School Press. Boston, Massachusetts
Book Review by: Cathy Bernatt

Leading Change

At the outset Kotter identifies 8 errors that are the cause of most failed transformation efforts. They are:

  1. Allowing too much complacency: He makes the point here that the key problem is not realizing how "...hard it is to drive people out of their comfort zones." (Kotter, p. 5) We need only remember HEM to acknowledge at least the parabolic truth in this.
  2. Failing to create a sufficient powerful guiding coalition: Here Kotter tells us that, "...guiding coalitions without strong line leadership never seem to achieve the power that is required to overcome what are often massive sources of inertia." (Kotter, p. 6)
  3. Underestimating the power of vision: Kotter says that if we cannot communicate in five minutes or less, the vision that is "...driving a change initiative and get a reaction that signifies both understanding and interest, you are in for trouble." (Kotter, p. 9)
  4. Under communicating the vision by a factor of 10 (or 100 or Even 1,000): Walking the talk is the most important point here. Assuring that we communicate clearly and to everyone in the organization is important.
  5. Permitting obstacles to block the new vision: Kotter tells us that whenever, "well-intentioned people avoid confronting obstacles, and they disempower employees and undermine change." (Kotter, p. 11). Enron and how Anderson Consulting dealt with all that was going on, is a great example of a situation that allowed the discomfort of dealing with obstacles and tending to bad practices led to total disaster.
  6. Communicating the Change Vision: " ...the primary purpose of the first six phases of the transformation process is to build up sufficient momentum to blast through the dysfunctional granite walls found in so many organizations. When we ignore any of these steps, we put all our efforts at risk.

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Phase 1, Kotter says is to establish a sense of urgency. A concrete example of the negative fallout of not doing this can be brought to light with a real corporate example. There is a multi-national cosmetics corporation that has been the #1 cosmetic company for a very long time. Today, their lead is slipping and a strong competitor is catching up and may surpass them. Why? They did not feel a sense of urgency and even worse were living with a false sense of security. Look also, at what is happening with Korea and China today in comparison to Japan. Since World War 2, Japan was on a steep upward climb economically. Up until only five years ago, the entire nation was still living "the bubble mentality" six years after the bubble had burst. Even when signs indicated they needed to take a step back and reevaluate certain strategies, practices, they felt no sense of urgency as they were on top. Kotter's rule of thumb in any major change effort is to,

"Never underestimate the magnitude of the forces that reinforce complacency and that help maintain status quo." (Kotter, p. 42)

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