What is Kotter's 8 Step Change Management Model (All you need to know)

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    Home / Growth / What is Kotter's 8 Step Change Management Model (All you need to know)

    Everyone has a lot to say about change.

    That it is inevitable, that it isn’t impossible to nail it, that it keeps changing itself over time and all that jazz. Even I say all that, and to tell you the truth, it is all true.

    But that is not the right conversation. The conversation we should be having is: what then?

    So what? What do we do with all those facts about change? Even more importantly: How do we successfully implement change?

    Well, I cannot give you a step-by-step recipe to the unshakable change process knowing 70% of all that implement change fail.

    But I can tell you about Kotter’s Change Model.

    Before diving deep into it, you can also check McKinsey’s 7-S Change Management Model and  Lewin's Change Management Model.

    What is Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model?

    Kotter's 8 Step Change Management Model is a process designed to help leaders successfully implement organizational change. This model was developed by John P. Kotter, a Harvard Business School professor, and presented in his book "Leading Change," which was based on years of research that showed that there's only a 30% chance of effective organizational change implementation.

    The Kotter 8-step model is very popular because it provides an easy-to-follow roadmap for change managers, even if they aren't experts in the field. 

    Each stage outlines precisely what needs to be done in order to keep a change project on track.

    The model focuses on creating urgency in order to make a change happen. It walks you through the process of initiating, managing, and sustaining change, you guessed it, in eight steps.

    Today, the Kotter change management model is used by many organizations going through a change.

    Whether it’s making the transition to new business tools such as a brand new hr software, changing the location, or restructuring processes and procedures, this framework can help you be highly successful in your endeavors.

    And how does that work?

    what are the 8 steps of kotter's change model

    8 Steps in Kotter’s Change Model 

    Implementing change can be difficult and it is often met with resistance.

    Obstacles like lack of teamwork, leadership, or rigid workplace cultures make implementing any changes a challenge. 

    There are also other factors such as human fear and overconfidence that come into play when organizations try to implement some changes, which makes it even more challenging for them to do it successfully.

    Kotter outlines eight steps that businesses should take to overcome such obstacles and effectively implement large-scale changes.

    Following these steps will guarantee that your company is not just well prepared but also seriously committed to adopting changes.

    1- Create Urgency 

    The first step is to create a sense of urgency about the need for change.

    In order to achieve lasting transformation, all involved should feel a sense of urgency for change and believe that change is needed for organizational growth. If they don't support the initiative, then the momentum will be difficult to maintain, and as such any changes made may not last very long.

    The goal of this step is to prepare employees for the forthcoming change and to encourage them to participate. For this step to be successful, the change project should have the support of around 75% of the organization's management.

    Here is what you need to do to create an environment where everyone is aware of the existing problem and motivated to participate in its tackling:

    • Identify the company's existing problems and opportunities. You can use a SWOT analysis with the team for this. 
    • Discuss openly with staff what is going on and why change is needed at this moment.
    • Create a discussion forum to discuss the challenges, threats, and possible solutions.
    • Ask for support from stakeholders and industry experts to back you up.

    2- Put A Team Together 

    This step focuses on creating a strong team with all the necessary skills, qualifications, reputation, connections, and authority to lead change initiatives and influence stakeholders.

    Depending on the nature of the proposed change, the size of the team will vary.

    For a team to be effective it should consist of: 

    • The sponsor: This is generally a high-ranking executive who is in charge of the change initiative. Their responsibilities include providing executive-level assistance as well as sufficient resources required to implement the change initiative.
    • The senior guiding team: The members of the senior guiding team are chosen by the sponsor. It is made up of people (leaders) with influence in the area to make decisions and gather resources and support for the project. The team will be in charge of creating the vision and strategy, allocating resources, eliminating roadblocks in the process, driving the organization through the process, resolving issues, and communicating with stakeholders.
    • Field guiding team: The field guiding team consists of highly reputable and recognized individuals who represent the constituencies in the company who are involved in the change. Their role is to promote the organization's vision and lead it through the process.
    • Change teams: Change teams are groups of managers and supervisors whose role is to ensure that all the tasks are performed effectively and on time. They'll also be involved in the development and implementation of the change program.

    Once you've put together a team, focus on establishing clear objectives and cultivating a culture of trust and commitment at all levels in the company.

