Kotter

Through this article, Kotter points out again and again the faults that behoove many, if not most of the companies trying to improve their business through change. In the most simplest terms, I bring the failures (in US society anyway) of the eight steps down to a need to see end results. Why are we in such a rush to change? Interestingly enough, I found myself referring back to the "polarity mapping� that I introduced to you briefly last week. The businesses that looked ahead to where they wanted to be without first without taking into consideration what there weaknesses were, or how they could better balance their strengths, always ended up back at square one. Their inability to prepare for change left them unfamiliar with how to sustain positive transformation. According to Kotter, there is a lot of fear driving companies whether it be fear of change, fear of rejection, actually having to lead into the unknown, even fear of staying the same. Many companies, whether they are successful or not, have some fears. The difference is that the non-successful choose not to overcome them.

Question 1. Is being non-successful a choice?

While reading this article, I couldn’t help but compare it to the country’s very own recent past: namely Executive choices towards interfering with international relations. Yes, some of these steps were utilized effectively like former President establishing the urgency for the US to go into war. After that, it kind of gets hazy. Many of the errors pointed out by Kotter were seen time and time again in the past decade: failure to establish a strong coalition, ill-information from superiors that be, vision??? (was there one?), failure to develop a strong plan, and the biggest red flag in my mind, declaring victory too soon.

Now, think about the overall tone of the article. I cannot tell you how many times I found myself utterly devastated by the words! Mistakes. Error. Failure. All of these read as huge stop signs as I tried to look for what was coming next. Yes, now you must enter the mind of a rhetortician.

Question 2. If you were looking for a way to benefit your organization, how would you feel after reading about how others failed to accomplish the eight steps? By the time you got to the end of the reading, would you have any energy to remember the eight steps? This question is purely from a viewpoint on how the material is presented, not necessary the content of what was said.

Eight steps to Transformation (as summarized by Lindy Sexton): Establishing Urgency. Create a powerful guiding coalition. A VISION. Communicating the vision well, very well. Having a clear path toward vision. Systematic Plan including short term goals as well as long term goals. Being Patient. Share/teach your transformation with stakeholders.

Referring back to the beginning of the blog, I would again highly recommend looking at polarity mapping as a method for transformation. Some concepts take on hints of Eastern Philosophy, but it is being successfully being used as a Western practice.

Comments

I would like to comment on both of the questions asked.

1.) Is being unsuccessful a choice?

Being unsuccessful or successful is a choice. It is a choice for every individual, every department/part of an organization, and for the organization as a whole.
As within the polarity mapping technique an intuitive, futuristic thinking organization can determine where it wants to be on the scale of success. Whether it is a matrix, a hierarchy or specific groups or an individual leading the organization, you can determine and direct the outcomes. How so? By being successful leaders. If you have people leading your organization that they themselves exhibit the successful leadership characteristics as described in Kouzes and Posner (30), these leaders will take the appropriate steps to initiate and transform the organization through a change process. The same goes for the latter, if a leader is not aware of their surroundings or does not exhibit the characteristics efficiently, an organization and the individual will be unsuccessful in their attempts to initiate change.

2.) If you were looking for a way to benefit your organization, how would you feel after reading about how others failed to accomplish the eight steps? By the time you got to the end of the reading, would you have any energy to remember the eight steps?

I agree with Lindy on the negative presentation of the material. Presenting the material in terms of errors, failures, and losses seems as though it would not allow leaders to see that transformation and change can be a positive action with positive results.
However, it may be to Kotter’s point that in order for leaders to really implement a change successfully they need a sense of urgency that something is wrong and that key areas need to be fixed. Kotter may be trying to prove his negativity within this whole chapter through the terms of error 1: Not establishing enough sense of urgency (88) to his readers. If there are leaders and organizations that are trying to implement change and are reading Kotter’s change handbook, he may feel that without creating this urgency that leaders won’t follow through the rest of the phases as he has seen so many times. “When the urgency rate is not pumped up enough, the transformation process cannot succeed…� (89). Kotter seems to be establishing this error up front to his readers as they even begin to think about the change process and transformation, creating an urgency to handle change in the most appropriate way.

