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Implementing Changes in Organisations:

Eliminating Obstacles to Success


Adapted from Kotters 8 step change plan Retrieved 29 Jan 2010 from:
http://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newPPM_82.htm

Common Pitfalls
Error #1: Allowing complacency

Kotter calls this "the biggest error people make" when trying to change organizations.
Kotter writes that "transformations always fail to achieve their objectives when
complacency levels are high" (p. 4). When complacency is a part of the organizational
culture, employees don't have that sense of urgency that motivates them to change.

The antidote to this is to create a compelling "burning platform," so everyone can


understand why the status quo is untenable.

Error #2: Failing to create a sufficiently powerful guiding coalition

Successful transformations require commitment from leadership and key stakeholders. It


takes a dedicated team with strong support from the top to overcome the massive
inertia found in most organizations. Most committees, task forces, and work groups
don't have the dedication and authority required of a high-impact team.

Building effective teams is the key strategy for overcoming this barrier to change.

Error #3: Underestimating the power of vision

"Urgency and a strong guiding team are necessary but insufficient conditions for major
change," says Kotter (p. 7). To effect change, work must also be organized around a
clear, compelling vision. Vision gives focus and direction; it provides an anchor point
against which progress can be measured. Kotter offers a useful rule of thumb:
"Whenever you cannot describe the vision driving a change initiative in five minutes or
less and get a reaction that signifies both understanding and interest, you are in for
trouble" (p. 8).

Remember: People fleeing from a burning platform need somewhere more attractive
to go.
Error #4: Under communicating the vision by a factor of 10 (or 100
or even 1,000)

Research suggests that you have to present a new, simple concept at least three times
before you have a 50 percent chance that it will be understood. When presenting a
new, complex concept, seven to eight or even more presentations are required and
this assumes you are communicating in understandable language and in delivery
modes that suit the listeners' modal preferences. There is no such thing as too much
communication. Furthermore, communication in both word and deed must be
congruent. "Nothing undermines change (efforts) more than behaviour by important
individuals that is inconsistent with the verbal communication," (p. 10) according to
Kotter.

Suggestion: Assume nothing. Communicate as though everyone is from Mars and is


hearing you for the first time.

Error #5: Permitting obstacles to block the new vision

Staff members confronted with change sometimes feel overwhelmed by real or


imagined obstacles. Foot-draggers, obstructionists, conflicting goals, misaligned or
missing incentives, or fear of a staff member can become road blocks to progress.
Even seemingly near trivial concerns become obstacles. No one likes confrontation but
a failure to confront obstacles will surely kill your program. Kotter points out, "Whenever
smart and well-intentioned people avoid confronting obstacles, they disempower
employees and undermine change" (p. 11).

The point here is that I-messages do work! Learn to say, "No" without feeling guilty.

Error #6: Failing to create short-term wins

Significant change efforts can take years. Very, very few people have the stamina and
commitment to go that long without seeing any payback. Even a few weeks without
some positive results may lead to a loss of momentum and enthusiasm for the project.
The more dramatic the change expected, the shorter the time must be between wins.
The leader's role is to create short-term wins for the team by setting clear measurable
goals and actively looking for opportunities to recognize progress.

Remember: Team members need "smiley faces", too.


Error #7: Declaring victory too soon

Achieving goals doesn't mean you can slack off. The "been there, done that" crowd is
just waiting for the opportunity to call it quits. "After the (victory) celebration," says
Kotter, "the resisters point to the victory as a sign that the war is over and the troops
should be sent home. Weary troops let themselves be convinced that they won. Once
home, foot soldiers are reluctant to return to the front. Soon thereafter, change comes
to a halt and irrelevant traditions creep back in" (p. 13).

Remember the resister's slogan is, "This too shall pass." You need to keep in mind that it's
a lot easier to bring up the rear than it is to lead the charge! Don't let the turkeys get
you down!

Error #8: Neglecting to anchor changes firmly in the


(organization's) culture

Finally, change effort will be lasting only when it is perceived to be "the way we do
business." That is, the new practice has to completely displace tradition-bound
practice. The new practice will stick only when it is institutionalized from the bottom to
the top of the organization and staff can't backslide to old practices because they've
been erased from the corporate memory. One of the ironies of change management
is that the most valuable employees are often the most difficult to work with because
they frequently have the longest tenure with the organization hence the longest,
most deeply ingrained corporate memory. Succession planning becomes an important
tool for embedding new practices in the organization's culture. The new vision must be
kept alive across generations of staff before it becomes the normative practice.

Anchoring change is all about being consistent over time and rewarding desirable
behaviours. People have to get past the point of having to think about the behaviour
before they can fully demonstrate it.