"Leading Change ," John Kotter, HBS Press 1996

 I'm not an enthusiast/ connoisseur of business books, and have little basis for comparison of one versus another, but "Leading Change" came highly recommended to me, so I gave it a read, and found it well worth the time.The book is breezy/ PowerPointy in format. Kotter outlines his "Eight-Stage Process" for initiating and executing radical change in ossified organizations,

  1.  Establishing a Sense of Urgency
  2.  Creating the Guiding Coalition
  3.  Developing a Vision and Strategy
  4.  Communicating the Change Vision
  5.  Empowering Employees for Broad_Based Action
  6.  Generating Short-Term Wins
  7.  Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change
  8.  Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture

A few memorable/critical points from some of these,

1\ A sense of urgency is critical, to overcome the gravitational pull of inertia, complacency, comfort-zone, ain't-broke-don't-fix. Most change initiative fail at this early stage, because the urgency of change isn't broadly understood.

2\ A guiding coalition must include top decision-makers. Often initiatives are turned over to internal visionaries/ young Turks, or outside consultants who lack the gravitas to force through painful but necessary decisions, and to keep the organization focused.

4\ The change-vision must be communicated relentlessly. A few mentions, or even a few dozen, in the company newsletter or similar channels is insufficient. The key metric is: what percentage of all communication, including day-to-day, involves the change-vision?

6\ A multi-year change-vision won't succeed without small victories every month/ quarter/ year. Lack of visible successes will open the door for office-politicians/ obstructionists/ revanchists to badmouth and undercut the change-initiators.

Also Kotter frequently discusses "management" versus "leadership", which he's written about elsewhere. Roughly speaking, "management" is about the situation as of 2007, "leadership" about what can/ should be the situation in 2012.

I've seen Kotter's change-initiation dynamics play out over the past 2- 3 years in the experiences of a friend who sought to change each of three different organizations in which he was active: a for-profit firm, a non-profit, and a civic group.

One of his initiatives was a success; the urgent need for change was well-communicated, leadership got on board, and the organization is now much stronger. Another was mixed — some progress, jury is still out. The third was a failure; complacency wasn't replaced by urgency, the change-vision was under-communicated, top leadership never truly signed on — and the organization disintegrated.

All in all, a good, fast read, and one of those books that offers some possibly life-changing bullet points.


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