Key learning outcomes: 

  • Understand that your business is constantly evolving in a changing marketplace.
  • Apply Dr John Kotter’s internationally recognised eight-step model for leading change.
  • Recognise that some of your staff may resist change, which can be a significant challenge when strengthening your business.
  • Acknowledge the importance of communication and buy-in when implementing change initiatives.


Without doubt, managing change is one of the biggest challenges for business owners and leaders. The need to change and adapt has become more important as the world moves and evolves at a faster pace. If you are doing business today the same way as you were doing it 12 months ago, or even just six months ago, you are going backwards. Therefore, mastering the ability to lead and drive change is an essential skill.

Many different models for change have been developed over time with one of the most popular developed by world-renowned change expert and former Harvard Business School professor, Dr John Kotter. His eight-step change model was first introduced in his book Leading Change in 1995, and it has proven to be a successful methodology for the implementation of lasting change. We outline each step below and look at how the model can be applied to everyday business.[wlm_ismember]

Kotter’s eight-step process for leading change



Step 1 – Create a sense of urgency

It is hard to drive change if those around you don’t want it. Developing a sense of urgency can help your team to understand the need for the change and build buy-in and motivation to get started on any change initiative.

Change will not happen just because you want it to; you will need to take an open and collaborative approach to get real buy-in. If you identify the need for change, you will find some of the tools in this section of the website useful, such as the ‘SWOT Analysis’, ‘Gap Analysis’ and ‘Competitive Analysis’. Use these tools with your team to identify opportunities along with any potential threats, as they can both be key drivers for change. In our experience, the more time that you spend on this step, the greater the chance of introducing successful and enduring change.

Step 2 – Build a guiding coalition

Kotter suggests that for change to be successful, at least 75% of management needs to be behind the initiative. It is important that key people in the business are visible and vocal in their support. When building your coalition it is important to remember that members do not necessarily have to be employed in a leadership position. You might have a long-term employee who may not be a manager, but who holds significant power and influence over others. Our article ‘Sources of Power’ will help you to gain a better understanding of how people influence each other in these situations.

It is also important to consider who the stakeholders are: they are the people or organisations that can either influence the change or will be affected by it. Our article, ‘Stakeholder Analysis’, will help you determine who these people are within and outside of your business.

Once formed, your guiding coalition needs to work together to help lead change throughout the business. Ensure you have a good cross-section of people to work with, as this will increase your chances of introducing successful change. And remember – not all members of the coalition have to work inside the business, it may be that there someone from outside the business who can add value to the process. You might also find some external influence creates balance for the group.

Step 3 – Form a strategic vision and initiatives

Creating a vision statement will help others to envisage how the business will look once the change has been implemented. The vision will give clarity and direction and facilitate the development of strategic initiatives. The vision clearly states what success will look like, with the initiatives providing the pathway.

It is important that those in your coalition can easily articulate the vision in just a few minutes. If it takes longer then more work needs to be done to fine-tune the vision. A compelling and transparent vision and strategic plan will motivate others to get the job done.

Step 4 – Communicate the vision

From our experience this step can make or break a change initiative. How well you communicate the vision will determine the level of support for the change. We have found that it is best to communicate change initiatives to the entire business at the same time if possible. This eliminates any mixed messages or gossip and will allow you to gauge those initial reactions. Your communication should explain why the change is needed, which will enable you to recruit supporters for your cause.

It is important to then reinforce the vision on a regular basis. This might occur in meetings, when working with small groups or individuals, or through your own behaviour and actions. Remember, people will be watching what you and other influencers in the business do; therefore, it is important to adopt a ‘do as I do’ rather than a ‘do as I say’ approach. Lead through your actions and by example.

It is also essential to allow those around you to question and express concerns. Remember, you might have been planning this change for some time; but others will be hearing about it for the first time. Questioning and debating is often someone’s way of processing information, and they need to feel comfortable enough to do this. We also suggest you have follow-up discussions as you may find that some people need time to think through things and may react and ask questions later. Do not necessarily take silence at your initial meeting as a sign of opposition.