Kotter Response

Question 1. Is being non-successful a choice?

Being non-successful is either a choice of passivity or a choice of intention. For example, Kotter points out that if a company remains status quo and does not introduce change, it will fail and become obsolete. A leader who does nothing to change and does not want to make waves demonstrates a choice of passivity with likely non-successful results. In this instance, not making a clear choice was still a type of choice that made by a non-successful leader. However, in another example given by Kotter, some leaders make an intentional choice to ensure that change is non-successful because they fear the effects of change such as potential personal failure, job loss, and insecurity. (95)

Question 2. If you were looking for a way to benefit your organization, how would you feel after reading about how others failed to accomplish the eight steps?

I agree with the observation that Kotter’s chapter could be perceived as negative due to its format. For example, the subtitle of the chapter is “The Eight Steps to Transformation.� While the text does discuss the Eight Steps, its format is arranged by the Eight Errors made in attempting to accomplish the Eight Steps--not the actual Eight Steps. The text’s format reminds me of a progressive approach to rules which I observed in a Minneapolis charter school. Rather than emphasizing the negative such as posting signage that read “No cell phones in the classroom,� the school posted signs that emphasized the positive such as “You may carry your cell phone with the silent function activated.� It was a way to reach students who were used to constantly hearing “No,� “Don’t,� and/or “You cannot.� In the same vein, Kotter may be attempting to instill a sense of urgency with some of the gloom and doom rhetoric around failure, yet in our current climate (with a lot of scary news) his message may be more effective if it took a more hopeful approach.

Despite these observations, I valued the content in Kotter’s chapter and could easily identify errors made in my own organization. Specifically, “a paralyzed senior management often comes from having too many managers and not enough leaders.� (88) I believe this has been the state of our union for the past decade at least. Our management was so focused on profit that they failed to plan for the future and introduce change to help the organization remain relevant into the future. As Kotter mentioned, it is difficult to convince people for the need to change when business is good, but that is the exact time to begin change because resources are available to carry it out and sustain it. (89)

Overall, I valued the information presented by Kotter, but I would have enjoyed more specific examples of actual companies and what occurred to illustrate his points. The Kouzes & Posner book does a great job of that, which makes the content very relevant for me.

I agree with you, Laura. Kotter's claims are rather vague and run the risk of readers considering them as "obvious" w/o connecting the inefficiencies to their own situation. It also adds juice to the argument by telling a story rather than stating a rule.

I also like the direction that the charter school took with signage. Our society, children especially, are being negatively reinforced too often. In my opinion, this creates a society unwilling to take responsibility or, worse, a people fearful of success. Interestingly enough, during the Presidential debates, President Obama continued to use statements like, "I understand" and "We both agree on this" -- positively reinforcing a need for change. It will be interesting (exciting, rather) to see how he carries this through now that he is President.

Lindy, I was thinking about polarity mapping as well while doing these readings, but I actually applied it more to the first. Terry had a visual way of mapping the zone concepts, and I was trying to picture where the polarity mapping would fit in, as well. Thanks for bringing it up!

When I began reading the article by Kotter, the very first thing that I noticed was the negativity that surrounded his eight steps, and I am glad I was not alone! Lindy points out the tone of the article, and the repeated use of the words “error� and “mistakes.� The title of chapter is “Eight Steps to Transformation,� but puzzlingly, he lists them as the eight ERRORS of transformation. On the very last page (99), he includes a brief table with the steps to transformation: half a page of positive in contrast to 12 pages of negative. But I do agree, I think that Kotter was trying to emphasize error number one, and create a sense of urgency. Perhaps he is using this to create a powerful guiding coalition? As far as the idea of being unsuccessful or successful as a choice, I think it certainly is. Kotter has shown us clearly the steps to creating (or not creating) an unsuccessful movement with his “errors.�

One similarity I noticed between both readings was the way that each step builds upon the last. In this case, you start with the sense of urgency, that urgency inspires a guiding coalition; the coalition creates the vision and communicates the vision, etc. It is very similar to the “stirrings,� which develop and change leadership. The seven zones also build upon each other; leadership “changes its character, actions and competencies by zone.� (p. 58.) On page 97, Kotter points out how errors can start in the very beginning of the process, and snowball into a crippling mistake that eventually will cause the old traditions to take over. Both readings are similar in the idea that each of the steps changes and builds upon the last.

