OpinionPOSTED September 24, 2015

Change is a good thing

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During the final year of my degree I was fortunate enough to take a Change Management class.  However, my point of view regarding this subject turned out much differently than my initial thoughts prior.  Change management was seen as a daunting class, full of 100-page document assignments, industry corporate jargon and learning how to fire people.  And nobody likes change, right?

Well, John Kotter’s book, Leading Change completely altered my view on this, thought to be dry topic, and made me an advocate for always leading in change.  In a world where technology changes hourly and the way individuals communicate and receive information quicken, change is not only necessary for organizations to thrive, but to survive. As businesses continue to look for new ways to reduce costs, increase productivity and locate new growth opportunities, change is inevitable and generally leads to painful experiences for both employees and managers.

The majority of the novel focuses on Kotter’s 8-Stage Process for Leading Change, which he also points out, are mirrored by the eight most common mistakes organizations (and those running them) make when change is on the horizon.

Here is Kotter’s eight-stage process for creating change:[1]

  • Establishing a sense of urgency
  • Creating the guiding coalition
  • Developing a vision and strategy
  • Communicating the change vision
  • Empowering broad-based action
  • Generating short-term wins
  • Consolidating gains and producing more change
  • Anchoring new approaches in the culture

Instead of summarizing the book, I’m going to provide some Cole’s Notes on the select stages that I found intriguing.

Establishing a sense of urgency

In the first step of the model Kotter expresses that complacency can be a major obstacle in leading change stating, “Establishing a sense of urgency is crucial to gaining needed co-operation.” (Kotter, 1996, p.38).  When change is needed, a work force of complacent employees will never find the motivation and the vision to work towards the needed change and overcome the approaching obstacles.

Kotter states that there are ways to raise urgency levels within an organization without causing fear.  These include tactics such as eliminating clear levels of company excess (bye-bye company owned yacht club), over-communicate the positive outcomes of the change and have more open and honest discussions surrounding what needs to be fixed instead of glazing over the issues.

Developing a vision and strategy

This section may sound self-explanatory, but Kotter expresses how many organizations are incapable of creating a compelling vision and strategy.  Creating a vision takes time, takes commitment and takes heart.  Kotter says a good vision needs to be imaginable, desirable, feasible, focused, flexible and communicable (a PR pros number one priority).

Communicating the change vision

This was a great chapter in the book as it showcased the importance of communication in accomplishing results, especially difficult tasks at hand. But, besides me enjoying Kotter writing about the importance of great communication, he outlined the key elements in effective communication of the change vision are:

  • Simplicity
  • A verbal example or analogy
  • Multiple forums for communication
  • Repetition
  • Leadership by example – that means you, boss!
  • Explanation of addressing inconstancies
  • Two-way communication

Empowering broad-based action

Though this step is constantly brought up in the board room by top executives during the planning stages, I generally feel proper employee empowerment is never executed well.  In order for change to occur, an organization needs to empower its employees to create change. You know what they say, a leader is only as good as their followers.

Kotter states in order to accomplish this stage properly, the guiding coalition needs to communicate (there’s that word again) a sensible vision to employees, make compatible structures for support, provide appropriate training, aligning information and personal systems to vision and confront managers that undermine the change vision.

Anchoring new approaches in the culture

This final stage is the start of the new culture.  It’s simple, yet very important.  This is the stage where the change vision aligns and is anchored within the culture.  This involves constant communication of the validity of the new processes, succession processes made to align with the new culture and may involve turnover of key people who undermine the change vision.

So there you have it – you can clearly see how fundamental communication is to complex situations such as overcoming change within an organization.  I think the reason why I related to Kotter’s novel is that he possessed such a fond respect for the role of communication in an area that most people are afraid of – change.  But in order for businesses to survive and thrive they must undergo change constantly, and a key element to succeeding in a time of change is effective communication.

Cole Douglas recently rejoined the APEX PR team after interning in our office last year. Follow him on Twitter @coledouglas7

[1] Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading Change . Boston, Massachusetts: Harvard Business Review Press.

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