Leadership Letters
Leadership Letters

Writings on Christian leadership and leader development by Malcolm Webber

June 2000
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A Model of Planned Change – Part 6

Malcolm WebberMalcolm Webber

This letter describes the final two stages of Kotter’s eight-stage model of planned change in “Leading Change.”

7. Consolidate gains and produce more change.

Leaders should build on the credibility achieved by short-term wins to consolidate improvements, tackle bigger problems and create greater change. They should resist the inclination to let up after a short-term win, knowing that if they let up before the job is done, critical momentum can be lost and regression may follow. After a measure of success, it is a subtle temptation for people to take a “deserved rest.” However, until change processes completely permeate the organization’s culture, they can be very fragile and easily undone. Once regression begins, rebuilding momentum can be a daunting task, similar to asking people to throw their bodies in front of a huge boulder that has already begun to roll back down the hill.

People look to their leaders for signs of continued commitment to the change objectives and vision. Any indication that the change is no longer viewed as important or feasible may have ripple effects that undermine the change effort. Supporters will be lost and opponents encouraged to increase overt resistance.

Therefore, Instead of “taking a breather,” leaders should engage remaining systems, structures and policies that do not fit the vision. They should hire, promote and develop constituents who can implement the vision for change, and they should revitalize the process with a new round of projects, themes or change agents.

Great leaders are willing to think long term. They are willing to stay the course to accomplish the long-term goals. Thus, instead of declaring victory and giving up after a short-term win, they will launch a dozen new change projects, taking the time to ensure that all the new practices are firmly grounded in the organization’s culture.

8. Anchor new approaches in the organizational culture.

Organizational culture is the pattern of beliefs and values shared by the organization’s members, which produces norms that shape the behavior of individuals and groups in the organization. Like national culture, organizational culture is usually rooted in deeply held values, and is often very hard to change.

But it is in the culture that the changes must be made to stick. The new approaches must be institutionalized in the organizational culture. Old habits, values, traditions and mind-sets must be permanently replaced. New values and beliefs must be instilled in the culture so that constituents view the changes not as something new but as a normal and integral part of how the organization functions.

Change that is anchored in an organizational culture:

1. Comes last, not first. Most alterations in norms and shared values come at the end of the transformation process. Thus, change strategies that start with “changing the culture” as their first step are probably doomed to failure.

2. Depends on results. New approaches usually sink into a culture only after it is clear that they work and are superior to old values and methods.

3. Requires a lot of talk. Without repeated verbal instruction and support, people are often reluctant to embrace new practices, or even to admit their validity.

4. May involve turnover of personnel. Sometimes the only way to change a culture is to change key people.

5. Makes decisions on succession crucial. If promotion processes are not changed to be compatible with the new practices, the old culture will reassert itself. A means must be developed to ensure leadership development and succession so that the new values and behaviors are carried forward to the next generation of leadership. Or, at least, until they need to be changed again!

Even when a major change is clearly necessary and beneficial, it is stressful and painful for people. The next Leadership Letter will discuss how leaders can help people get through change.

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