Book Notes by Mike Pollard



Leading Change


John P. Kotter

Harvard Business School, 1996, 187 pp.




John Kotter is a professor of business at the Harvard School of Business. 

He also frequently consults business around the world.  Kotter here outlines

the elements he has observed to be necessary for the effective leadership of

change.  While it is written for secular business, the principles hold

far-reaching truths for local churches and parachurch organizations.


By any objective measure, the amount of significant, often traumatic, change

in organizations has grown tremendously over the past two decades.  3


To some degree, the downside of change is inevitable.  But a significant

amount of the waste and anguish we've witnessed in the past decade is

avoidable.  We've made a lot of errors, the most common of which are these.



By far the biggest mistake people make when trying to change organizations

is to plunge ahead without establishing a high enough sense of urgency in

fellow managers and employees.  4


Smart individuals fail to create sufficient urgency at the beginning of a

transformation for many different but interrelated reasons.  They

overestimate how much they can force big changes on an organization.  They

underestimate how hard it is to drive people out of their comfort zones. 

They don't recognize how their own actions can inadvertently reinforce the

status quo.  They lack patience:  "Enough with the preliminaries, let's get

on with it."  5


If complacency were low in most organizations today, this problem would have

limited importance.  But just the opposite is true.  Too much past success,

a lack of visible crises, low performance standards, insufficient feedback

from external constituencies, and more all add up to:  "Yes, we have our

problems, but they aren't that terrible, and I'm doing my job just fine," or

"Sure we have big problems, and they are all over there."  5


Major change is often said to be impossible unless the head of the

organization is an active supporter.  6


Individuals alone, no matter how competent or charismatic, never have all

the assets needed to overcome tradition and inertia except in very small

organizations.  6


Of the elements that are always found in successful transformations, none is

more important than a sensible vision.  Without an appropriate vision, a

transformation effort can easily dissolve into a list of confusing,

incompatible, and time-consuming projects that go nowhere.  7


In many failed transformations, you find plans and programs trying to play

the role of vision.  8


In unsuccessful transformation efforts, management sometimes does have a

sense of direction, but it is too complicated or blurry to be useful.  8


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.  9


Communication comes in both words and deeds.  The latter is generally the

most powerful form.  Nothing undermines change more than behavior by

important individuals that is inconsistent with the verbal communication. 



Most people won't go on the long march unless they see compelling evidence

within six to eighteen months that the journey is producing expected

results.  11


[Even when the need for change is obvious,] needed change can still stall

because of inwardly-focused cultures, paralyzing bureaucracy, parochial

politics, a low level of trust, lack of teamwork, arrogant attitudes, and

the general human fear of the unknown.  To be effective, a method designed

to alter strategies, re-engineer processes, or improve quality must address

the barriers and address them well.  20


The eight-stage process of creating major change


1.  Establishing a sense of urgency

     1.1  Examining the market and competitive realities

     1.2  Identifying and discussing crises, potential crises, or major



2.  Creating the Guiding Coalition

     2.1  Putting together a group with enough power to lead the change

     2.2  Getting the group to work together like a team


3.  Developing a vision and strategy

     3.1  Creating a vision to help direct the change effort

     3.2  Developing strategies for achieving that vision


4.  Communicating the change vision

     4.1  Using every vehicle possible to constantly communicate the new vision

and strategies

     4.2  Having the guiding coalition model the behavior expected of employees


5.  Empowering broad-based action

     5.1  Getting rid of obstacles

     5.2  Changing systems or structures that undermine the change vision

     5.3  Encouraging risk-taking and non-traditional ideas, activities and



6.  Generating short-term wins

     6.1  Planning for visible improvements in performance, or `wins'

     6.2  Creating those wins

     6.3  Visibly recognizing and rewarding people who made the wins possible


7.  Consolidating gains and producing more change

7.1  Using increased credibility to change all systems, structures and

policies that don't fit together and don't fit the transformation vision

7.2  Hiring, promoting and developing people who can implement the change


7.3  Reinvigorating the process with new projects, themes and change agents


8.  Anchoring new approaches in the culture

8.1  Creating better performance through customer- and productivity-oriented

behavior, more and better leadership, and more effective management

8.2  Articulating the connections between new behavior and organizational


8.3  Developing means to ensure leadership development and succession  21


Those who attempt to create major change with simple, linear, analytical

processes almost always fail.  There is a lot more involved than gathering

data, identifying options, analyzing and choosing.  25


People will find a thousand ingenious ways to withhold cooperation from a

process that they sincerely think is unnecessary or wrongheaded.  36


[Several] reasons help explain complacency. 

+  No highly visible crisis exists.

+  The standards against which managers measure themselves are far from


+  The various internal planning and control systems are rigged to make it

easy for everyone to meet their functional goals.

+  Whatever performance feedback people receive comes almost entirely from

faulty internal systems.