I think Kotter's usage of words like "error", "mistake", and "failure" is actually an effort to get us to think differently when we hear those words. Maybe the words should not conjure negativity but rather a positive opportunity for change. Perhaps it is the negativity we feel when confronted with these words that stops us from achieving true transformation. Instead of changing the phrase to sound more positive we need to learn to live with the discomfort we feel when we speak of mistakes and failures. We all do make mistakes and fail sometimes, after all, and in so doing we grow. It is our frantic attempts to escape the discomfort and pain caused by these experiences that lead us to immediately "spin" our language instead of just sitting with the discomfort and pain for a minute....and then move on.


Taking on the first question posed by Lindy "Is being unsuccessful a choice?" I would like to reframe it to "Is being successful a choice?" This I believe would present a clearer picture for a leader whose ultimate goal is to be successful. And again reframing the question would not only have an impact on the outcome of the issue, but also would reinforce Crosby/Bryson's opinion that "It is important to be aware that some frames are likely to activate ideologies ideologies, which are extremely potent interpretive schemes" (LCG, p.123). Nobody by design chooses to be unsuccessful and being unsuccessful should not be a choice for a leader who is expected to lead in order to accomplish positive outcomes. Kotter also discussed the danger of declaring victory too soon, and my reaction to this (and also discussed by Lindy) was our experience here in the United States just few months into the Iraq war when Predisent George W. Bush aboard a warship publicly declared to the nation "Mission Accomplished". And yet, in 2009, we are still fighting that war. Lack of vision as suggested by Lindy ? Maybe. Every leader's ultimate goal is to succeed since no leader would indicate to his/her followers that his/her goal is to be unsuccessful. All leaders work towards success evenn though sometimes circumstances hinder this goal.
Every leader strives to succeed and no leader would want to be known as a failure.

Pat I like what you had to say. Kotter’s article did seem somewhat negative but I think you said it right with maybe it’s a “positive opportunity for change.� In some of my past work environments I was encouraged/taught to never admit blame/that you made a mistake/failed. It is very common in our society to point fingers at someone else when dealing with the issues of failure/blame/mistakes. He did it, or she did it etc… If we were encouraged to admit our faults so that we could work through them and become better, instead of being afraid to admit/look at our faults, we could greatly improve the task at hand. This also seems to go back toward Lindy’s chart that she drew for us. Even if someone acknowledges their faults/weaknesses there still needs to be the step of working to improve them.

I was actually surprised by the comments about the negativity of the chapter. In general, we tend to learn more from our mistakes than from our successes. It also tends to be easier for us to remember, "Oh, better not do that! Remember what happened to so and so?"

The key lessons I took from the chapter are that (at least in a US centric culture) organizations attempt to make change too quickly and eliminate some of the necessary steps. Doing so leads to failure. Embodied in this are two of our cultural norms: accomplishing the goal takes priority over everything else, and making the time to build the relationships that lead to success is not time well spent.

I was thinking about this last week, too, in terms of how easy/difficult would it be to change some of these norms? Leadership and management have really only been studied in the US for a few decades and really only been practiced for a century. In the grand scheme of things, that isn't very long. That gives me hope that we can shift the paradigm and the norms.

Question 1. Is being non-successful a choice?

