Change management: create a climate for change (1)

A long time ago I wrote a post on the subject of change management. In this post I tracked the application of the 8 step change model of Kotter to a case study. At the time I had felt firsthand the impact of a poorly managed change. I wanted to understand what management had and hadn’t done in order for this change to be so disruptive for the group. I had been taught the Kotter model in school and tracked the sequence of events according to this model. I linked the outcomes to the degree of success of executing the steps of the model. Studying someone else’s failure is a good way to avoid making the same mistakes.

Things have changed since then and I’ve reached a point in my career where I need to apply those lessons learned. I can no longer stand on the sideline and be cynical. I’m expected to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. As a young manager, I can provide a fresh wind to a business that is confronted with a changing market situation. To start down the right path, the first year I’ve focused on the first part of the Kotter model: creating a climate for change.


To create a climate for change, I helped to work on the first three steps in the Kotter model: (1) create a sense of urgency, (2) form a powerful coalition, (3) create a vision for change.

Step 1: creating a sense of urgency

For a lot of people it is very tempting to skip this step and jump right into the action. But according to Kottler, close to 50% of the companies that fail to make needed change make their mistakes at the very beginning. It is vital to take the pulse of the company and determine whether there is a sufficient sense of urgency for the needed change to have any chance of succeeding. This sense of urgency must permeate through all levels of the organization. Only if it is clear to everybody involved that the status quo is not a viable option, will any energy applied to creating change result in a return on investment.

To create a sense of urgency, you need to:

  • Manage the confrontation required to shift people’s thinking and create a sense of discomfort that initiates change.
  • Invoke significant consequences for a lack of change. There must be consequences.
  • You need to talk about and tackle the real issues.
  • Bring external feedback deep into the organization.

Within any effort to create urgency, your main task is to squelch all of the sources of complacency that are holding you back. The major sources of complacency are:

  • The absence of a major and visible crisis.
  • Too many visible resources.
  • Low overall performance standards.
  • Organizational structures that focus employees on narrow functional goals.
  • Internal measurement systems that focus on the wrong performance indexes.
  • A lack of sufficient performance feedback from external sources.
  • A kill-the-messenger-of-bad-news, low-candor, low-confrontation culture.
  • Human nature, with its capacity for denial, especially if people are already busy or stressed.
  • Too much happy talk from senior management.

A good way of creating a sense of urgency is a customer complaint. It’s common knowledge not to let a good crisis go to waste, so you can try to make the most of it. This customer complaint can allow to create a visible crisis, to bring external feedback to everybody in the organisation and to discuss low overall performance standards. Big steps can be taken to create a sense of urgency during this crisis. The tricky part will be to keep this sense of urgency alive once this complaint is forgotten.

This series will continue with steps 2 and 3 of the Kotter model. Stay tuned.

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