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John P. Kotter

In the quest to best competitors, many companies undertake transformational efforts; unfortunately, these efforts often fail. This failure is due to errors in fulfilling one or more of the following eight critical steps to achieving successful transformations.

1. Establish a sense of urgency. The belief that transformation is required must be urgent and pervasive throughout an organization. For transformation to succeed, approximately 75 percent of the management team must be wholeheartedly committed to it. Most companies fail to do this.

2. Form a powerful guiding coalition. While the impetus for transformation can initially come from one or two people, a strong and skilled guiding group to spearhead the effort must quickly be established. A cross-company coalition is required. Leaving the task to a function, such as HR, is ineffective.

3. Creating a vision. For people to change, they must be engaged in a compelling and easy to understand vision of the future. Clarity and simplicity are key.

4. Communicating the vision. Given that hundreds or thousands of people must be engaged in the transformation, communication is critical. This communication must be clear, frequent, and pervasive.

5. Empowering others to act on the vision. Too often employees believe in their companies’ visions, but find obstacles when attempting to act on them. Sometimes this comes in the form of a disengaged manager who is resisting change. Companies must be prepared to remove obstacles that thwart employees’ ability to make required changes.

6. Planning for and creating short-term wins. Transformations can take years to complete. It is easy for motivation to waver over that amount of time. Planning for, creating, and showcasing early and even small wins will boost morale and motivation, keeping employees on board with changes.

7. Consolidating improvements and producing still more change. Companies are sometimes compelled to “declare victory” before changes have had a chance to become deeply entrenched in their company cultures. New processes, even though implemented, can easily be undone.

8. Institutionalizing new approaches. Change has truly been achieved when it becomes “the way we do things around here.” Conscious demonstrations of new approaches, behaviors, and attitudes help infuse and reinforce change within an organization’s culture. Ensuring the change is embraced and modeled by new managers moving up through the ranks helps embed the change in the culture as well.

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