As with everything in this world sometimes success and failure are out of an individual’s hands. The choice is whether a person or group will do everything in their power to set themselves up for success or if they will knowingly/unknowingly set themselves up for failure. A person/company/group can do everything right and fail for reasons outside of their control. Sometimes a new product that a company has spent millions on developing and marketing is a bust when it hits the streets. Key to this is to learn from the mistakes that were made when one failed and ensure that those mistakes are not repeated the next time.

Question 2. If you were looking for a way to benefit your organization, how would you feel after reading about how others failed to accomplish the eight steps?

I tend to agree with Pat as well on this one and see the use of the word “error� as a way to get us to think differently. The idea of “Change� is great, always pushing to do things more effectively should be everyone’s goal. Companies cannot allow themselves to be left behind by the competition because they are too rooted in the way things have always been done. But sometimes instituting change without thinking it through can be counter-productive to the goals of the company. I see Kotter’s use of the word “error� as a warning to people, a warning that even with the best of intentions there are still multiple obstacles to success. His 8 steps incorporated with what he has seen go wrong multiple times during “transformation� gives a kind of general outline of how to institute change in an organization while being aware of the inherent dangers in the process. It also reinforces the idea that change doesn’t happen overnight and that change isn’t painless.

1. Is being unsuccessful a choice?

Like many of you, I also agree that there is an inherent choice between making decisions that lead to success and other decisions that maintain the status-quo. Kotter's 'Eight Steps' affirm that effective leaders should be aware of which actions will lead to success and others that will not.

2. If you were looking for a way to benefit your organization, how would you feel after reading about how others failed to accomplish the eight steps? By the time you got to the end of the reading, would you have any energy to remember the eight steps?

The negative frame of the eight steps was definitely obvious while reading, but there is truly something to be said about learning more from one's failures than their successes. I think that framing these eight steps as cautionary tales is strategic for Kotter, because it is an effective way to spark introspection and self-evaluation in managers and leaders. Kotter puts some pressure on his readers to scrutinize their own failures and missteps, which might make some readers uncomfortable, but I agree that "pressure can be a useful element in a change effort" (p. 96).

Overall, I think there are a lot of ways to 'win' in an organization, to get from A to B. I think Kotter is suggesting that even though there are different strategies that work when implementing change, several key mistakes will always hinder the initiative. I appreciated "Leading Change" because it posed 'errors' and 'mistakes' as challenges for organizations and management to do better next time, and to not forget that seemingly minor missteps make a big difference in the success of implementing change.

Question 2. If you were looking for a way to benefit your organization, how would you feel after reading about how others failed to accomplish the eight steps?

Lindy (and others), I found Kotter’s reading quite refreshing after finishing Kouzes and Posner Leadership Challenge book on CD. Perhaps it is the cynic in me, but by the fourth chapter of K & P, I needed to take a break from the rose colored glasses of their examples. I just keep coming back to wondering how these principles would apply in government and non-profits???

I have worked in the for-profit industry (hierarchal) for 13 years and a government agency (hierarchal) for the past 7 years. In my government role, I serve as a community organizer and coordinate several coalitions (organic/networks). I function better in a networked environment, however this just does not exist in government.

The Kotter reading would be very useful and more easily accepted for upper management/supervisors in government agencies, but I fear government culture is not that of “remaking themselves�. “Total quality management, reengineering, right-sizing, restructuring, cultural change and turnaround� is not typical language for us public servants.

This leads me to ask, do others have case studies of how local government has remade itself into a networked organization? If so, please share.
Lisa Horn (Hicks)

I agree with Lindy on how the information was presented. While I think Kotter presented good information, the way it was written had such a negative tone, that as the reader, I felt as though change were nearly impossible. While he emphasizes the need for patience, there seemed to be a continuous theme of failure through the case examples and the general presentation of focusing on errors.

With the presentation of the material not a factor, I think Kotter focused on some very useful approaches to facilitating change.

