March 29, 2011 in Book reviews

Leading Change (Kotter) – Part 1

Change Programme Failure

Having recently reviewed Seth Godin’s ‘Poke the Box’, I’ve been reflecting on the paradox that change is crucially important and yet we are not very good at it; According to Harvard Business Review, 70% of all change initiatives fail. So, in general, we’re really bad at doing something that we’re going to have to be really good at. [pullquote]Major change will not happen easily for a long list of reasons[/pullquote] There are a lot of change models around but the most popular model, for very good reason, seems to be ‘The eight stage process of creating major change‘ by John Kotter. There are several books by Kotter, all worth reading, but the one I personally find most helpful is ‘Leading Change‘. Here, I’ll look at the reasons projects fail which really sets the stage for appreciating how to successfully lead change, which I’ll cover in the next blog post. I’ll outline some of the approach here, but there are real subtleties in the detail so you need to read the book to fully appreciate the approach.
Many of us will have seen unsuccessful change initiatives, even if they weren’t pronounced as unsuccessful and were gracefully replaced with a different change initiative. Kotter identifies 8 errors common to change efforts:

  • Allowing too much complacency (so people see no reason to change)
  • Failing to create a sufficiently powerful guiding coalition (ever tried to change things on your own? change needs leadership and power)
  • Underestimating the power of vision (and not letting people know what you’re trying to change to!)
  • Undercommunicating the vision (communication needs to capture hearts and minds)
  • Permitting obstacles to block the new vision (change isn’t easy and normally encounters blockers)
  • Failing to create short term wins (A bit like my gym routine, we want to see some results along the journey)
  • Declaring victory too soon (Don’t claim success and move onto the next thing at the first positive signs)
  • Neglecting to anchor changes firmly in the corporate culture (to be successful, you have to make the change stick)


In the next post, I’ll move from why change projects fail to what we need to do to make them successful but it is worth reflecting on these reasons why change efforts fail. Does this help to make sense of change programmes? Any mistakes you’re making? Any of them that you’re personally more prone to? What one thing would you have done differently that would have made the biggest difference?



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