Where Kotter's 8 Steps Gets it Wrong

by Stephen Warrilow

In a thought provoking article published in 2011 Kayleigh O'Keefe a former research analyst of CEC Insider - now part of Gartner - suggested that there are "Three Primary Flaws of Kotter's 8 Steps for Leading Change" and these can be summarised as:

(1) A one-off event - Kotter's 8 Step Change Model positions change as a one-off event with a defined beginning and a successful end that is reached by adherence to each of the 8 steps. Whereas O'Keefe makes the very valid point that in the current environment of global uncertainty continuous change is now the order of the day.

(2) Excludes the informal leaders - She challenges Kotter's view that significant change can only come from organisational leaders and says that employees get disillusioned as "leaders make changes to the change they've just touted as the most significant in the company's history!"

(3) Topdown - Leader instigated - topdown - change disempowers employees who feel increasingly like pawns on the C-suite's chess board and become stressed as they lose more control of their lives.

Unfortunately the full article is now no longer accessible on-line, but O'Keefe followed with an interview with Kathy Gersch, CMO at Kotter International to discuss these point, and you can read the exchange here:

Change Leadership: Taking Another Look at Kotter's 8 Steps

My perspective is that there are obvious strengths of Kotter’s 8 Step change Model:

# It sets out a clear leadership roadmap.
# It is energy based and addresses the emotional imperative of momentum.
# It outlines key steps to build and sustain that momentum.

But the weaknesses of the model are:

# It is action based and tactical and does not go far enough in spelling out the specifics of how to achieve clarity of vision and an executable strategy to deliver the envisioned benefits of that vision.
# His focus is on organisational change and does not address the personal transitions that accompany that change.
# The leadership coalition does not include the informal organisation, thus perpetuates the top-down style of centralised command and control leadership.

Although as a footnote, Kotter's 2014 book 'Accelerate' updates the influential 8-step process and does include the informal organisation.

How Have Kotter's Eight Steps for Change Changed?

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