Leading Change is a book written by John Paul Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor and one of the leading scholars in the field of leadership and change, precisely, he talks about how best businesses can implement change. The book consists of 187 pages arranged into 15 chapters, these chapters are placed into three categories: Part I, Part II, and Part III. Each chapter handles a different stage towards implementing change. Leading Change was first published in the United States in1996 by the Harvard Business School Press.
I chose Leading Change since the book is an international bestseller written by one of the best authors in business management. Having read one of Kotter’s books: The Heart of Change (2002), I was amazed by the depth of knowledge he possesses in how best to manage businesses towards change. Leading Change was a way of extending my understanding of the same subject.
If the book’s title is a hint into the book’s contents, I expect to find useful information in managing and implementing change in an organization. With the ever-increasing need for businesses to effect change in order to remain relevant, I expect the author to give a methodical procedure for implementing change, and, in his trademark style, to provide numerous case studies of how businesses have succeeded by implementing change.
Kotter begins by informing us of the importance of change in every aspect of life, he mentions globalization as a major force pushing firms towards implementing change (Kotter, p. 10). He takes the long-established differentiation of management against leadership. From this comparison, we learn why Kotter chose Leading Change as his title rather than something like Managing Change for it takes leadership rather than merely management to steer firms through times of great change.
Kotter puts forward 8 steps that are vital to effect change in any firm as outlined below:
In Chapter 3, Kotter discusses the first stage of effecting change and states that this stage requires a great deal of teamwork, a well-laid out plan, and a readiness to make sacrifices for others. The author posits that a high level of satisfaction and a low level of urgency are the two greatest barriers to effecting change.
He further states that a number of firms face satisfaction despite having a highly intelligent and positive-thinking staff. Kotter provides nine strategies of overcoming satisfaction and emphasizes that an effective leader is required to turn these strategies into reality.
Chapter 4 begins with an outline of the second stage of effecting change. Kotter states that in order to actuate change in any firm, strong guidelines are required. These include the right team of persons, high level of trust, and common vision are vital to the success of this process.
Besides, a single leader cannot implement change by himself, it is his duty to pull together a strong team to assist him during the program. Kotter presents four stages needed to create an effective team and states that the most significant features to the success of the team are trust, a shared objective, and sincerity.
Kotter mentions that there are three ways to persuade people into altering their behavior to bring the desired change in an organization, these methods are authoritarian, micromanagement, and vision. Vision clarifies the need for change and is a core element to all great leadership. He mentions the features of a viable vision and provides a method of implementing the vision successfully.
Kottler stresses the importance of communication on the road towards change. Communication is key to the success of any change strategy adopted for it creates understanding among the team members implementing the change. He writes that important information must be passed over repeatedly in different ways. Most importantly, people’s daily communication requirements have to reflect the fresh way of thinking, he quotes Mahatma Gandhi that leaders must “be the change they wish to see” (Kotter, pp. 89).
This appears in chapter 8 and mainly dwells on the concept of staff empowerment. Kotter mentions eliminating obstacles that will impede the change efforts. Top-level management can get rid of these barriers by ensuring that the present framework does not hinder the vision of change.
By aligning the present organizational framework with vision, the change process can be more successful. Kotter also mentions the importance of workforce education relating to empowerment: education empowers the employees and increases the likelihood of success of the change program.
The sixth stage in the implementation of change, which appears in chapter 9, calls on the generation of immediate successes to demonstrate the importance of change to the firm and to cheer on the team implementing change.
Kotter says that these short-term wins increase the chances of completing the change process, however, they are only helpful if they are noticeable to many, the terms are straight, and the success is closely associated with the change process. A success generated to satisfy the requirements creates joy, belief, and drive.
So how can this be done? Kotter states that the solution to achieving success is planning instead of depending on prayers, he differentiates between “gimmick wins” and tangible short-term successes (Kotter, pp. 191). Kotter states that even though short-term gimmicks can be helpful for a while, bosses must not harm the firm’s future by effecting short-term victories. In summary, short-term wins should not be given prominence to long-term change visions.
In the seventh stage, Kotter outlines five phases to achieving victory in change programs. The first step is to initiate intricate and tough changes in the firm, then seek for more assistance to make sure the program succeeds.
Thirdly, the senior managers must carry on providing a strong emphasis on the reason for the change program, next, decentralization of the programs is vital for it allows management to focus on the reason for the change program and increases their chances of success. The final step is to get rid of unnecessary credits or satisfaction.
The final step begins in chapter 10 and mainly deals with the dangers of failing to implement change programs, Kotter offers a formula for implementing change. Failing to adopt change programs can lead to a total failure in a company, and the key to a permanent change in an organization not only relies on changing vision or mission statements or even the instruction manuals, but in changing the company customs.
Leading Change continues to be an accepted book on the methods of steering an organization towards change. Kotter offers numerous ideas and instructions for the leader to remember, and he presents these ideas in easy-to-understand stages. While there are no references to these ideas, much of what he presents corresponds to modern studies and theories in leadership and organizational behavior.
Kotter also does an impressive job by giving us a distinction between leaders and managers, and the understanding that ICT has permanently changed society by accelerating change, hence the urgent need for managers to learn how to lead their organizations towards change.
Clearly, this book is meant for senior managers trying to effect change in large organizations, however, I also found some information that can be applied in smaller firms. Leading Change is a must-read for business executives, especially in the 21st century where every aspect of the corporate world is continually undergoing change.
The book has its downside too. It lacks detail, supporting data and research studies to compliment the ideas presented. Kotter talks about large tectonic changes in the marketplace, but does not include supporting evidence.
Some of the recommendations that he presents are difficult to understand too, for example, he mentions that allowing a financial loss will help validate the urgency for change, this idea might herald the downfall of a stable business or organization. He also mentions that non-managerial employees have been trained to not be accountable, a statement many will dismiss as fallacy.
The book appears to be a compilation of essays on managing change in organizations rather that a complete book on leading change. Kotter discusses numerous examples of change programs that failed with less mention of practical strategies and positive examples. My concern while reading the book was that due to the lack of details and supporting evidence, it may be used by a mean or unethical manager to defend oppressive demands that may eventually damage an organization.
I would recommend the book to any manager trying to lead the firm through change as it gives a simplified procedure of going about this process. The author presents the change program in simple packets of ideas with stages, steps and error lists that are easy to remember. The eight stages of change put forward offer timely and valuable information by a man who has a 25-year experience working with corporations to create long-term changes.
I learnt a couple of ideas that could change my life immensely, especially in the corporate world. I saw the need to distinguish between management and leadership, and that management alone cannot run an organization effectively, rather, leadership is the most important trait a manager should possess.
I also learnt of the importance of adopting change programs not only in the corporate world, but also in non-business environments. The world around us is undergoing constant change, and unless we adopt ourselves to it, we may find ourselves out of place, similar to a business that fails to implement change programs and finds itself unable to compete effectively with other firms on a number of platforms. Finally, I learnt the importance of sacrifice in the road to achieving a common goal.
Kotter, John Paul. Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press, 1996.