Organizational Change

Change is hard, ask anyone. As Daniel Goleman points out in “Primal Leadership” (Goleman, D. 2002, Pg 116), one only needs to think back on our previous successes as well as our failed attempts at change. Let our annual pilgrimage to aspiring New Year’s resolutions serve as ample evidence of this. Successful change is based on an un-limiting number of changing variables. Effective change requires us to reverse decades of data that has been hardwired into our brains. How we behave, think, act, and respond to others are born out of many years of cumulated experiences, learning, perceptions, misconceptions, and reinforcement. Making and sustaining change requires a crystal clear vision of where we are going and compelling evidence into the ‘why’. Kotter’s 8-step change model is about showing people a truth that influences their feelings. (Webster, M., 2012)

When it comes to change I love Kotter’s “8 Step Change Model”. John Kotter was a professor at Harvard Business School and world renowned change expert. In 1995 Kotter introduced his eight-step change process. He wrote a book entitled “Leading Change” which looks at the process of transforming organizations by changing the behavior of its people. In his theory Kotter emphasizes that you have to work hard to change an organization successfully. When we plan appropriately, and build a strong foundation change can be easier than we think. Kotter teaches that if we follow the 8 overlapping steps below our chances for success will be improved.

Step 1: Create Urgency
Step 2: Form a Powerful Coalition
Step 3: Create a Vision for Change
Step 4: Communicate the Vision
Step 5: Remove Obstacles
Step 6: Create Short-term Wins
Step 7: Build on the Change
Step 8: Anchor the Changes in Organizational Culture

The first three steps are all about creating a climate for change. The next 3 on engaging and enabling the organization, and the last 2 pertain to implementing and sustaining change. (Webster, M., 2012) Kotter’s theory is based on these 8 principles and provides compelling evidence that when we create a sense of urgency, recruit powerful change leaders, build a vision and effectively communicate it, we remove obstacles and create quick wins that build on our momentum, and we are bound to succeed.

In Kotter’s first step we are called to create a sense of urgency. One way in which to create urgency is to make people become disillusioned with the status quo. “If you don’t reject the status quo, they will cling on to it.” (Thurlbeck, J. 2013) Creating a sense of urgency about the task at hand and getting the right team together to labor through the steps to deliver the transformational change are the first two steps.

Kotter calls for us to replace the status quo with a compelling vision in steps 3 and 4: Replace the status quo with a compelling vision and communicate that at all times and in every way we can. In Kotter’s book “The Heart of Change” (2002) he suggests that we need to break from tradition and start using compelling, eye catching situations to see problems and solutions. “Honest facts and dramatic evidence-customer and stakeholder testimonies-show that change is necessary.” (Webster, M., 2012) When we give people new evidence that hits them at a deeper emotional level we decrease the chance for negative responses and resistance. Creating a vision that can be easily communicated and felt in the hearts of teams will make the transformation more probable.

In steps 5 and 6 we are called to empower action by removing obstacles and creating short term wins. Often times the greatest barriers to organizational successes are in an ineffective culture, stale strategies that don’t work, and/or policies and procedures that are no longer relevant to what we are trying to accomplish. When you provide a trusted step by step road map and couple it with short term wins you will hardwire into the behavior of the people good processes and a meaningful culture.

In steps 7 and 8 we build on the change and make it stick. As Kotter built momentum in step 6, in step 7 it calls for us to not let up. “People make wave after wave of changes until the vision is fulfilled.” (Webster, M., 2012) The new vision and feelings of worth serve to reinforce behaviors that make people want to work within teams to make the vision a reality. When we reach this final step we have created an organization that will continue no matter the turnover of personnel or the pull of previous ways of operating.

