Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

May 2000
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A Model of Planned Change – Part 5

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

In a broad sense, what leaders do is stage revolutions. They constantly challenge the status quo, and when they recognize new opportunities or see something that needs to be changed, they do something about it. Thus, good leadership requires the ability to master revolutionary change. Leaders must understand change. This letter describes the fifth and sixth stages of John Kotter’s eight-stage model of planned change presented in “Leading Change.”

5. Empower constituents for broad-based action on the vision.

Major organizational change rarely happens unless many people assist. However, constituents will not help, or cannot help, if they feel powerless. Consequently, leaders must empower their constituents if they are serious about change. This means getting rid of obstacles to change, which may require revising systems, structures or procedures that hinder or undermine the change effort. People are empowered with knowledge, resources and discretion to make things happen. Leaders can also encourage and reward risk-taking and nontraditional ideas and actions.

To empower people to effect change, leaders should:

1. Communicate a rational and clear vision to constituents. If constituents have a shared sense of purpose, it is easier to initiate actions to achieve that purpose.

2. Once they are “on board” with the vision, give constituents the authority to move in the new direction, as they see best. Responsibility without authority causes frustration.

3. Make organizational structures compatible with the vision. This includes aligning information and personnel systems to the vision. Unaligned structures and systems block needed action.

4. Provide the training constituents need. Without the right skills and attitudes, people feel disempowered.

5. Confront supervisors who undercut needed change. Nothing disempowers people the way a bad boss can.

6. Generate short-term wins.

Leaders plan for visible performance improvements, enable them to happen, and celebrate constituents who were involved in the improvements. Major change takes time, and a transformation effort loses momentum if there are no short-term accomplishments that people can recognize and celebrate. Short-term wins boost the credibility of the process and renew the commitment and enthusiasm of constituents.

A good short-term win has at least three characteristics:

1. It is visible; large numbers of people can see for themselves that the result is real and not just hype.

2. It is unambiguous; there can be little argument about it.

3. It is clearly related to the overall change effort.

Furthermore, short-term wins help long-term transformation in the following ways:

1. They provide evidence that sacrifices are worth it. Wins greatly help justify the short-term costs involved.

2. They reward change agents with affirmation. After a lot of hard work, positive feedback builds morale and motivation.

3. They help fine-tune vision and strategies. Short-term wins give the guiding coalition concrete data on the viability of their plans.

4. They undermine cynics and self-serving resisters. Clear wins make it difficult for people to block needed change.

5. They keep stakeholders on board, by providing evidence that the transformation is on track.

6. They build momentum. Wins turn neutrals into supporters and reluctant supporters into active helpers.

The next Leadership Letter will discuss the final two stages of this model of planned change: Consolidate gains and produce more change; and Anchor new approaches in the organizational culture.

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