Question 1. Is being non-successful a choice?
I think it is clear throughout the writing, and through observation that being non-successful is a choice. Some individuals seem to be resistent to change, even if it means the organization will not be successful. This seems to be a situation where being non-successful is the choice of the individual or organization. Whether success is determined as the outcome of the change effort or as the mere presence of the organization, I think many instances can be seen where individuals or a group have chosen not to be successful.

While Kotter has good points within the article, the presenation of the material could have been in a different way that would promote change, rather than focus on the negative side of change efforts, or transformations.

Question 1. Is being non-successful a choice?

On this question I tend to agree with Tim’s sentiments. I too believe that there are some things within an individual’s or company’s scope of control, and other factors that fall outside of that scope. Even the best laid plans sometimes fail to work, and occasionally there is no one truly responsible for the failure. I also agree with Nduka’s point that no one consciously wishes to be unsuccessful. When change efforts fail because they are poorly planned or under-mined by people who do not agree with the chosen direction, those involved typically believe they are acting in (what they believe is) the best interest of the organization.

Question 2. If you were looking for a way to benefit your organization, how would you feel after reading about how others failed to accomplish the eight steps? By the time you got to the end of the reading, would you have any energy to remember the eight steps? This question is purely from a viewpoint on how the material is presented, not necessary the content of what was said.

I believe that Kotter framed his article in a negative way to reinforce the difficulty of successfully implementing transformational change. The cautionary language reinforces his point that failure is more common than success when it comes to implementing change, and that such things should not be approached without serious planning. However, while reading the example he provided in Error 5: Not Removing Obstacles to the New Vision, I think he might be familiar with the phrase “Free up your future.�

I found it striking how much his plan for success relied on securing the buy-in of senior management. In most of his examples, the change efforts were derailed by executives. Many of his points seem like they might be irrelevant in a truly networked organization. It also made me wonder about how/if grass roots changes can successfully take hold in large corporate environments.

I want to respond to the first question: Is being non-successful a choice?
Before entering academia I worked for a company for ten years that seemed to have written the textbook on how not to succeed in business. It fulfilled all of Kotter's 8 errors. The company had managers, but no leaders; the managers were convinced that the status quo was not only acceptable, but it was the only way to lead; they did not want change; they could not see a vision; the vision that was presented to us was confusing, wordy, and lacked believability; the employees including myself felt as though we were working in an extremely dysfunctional institution. We were not buying into their attempts at change. So, the answer to Lindy's question is yes. I feel there is a choice in being unsuccessful.

Question 2: If you were looking for a way to benefit your organization, how would you feel after reading about how others failed to accomplish the eight steps?

I feel as though Kotter actually wrote this article about the company that I described above. The article is depressing, but so was the company that I worked for. The errors were many and the victories were few. I kept telling myself that next year will be better, but things never improved. Needless to say the company was bought out a few years ago, and two of the three buildings that I worked from now stand in vacant lots.

Although I did immediately think that the presentation of this article by errors was strange and rather negative, I found what it said helpful. I think it was unnecessary to use the errors. I think the article would have been just as effective if they used the 8 transformation steps instead of the eight errors, this way there wouldnt ahve been such a negative "vibe" to the article.

The step I found most important and helpful was the 6th step, to make small wins along the way. I think as a leader this is very important, but that I hadn't thought about it much before this article. It made me realize that if my management were doing this I think there would be a positive shift. There is always big goals to try and reach, but often they seem so out of reach. If there can be a more easily attainable goal and some rewards that go a long with that, I think it would be much more effective for keeping employees (or anyone) motivated in the long run. I will definitely utalize this practice in my own life from now on and hope that I can convince my bosses to as well.

In response to Lisa's request for examples of government organizations adopting more networked approaches. My research and experience indicates that Hennepin County government has been using this approach in at least some parts of its operations -- for example, by partnering with Native American organizations in Minneapolis or with business organizations and community developers in redevelopment of the Sears Building and surrounding area. Another example is the Urban Partnership Agreements developed by USDOT that went around normal hierarchical channels and fostered new networked structures to fight traffic congestion in metro areas.

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs