Friday, October 17, 2014

Kotter's Book "Leading Change" and Overcoming Complacency

I was recently asked to recommend a business book to some colleagues, one that related to guiding companies on transformational initiatives. Upon thinking about business books that had made a lasting impression, a common theme emerged: They were all books that helped in navigating the reasons why many corporate undertakings, such as ERP journeys, might fall short of potential or veer off-course.

Realizing that a common topic explored in the various books coming to mind (e.g., Who Moved My Cheese and Sacred Cows Make the Best Burgers) was that of organizational change management, the book "Leading Change" by John Kotter rose to the top as the obvious choice.

Leading Change was written around the same time the internet was taking off, but it’s still the most recommended and read book on change management out there because none of the ideas embedded in Kotter’s 8-stage process for creating major change have lost relevance or (practical) applicability.

While some of Kotter’s eight stages are labeled using fairly obvious principles of change management such as creating the guiding coalition (or core change management team plus enlisted change agents), or establishing a sense of urgency, it’s the layers of not-so-obvious but critical insights and implications that Kotter explores within each stage that make the book come to life.

Take establishing a sense of urgency for example … One of many memorable quotes from Leading Change is … “Never underestimate the magnitude of the forces that reinforce complacency and that help maintain the status quo.” Kotter’s surrounding comments highlight that while senior executives are usually the key players in reducing the forces of inertia, it can also be a competent individual in a middle or lower level role that is equally instrumental in creating some of the conditions needed for an organizational transformation.

This point clearly ties back to Kotter’s stage about creating the guiding coalition, as diversity of roles, levels, personalities and organizational alignments are all essential for the change management team to effectively channel “case for change” messages back to the masses, and “reactions to change” back to the change team.

Finally, on the topic of combatting complacency with a sense of urgency, Kotter’s comments in the book about the downside of current or past successes, or a lack of a visible crises, or insufficient feedback from customers contributing to the complacency factor really resonate; and should help guide all those interested in coming out on the positive side of a change management effort.

Steve Goldberg, October 2014