    A team should:

    • Have a shared understanding of why change is necessary.
    • Have a shared understanding of the team's mission and purpose, as well as the goals and objectives it is striving to achieve.
    • Have a clear understanding of each other's roles and responsibilities, as well as the performance metrics.
    • Understand the risks and challenges of the change project, as well as the success factors.
    • Have clear systems and processes in place for tracking progress, making decisions, monitoring issues, and resolving disagreements.
    • Have clear communication channels

    3- Develop Vision and Strategies

    The aim of this step is to build up a clear vision for the company’s initiative and plan effective strategies to help the team in achieving it.

    It encourages team members in their efforts by presenting an achievable picture of what success will look like in the end.

    The vision for a company is what motivates and guides its team's actions. It should provide realistic goals that are achievable in order to help measure success, which will appeal to the stakeholders of the company as well.

    To establish a clear and appealing vision, do the following:

    • Align it with the organization's core values and the change initiative.
    • When establishing a vision, consider the suggestions of your employees.
    • Verify that it can be easily communicated and fully understood by everyone.
    • Incorporate data like projections, market research, and company trends.
    • Make sure it's easy enough to explain in less than five minutes.

    4- Communicate the Change Vision

    The goal of this step is to communicate the vision and strategy in a way that encourages the rest of the company to accept and support the change initiative.

    The objective is to win the hearts and minds of your employees, encourage them to make sacrifices in order to support the change and persuade them that the change is achievable and that the rewards are beneficial to both the business and themselves.

     Here's what to do, to do this effectively:

    • Take every opportunity to communicate the vision and tactics by incorporating them into everyday decision-making, problem-solving, or routine activities.
    • Talk the talk and walk the walk. It is absolutely crucial to your long term success that the senior management demonstrate the behavior that they expect from the rest of the members.
    • Encourage employees to provide feedback and freely and honestly address their fears, issues, anger, and concerns.
    • To minimize misunderstanding and uncertainty, use simple language while communicating the message.
    • To get the message across, use all of the organizational communication channels.

    5- Remove Obstacles

    When implementing organizational-wide change, obstacles will come up often. 

    Inadequate processes, employee resistance to change, disempowering management, organizational rules and structure, and so on, are just some of the examples that can pose a serious obstacle.

    At this stage, the guiding coalition and senior management should concentrate on removing any obstacles that are slowing down the organization's progress toward its change goal.

    What to do:

    • Understand the internal obstacles to change that are preventing it from being implemented. This stage can be aided by the guiding coalition, which is made up of employees with different specialties. Additionally, open communication with employees and stakeholders can assist in the diagnosis of obstacles.
    • Ensure that the new change vision is reflected in all organizational processes, structures, policies, and reward systems.
    • Recognize and reward employees who work hard to implement change.
    • Give employees the training, coaching, and mentoring they need to achieve their best and tackle obstacles successfully.

    6- Set Short-Term Goals

    Beware: It may take some time to achieve actual change.

    Employees may become discouraged after working for long without having a sense of accomplishment with the tasks.

    That's why it is critical to set short-term goals to achieve and celebrate early in the change process in order to maintain momentum and inspire employees to continue supporting the effort.

    A short-term win brings a huge improvement to an organization because it can be executed in a short amount of time. A fast success like this should be made transparent and obvious to anyone in the company, recognizable, and connected to the change initiative.

    Here’s what to do:

    • Identify achievable short-term wins, such as initiatives to reduce costs, enhance procedures, and boost profits, for example. It's critical to weigh the pros and cons of the goal you choose, as missing a chance to attain an early goal can demotivate a team.
    • Break the transformation project down into smaller chunks with short-term objectives.
    • Encourage other employees by recognizing and rewarding individuals who are responsible for these fast victories.

    7- Keep the Momentum

    This step is all about keeping the change going by ensuring that the teams are working hard to achieve the change vision while keeping track of their progress.

    It's critical that people are advised to refrain from big victory celebrations after just a few successfully attained goals.

    To keep the momentum of change going:

    • Determine what worked well and what went wrong after each victory to determine what needs to be improved.
    • Maximize the advantages of the quick wins and continue to work on larger-scale change across the company.
    • Identify and eliminate unnecessary procedures and interdependencies.
    • Continue to share the vision and provide benefits.

    8- Make The Change Stick 

    The change leaders' goal in this step is to create a new culture where change can be sustained.