In the course of change we are bound to encounter internal and external factors to resistance. One internal factor to change resistance is in times of change in organizational personnel, namely managerial personnel. Changes in managerial personnel can create many internal factors to change resistance. New managers bring with them their own ideas and ways of working within their new organization. (Factors Affecting Organizational Change, 2013) To existing staff members, new managers represent change and there is a potential for resulting resistance due to internal factors. Internal factors can be in the way an organization communicates the change. Internal factors can relate to trust and fear. Positive organizational transformation will only occur when leadership builds a capacity to trust through open and honest dialogue.
As already mentioned, yet another internal factor to resistance can be an organizations structure that is built on ineffective or old culture, strategy, and/or policies and procedures. We must provide compelling, accurate, step by step plans if we expect optimal outcomes as we begin to operationalize our strategy for change.

External factors to resistance can reside our in competition, economic changes and standards of practice in the industry, laws and regulations, as well as technological advances. In the healthcare industry all of the above are effecting organizations and the need for change. With the affordable care act organizations are scrambling to compete for shrinking dollars. Laws and regulations surrounding billing practices, accreditation, and HIPAA demand that we change the way we do business. This can confuse and frustrate staff if we do not mediate the frustrations through knowledge and education. This external influence can be corrected through internal means.

There are many change leadership models. In August of 2011 I was invited to return to an organization I previously left. When I left in the winter of 2007 I was tired, frustrated, and needed a change. I found the leadership model to be stuffy and unable to excel in any area other than micro-managing. Since that time I have managed a significant number of teams, some in turmoil, and others highly functioning. Organizational performance is an area that speaks to me like no other. I love the dynamics, I love fishing out opportunities to improve, and I love watching others become both inspired and empowered.

When I returned in 2011 it was a different time and the organization was under new leadership with a new vision. The organization was ready to embark upon the journey of becoming a Patient Centered Medical Home. There was a passion spoken by all to provide excellence in quality care. The task would include a restructure of the nursing team and the model of leadership they would follow. The nursing team would be required to increased their independence and interdependence on each other, to trust the team process.

When I returned to lead this team there was an enormous amount of resistance to this. There was internal resistance to change due to a lack of trust in leadership. Having always relied on the prior Director of Nursing to be accountable to perform many of the tasks they were capable of, it was a challenge for them to embrace the change. The team would have been functioning more effectively had everyone been operating at their highest level of expertise. I asked them to do more and to be accountable. I had the confidence that they were capable of performing at a higher level, the level needed to achieve the Patient Centered Medical Home status before they did. The challenge has been to implement the changes in order that they will stick.

When we apply Kotter’s 8-step Model for Change I believe we can create improved climate for change and resultant opportunities for success. As Webster points out (Webster, M., 2012) many initiatives fail or at best fall short of their original aim because the organization lacks interest in the proposed change effort or spends too much energy resisting the change management process. When we create a sense of urgency, recruit powerful change leaders, build a vision and effectively communicate it, we remove obstacles and create quick wins that build on our momentum, and we are bound to succeed.

Factors Affecting Organizational Change (2013) MBA Knowledge Base. Retrieved on August 30th from
Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., McKee, A. (2002) The Motivation to Change. In Daniel Goldman (Ed.) Primal Leadership , Realizing the power of emotional intelligence. (Pg. 116) Boston, Mass. Harvard Business School Publishing
Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model (2013) Mind Tools Retrieved on September 1st, 2013 from
Thurbeck, J. Harrison (personal communication, September 1, 2013)
Webster, M. (2012) Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model. Leadership Thoughts. July 2012. Retrieved on September 1st from


  1. Simon Sinek has a book on creating business cultures coming out in 2014.

    I will be reading that the day it comes out.

    The company practicing his ideas best according to him is Barry Wehmiller!

    They create great people to do extraordinary things! They have grown from 20 million a year to over 1.5 billion. They have 7000 employees and a 72% employee satisfaction rate.

    All USA business’s gave a 70% negative rating from employees.

    Do the math!!

    Be like Barry Wehmiller!!!!

    Truly Human Leadership rocks! Hope everyone checks it out!!!!

    Take care Susan!!

    SP back to now!!


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