+  When enterprising young employees go out of their way to collect external

performance feedback, they are treated like lepers.  Such behavior is seen

as inappropriate because it might hurt someone, reduce morale, or lead to

arguments [that is, honest discussions].  39-41


Increasing urgency demands that you remove sources of complacency or

minimize their impact:  for instance, setting higher standards both formally

in the planning process and informally in day-to-day interaction; changing

internal measurement systems that focus on the wrong indexes; vastly

increasing the amount of external performance feedback everyone gets;

rewarding both honest talk in meetings and people who are willing to

confront problems; and stopping baseless happy talk from the top.  42


Today's business environment clearly demands a new process of decision

making.  Only teams with the right composition and sufficient trust among

members can be highly effective under these new circumstances.  55


The first step in putting together the kind of team that can direct a change

effort is to find the right membership.  Four key characteristics seem to be

essential to effective guiding coalitions.  They are:


1.  Position power:  Are enough key players on board so that those left out

cannot easily block progress?

2.  Expertise:  Are the various points of view relevant to the task at hand

adequately represented?

3.  Credibility:  Does the group have enough people with good reputations in

the firm so that its pronouncements will be taken seriously?

4.  Leadership:  Does the group include enough proven leaders to be able to

drive the change process?  57


Teamwork on a guiding change coalition can be created in many different

ways.  But regardless of the process used, one component is necessary: 

trust.  Trust is absent in many organizations.  61


When people fail to develop the coalition needed to guide change, the most

common reason is that down deep they really don't think a transformation is

necessary, or they don't think a strong team is needed to direct the change.



Beyond trust, the element crucial to teamwork seems to be a common goal. 

The typical goal that binds individuals together on guiding change

coalitions is a commitment to excellence, a real desire to make their

organizations perform to the very highest levels possible.  65


Vision refers to a picture of the future with some implicit or explicit

commentary on why people should strive to create that future.  68


The most effective transformational visions all seem to share the following


1.  They are ambitious enough to force people out of comfortable routines.

2.  They take advantage of fundamental trends, especially globalization and

new technology.  79


The real power of a vision is unleashed only when most of those involved in

an enterprise or activity have a common understanding of its goals and

directions.  85


The development of a transformational vision often requires those on the

guiding coalition to spend a few hundred hours collecting information,

digesting it, considering alternatives, and eventually making choices. 

Accepting a vision of the future can be a challenging intellectual and

emotional task.  Our minds naturally generate dozens of questions.  What

will this mean for me?  My friends?  The organization?  What other

alternatives are there?  If I'm going to have to operate differently, can I

do it?  Will sacrifices from me be required in the process of achieving the

vision?  How do I feel about those sacrifices?  Those on the guiding

coalition have to answer all these questions for themselves..[they then]

often act as if everyone else in the organization should become clear and

comfortable with the resulting vision in a fraction of that time.  So a

gallon of information is dumped into a river of routing communication, where

it is quickly diluted, lost and forgotten.  87-8


Seven principles for communicating the change vision:

1.  Keep it simple

2.  Use metaphors, analogies, examples

3.  Use many different forums

4.  Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

5.  Walk the talk, or lead by example

6.  Explicitly address seeming inconsistencies

7.  Listen and be listened to.  88-99


Major change takes time, sometimes lots of time.  Zealous believers will

often stay the course no matter what happens.  Most of the rest of us expect

to see convincing evidence that all the effort is paying off.  Nonbelievers

have even higher standards of proof.  119


A good short-term win has at least three characteristics:


1.  It's visible. Large numbers of people can see for themselves.

2.  It's unambiguous.

3.  it's clearly related to the change effort.  121-2


Irrational and political resistance to change never fully dissipates.  Until

changed practices attain a new equilibrium and have been driven into the

culture, they can be very fragile.  132-3


We often don't adequately appreciate [the fact that] changing highly

interdependent settings is extremely difficult because, ultimately, you have

to change nearly everything.  Because of all the interconnections, you can

rarely move just one element by itself.  136


Outstanding leaders are willing to think long term.  Decades or even

centuries can be meaningful time frames.  Driven by compelling visions that

they find personally relevant, they are willing to stay the course to

accomplish objectives.  144


Culture changes only after you have successfully altered people's actions,

after the new behavior produces some group benefit for a period of time, and

after people see the connection between the new actions and the performance

improvement.  156


Development of leadership potential doesn't happen in a two-week course or

even a four-year college program, although both can help.  Most complex

skills emerge over decades, which is why we increasingly talk about lifelong

learning.  165


In most industries today, the pressure to change cultures is not intense, so

it's easy to delay.  `Let the next generation of executives do it.'  

`Things aren't so bad; look at last quarter's net income.'  Keep one fact in

mind as you consider this:  At least one player in your industry probably

isn't thinking that way.  171


In the twenty-first century, we will see remarkable leaders who develop

their skills through lifelong learning, because that pattern of growth is

increasingly being rewarded by a rapidly changing environment.  177



Mike Pollard

Director of Church Relations

Arab World Ministries

P.O. Box 96

Upper Darby, PA 19082

800/447-3566 x7327