    This includes adjusting organizational norms and values, procedures, reward systems, and other infrastructure components to ensure that everything is in line with the new strategy.

    To make a change stick:

    • Discuss the importance of the new changes by emphasizing the advantages they provide.
    • Identify and embrace change-supporting norms and values.
    • When identifying and recruiting new talent, or promoting employees, include these new norms and values.
    • Create new training and development programs to assist employees in gaining the skills and competencies they need to adapt to the new changes.
    • Improve or eliminate organizational procedures that do not match with the new culture. Also, get rid of those who are hindering your growth.

    Four Change Principles Of Kotter’s Change Management Model

    Change management is all about teamwork and agreement.

    If you can't have certain elements come together, you fail. And these critical elements make up the four change principles of Kotter's change model.

    kotter's 8 steps change model 4 principles
    This is how you want your change looking: tight 😎

    Four change principles are used in combination with the Kotter 8-step change model to guide the "people" component of your change management strategy.

    As you move through Kotter's 8-step change model, they're meant to provide you insights on your leaders, employees, and stakeholders.

    Leadership + Management

    This principle emphasizes the need for bringing in leadership to help with the change initiative. 

    There is more than one executive involved here. Step 2 of Kotter's 8-step method calls for you to create a leadership team that includes people with various titles.

    The leadership team, according to this principle, should be about:

    • Vision
    • Action
    • Innovation
    • Celebration

    Mind + Heart

    People are motivated by different things. 

    Some people are more motivated by the desire to contribute to a greater cause and be a part of something bigger rather than the logic that the change would be more successful or productive. 

    This principle is important because your strategy must take into account what motivates each person so they can succeed in changing their behavior or attitude about something new you want to implement at work.

    Select Few + Diverse Many

    Rather than simply giving people orders, you should give them the chance to lead.

    It's critical to empower individuals so they feel like they're a part of the project while you're developing your team in Step 4 of Kotter’s model.

    This principle from Kotter's change management theory states that if you do it right, you could simply discover new leaders you didn't know existed.

    “Have To” + “Want To”

    This concept in the Kotter change management model says that people respond better and can become greater change advocates if they WANT to help rather than merely doing what they are told to do.

    How to implement Kotter's change model

    How Businesses Can Apply John Kotter’s 8 Steps

    You can apply Kotter's 8-step change model to your company's change effort in a few different ways.

    Let’s take a look at some of them.

    Consult a Professional

    Change is something that has never been easy, but there are some companies that have perfected it. 

    You can work with a consultant who is familiar with John Kotter's change model and do all the hard work for you or get an in-person consultation from them directly as they run their own company.

    The John Kotter Change Model was designed specifically to help organizations deal with changes they need to make.

    Attend Workshops/Training

    You can send key employees to seminars given by Kotter consulting if you'd prefer to have your own team guide you through the John Kotter transformation model. The company provides one- and two-day seminars based on Kotter's change theory, research, and books.

    Using Kotter's eight steps, you will be able to offer your team to learn and sharpen the skills they need to lead and manage change initiatives at your organization now and in the future.

    Do it Yourself

    If you prefer to do everything by yourself, you can find eBooks, articles, and other resources connected to John P. Kotter's leading change management model online.

    You can use this information to create your own internal management strategies to use the John Kotter change management philosophy to drive your change program and who knows, you can even achieve more than you can with the prior methods.

    Now that we’ve covered the steps and principles, let’s take a look at the pros and cons of using Kotter’s Change Management Model.

    Pros: Why Should We Use Kotter’s Eight Step Change?

    Is the 8-step model the right choice for YOUR organizational change endeavor?

    When thinking about making organizational changes, it's essential to evaluate the pros and cons of Kotter's 8-step model (and those of any other models under consideration). 

    While some companies will decide that its benefits outweigh its drawbacks for their specific situation or goals, others might want to adopt a different approach.

    Though all change methods have the same end goal, namely, to make a successful change, they typically approach it in quite different ways. While the Kotter 8 steps change may be appropriate for one company, it may not be appropriate for another.

    Let’s take a look at its pros first.

    The First Three Steps Put You on the Right Track

    Because they lack the feeling of urgency encouraged by John Kotter's 8-step change paradigm, many change efforts stall or take longer than necessary (and increasing expenses).

    This is only one of the change models that emphasizes the necessity of generating and maintaining urgency throughout the change process.