Step 5 – Enable action by removing barriers

By now, if you have followed the earlier steps, the majority of your team should have wholeheartedly endorsed the change initiative. You have clearly communicated the vision, and everyone now understands why there is a need for change and the actions that are required to achieve success. It is now time to look at anything that might be standing in the way.

Are there people that might be resisting the change or can hamper the success of the change? Are any of your existing processes, systems or procedures going to get in the way of new behaviours or actions? It is essential to continually look for barriers or obstacles as you may find that they crop up in places you were not expecting. For example, you might find that staff are unable to perform some task, not through lack of motivation, but because some additional training and upskilling is required.

At this stage of the change process ensure there is open and honest communication with the team. It is important to ensure that everyone feels comfortable bringing up issues or problems, so they can be solved quickly and progress can continue. It is important that you identify and remove barriers as quickly as possible or your change efforts may stall.

Step 6 – Generate short-term wins

Gaining some wins early in the change process will boost everyone’s motivation. This is particularly important when you are implementing longer term change. What is considered to be ‘short term’ will vary depending on the change you are implementing. If it is something where progress is evident within a month, then this timeframe would be an ideal milestone point, or perhaps quarterly would be more appropriate if it is likely it will take longer to see some progress.

Ideally, you should set some targets or goals that have a high likelihood of being achieved, otherwise you risk damaging your overall change efforts. For example, perhaps you are trying to build a client nurture program within your business and one of the first goals is to clean up the data in the client database. Getting through the whole client base might be a daunting task, but setting a goal to clean up a portion within a month might be more easily achieved. When building your strategic initiatives look for those that fit the ‘quick win’ criteria, this is, those that will have a high impact and are relatively easy to implement.

When choosing your short-term target or goal, try to choose something that does not require the full commitment from those who are resisting or are against the change. When the goal is met and it is evident progress has been made, the enthusiasm from the rest of the team is likely to positively influence those who oppose the change or initiative.

It is also important to provide reward and recognition to those involved in achieving the goal or target. It might be a team lunch, an early mark on a Friday afternoon or a material reward. It does not have to cost a lot, as the most important thing is the recognition of their achievement and effort.

Step 7 – Sustain acceleration 

According to Dr Kotter, one of the biggest dangers of introducing change is that victory can be declared too early. For change to be successful it needs to be sustained over the longer term. It is important to continue to reinforce the need for change and not to mistake a short-term win for long-term success.

At each milestone we recommend that you analyse what went well and what could be improved. It is important to use the momentum created by the successes to date to modify any systems, policies or structures that do not work within your new framework. It is also an ideal time to recognise those in the business that can implement and lead future change, as these people represent your business’s future. Keep working on new ideas, projects and initiatives that will ensure your business continues to thrive and that maintain high motivation levels.

Step 8 – Institute change 

Creating change is one thing, but making it stick is another. For change to be considered successful it has be become embedded into your business’s culture. By connecting the change to the overall success of the business, you will reinforce the change for the longer term.

It is important that leaders in the business continue to support the change. If not, you may find that people slip back into old habits, and before you know it, you are back to where you started. Also, new recruits may join your business which is why change needs to become part of the culture – a part of how things are done. Use opportunities to reinforce the change and the vision, recount past successes and make note of how far you have progressed. People will sometimes forget over time how important the need for change was, the significance of the change, and how far things have come and how.

This is also the time to recognise the supporters and advocates of the change – your guiding coalition. You may choose to do this publicly so that all team members are reminded of their efforts and new team members understand the role that they played. Keep in mind that leaders of change may move on and you should have a succession plan in place to ensure that the change initiative is carried forward and that the business continues to evolve.


Remember that change is difficult for some people to accept and respond to, so you will need to work hard to drive change successfully in your business. From our experience, the key is to not only communicate clearly why the change is needed, but also gain your team’s approval, cooperation and real commitment.

Kotter’s model has been used successfully all over the world, in everything from small businesses right through to global organisations. Follow each of the eight steps in order, so that you get the most out of the model for your business.[/wlm_ismember]

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