    This mindset can help you succeed by instilling urgency in your leadership team, establishing a vision to communicate it, and maintaining momentum as a main goal.

    The steps are easy to understand and follow

    Each of Kotter's eight steps is simple and easy to follow. To embrace the Kotter change management 8 steps and execute them in their business, there isn't a lot of change theory to understand.

    This can cut down on the time it takes to train a team to advocate the change as well as cut the costs. There are numerous online resources for learning John Kotter's 8-step change paradigm, and learning the essentials won't take long.

    It emphasizes the importance of seeking assistance and motivating others

    When there are very few people driving the change and they haven't put together a team to support them, change efforts frequently fail.

    You can't be everywhere at once.

    Therefore Kotter's eight steps for leading change is a good method since it emphasizes the necessity of forming a broad coalition of leaders from the beginning and recruiting a team to help drive the change and maintain momentum.

    It also stresses the need of keeping people well-motivated (i.e. short-term wins). The four principles outlined in Kotter's strategy for change implementation provide guidance on how to seek such help.

    Now, let’s look at the cons.

    Cons: What are the Drawbacks of the John Kotter Change Management Model?

    What is the primary flaw in Kotter's 8-step transformation model?

    When considering the pros and cons of Kotter's change model, you must balance both factors in light of your organization's needs.

    When weighing the benefits and drawbacks of Kotter's 8-step change model, there are some excellent parts of his method that are meant to accelerate change and keep employees from becoming complacent. 

    However, there are some weaknesses in the Kotter organizational change method. Let's see what they are.

    It is overly concerned with urgency and lacks detail

    The Kotter change management method is a completely different theory from the traditional ways of approaching changes in the business.

    One key difference between this model and others related to this matter, such as those that discuss things like impact assessments or readiness assessment, lies in the way you approach the task of bringing your desired change to your organization:

    Kotter’s model believes urgency should be made clear from the start without any preparations beforehand.

    It's good, though, since there is a lot of focus on motivation and urgency, but Kotter's 8-step method isn't very precise when it comes to the full details of what to do.

    The Steps Can Seem Out of Order

    Kotter's 8-step model can be confusing because there is no overarching theme, other than urgency. 

    The steps are not in the order that they need to take place and it has been argued that some of these processes should happen concurrently with others rather than one after another as seen in his model.

    There have been doubts whether Step 3, for example, that deals with vision and strategy, should have been the first step in the process before the need to create the sense of urgency which is emphasized in Step 1.

    As a result, John Kotter's change management model may appear to be more like pointers than a detailed strategy.

    It’s Too Top Heavy, Not Enough Emphasis on Employees

    Several evaluations of Kotter's change management theory have shown that his model appears to be top-heavy, implying that it is a top-down strategy that does not place enough emphasis on the people who will be affected by the change and how it would benefit them individually.

    The Kotter change management model is more concerned with driving change from the top and how the change will benefit the whole business.

    Instead of focusing on employees, Kotter's eight-step strategy puts emphasis on urgency and reducing barriers to motivation.

    Change Management Books

    1- Planned Change: Why Kurt Lewin's Social Science is Still Best Practice for Business Results, Change Management, and Human Progress by Gilmore Crosby

    Planned Change

    Gilmore Crosby is an Organization and Leadership Development Professional who roots his methods in Lewin's Change Management Model.

    His book is an elaboration of Kurt Lewin's teachings. Reading this book, you can better understand what Kurt Lewin actually states and means.

    The book also helps you better internalize Lewin's ideas and guides you through the process of planned change.

    It breaks down how Lewin's change management model can be applied at the individual, group, or organizational level.

    2- Making Sense of Change Management: A Complete Guide to the Models, Tools and Techniques of Organizational Change by Esther Cameron and Mike Green

    Making Sense of Change Management

    Esther Cameron is a change adviser who guides senior leaders and their teams and organizations through change.

    Alongside Esther Cameron, Mike Green is the co-author of the top-selling book. He is also the author of Change Management Masterclass. He has been guiding individuals, teams, and organizations to manage change.

    The book guides readers comprehensively through change management and shows how change management models can be combined with workable techniques and approaches that organizations can use.

    This is the fifth edition of the top-selling book and in this revised version of the book you will find new chapters on digital transformation and becoming a sustainable business, new material on resilience, well-being and effective leadership, and new examples from organizations including Google, Burberry, and Volvo

    3- Leading Change by John P. Kotter

    Leading Change

    John Kotter is a founder of a management consulting firm and a professor at Harvard Business School. His business applies the 8 methods he mentions in his book to help manage change on large scale.

    Kotter's 8 step process to manage change is now widely accepted. Leading Change is now among the top resources to guide managers and leaders to navigate their way through the process of large-scale change.

    He elaborates on the process that any organization must go through when trying to be successful. Touching upon the points where some organizations fail in the process, Kotter provides an all-around guide for change management.

    4- The Theory and Practice of Change Management by John Hayes

    The Theory and Practice of Change Management

    In his book, John Hayes talks about the ways people could enforce the key theories of Kotter's 8-step change model into any ongoing process that might occur in business life.

    From discovering the need for change to managing change in business, this book leads you throughout the transformation process so that you can bring finalize your vision statement due to these changes.

    The author covers all of the key points in form of theory and practice so that you can maintain the status quo and get ready for any challenge that you might face during this process of transformation.

    Moreover, this book provides you with enough solid evidence with case studies, examples, theories, tools, and frameworks to increase your chances of success in organizational change.

    5- Imagine It Forward by Beth Comstock and Tahl Raz

    Imagine It Forward

    Chosen as the Best Business Book in 2018 by Wired UK, Image It Forward tells readers the power of change.

    There are a few points to underline:

    Firstly, this book focuses on moving the company culture toward a future that allows for change, especially for digital adoption platforms; secondly, it builds the foundation for readers so that they can create action plans that might score initial success.

    Thus, this book makes this list since it's a great book that makes a real impact by combining Kotter's change management model with a people-focused, structured approach that could end up improving your career along with team synchronization.

    Also, readers recommend this book due to the opinion that it serves as a career coaching book as well.

    6- Switch: How to change things when change is hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath


    One of the books that take a different direction when approaching change is definitely Switch.

    Thanks to the story-telling narrative it involves, the two-way communication is apparent; but, what strikes readers the most should be the implementation scope of this book.

    From the corporate culture that needs broad-based actions to patient care, this book handles all aspects of change by basing its hypotheses on research in both psychology and sociology.

    Thus, it's one of the most comprehensive change implementation guides as it covers subjects of the medical practices of nurses and the top-down approach of managers.

    Make sure to give this one a good read if you're looking forward to plenty of examples when reading!

    7- Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber

    Our Iceberg Is Melting

    Holger Rathgeber and John Kotter's book Our Iceberg Is Melting is a powerful coalition that is also considered a successful implementation of Kotter's 8-step model into a fable.

    Kotter's eight-step strategy is applied throughout the book as the penguins try to overcome the obstacles that are put in their way.

    Plus, this book puts forward how change leaders and change coalition teams can execute their strategic vision through the pattern penguins follow.

    So, if you want to read something new about Harvard Business School's alumni Kotter's change model, give this one a chance!


    Kotter's 8-step change model focused on urgency and motivation is an excellent choice for the companies seeking a simple change model to learn and one that provides them with a fundamental component needed to drive success.

    The stages in Kotter's 8-step model are simple to follow and can help prevent one of the numerous errors that have been proved to lead to a change initiative failure.

    When comparing the cons of the model to its pros, one can say they are almost balanced. However, deciding what works for you, or what is a con for you and what is not is totally up to you since every company is unique.

    Good luck with your change process!

    Bonus: Kübler-Ross’ Five Stage Change Curve Model.

    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model?

    Kotter's 8 Step Change Management Model is a process designed to help leaders successfully implement organizational change. This model focuses on creating urgency in order to make a change happen. It walks you through the process of initiating, managing, and sustaining change in eight steps.

    What are the 8 Steps in Kotter’s Change Model?

    8 Steps in Kotter’s Change Model are:

    1. Create Urgency
    2. Put A Team Together
    3. Develop Vision and Strategies
    4. Communicate the Change Vision
    5. Remove Obstacles
    6. Set Short-Term Goals
    7. Keep the Momentum
    8. Make Change Stick

    What is the Difference Between Lewin’s Model and Kotter’s Model?

    Between Kotter's 8-step change model and Lewin's 3-stage method, there are several key differences. While Lewin’s model is more open to people’s comprehension of change, Kotter’s model focuses on providing a detailed all-inclusive framework. It is important to note that Lewin’s model is more concerned with human psychology and might come off as simple compared to Kotter’s model.

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