In business very few can escape the winds of change.
This is particularly true for sales management teams. New ideas, new projects, new clients, innovative solutions, changing market conditions, technological advances and sales training initatives drive ongoing changes to how sales leaders operate.
But for many, change can be a frightening prospect. Change can be unsettling because it usually involves taking a step out of your comfort zone.
This is not without good reason. According to Professor John Kotter, bestselling author of Leading Change, around 70% of all major change initiatives fail because leadership teams are unable to see the change through.
Fortunately leadership models exist which have been designed to help leaders plan and successfully implement change.
Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change is one such model. Here we provide the fundamentals of Kotter’s model that will help you to lead change:
Step 1: Create Urgency:
For change to take place there needs to be a sense of urgency to make that change happen.
First, leaders have to recognise the need to change. Once recognised, leaders need to clearly communicate the need for the change to their people if the change initiative is to be a success.
But rather than showing sales statistics and market commentaries, leaders need to “Aim for the heart”. Only by connecting with the deepest values of your people will you inspire them towards making the change.
To create urgency for change, the best leaders:
1. Identify and communicate potential threats to the organisation and develop forecasts to show what might happen in the future if nothing is done today.
2. Identify worthwhile business opportunities that ought to be exploited.
3. Communicate openly and honestly with their people.
4. Gain support from important people external to their organisation (e.g. customers, industry experts).
If leaders and their people don’t “buy in” to the change initiative, it will stand little chance of being a success.
According to Kotter’s 8-step change model, 75% of management need to “buy in” to the change initiative. It is therefore critical to create urgency without creating too much of a panic.
Step 2: Create a Guiding Coalition:
Convincing people that change is necessary takes strong leadership skills. But nobody can single-handedly undertake all the requirements for implementing a successful change initiative.
Getting people to “buy in” to the change therefore requires the support of key individuals within the organisation. Putting together a guiding coalition of influential people to lead the change initiative is critical to its success.
Kotter’s 8-step change model identifies the “Four Qualities of an Effective Guiding Coalition”:
1. Power – key individuals in a position of power are needed to reduce the chances of progress being halted.
2. Expertise – a variety of points of view should be included so that a range of intellectual decisions can be made.
3. Credibility – members of the coalition must be respected by individuals across the organisation if the change initiative is to be taken seriously.
4. Leadership – strong leadership skills are required to drive the process for change forward.
Aside from these qualities, the coalition must be able to work together as a team, while continuing to create urgency and build momentum around the organisation’s need for change.
Step 3: Develop a Vision:
According to Kotter’s 8-step change model, a clear vision is important because it will:
a. Simplify the many decisions involved in making the change.
b. Motivate employees to take a step in the right direction.
c. Coordinate the actions of multiple people quickly and efficiently.
A clear and powerful vision will create greater urgency for change than a rigid set of rules. Although it might involve short-term sacrifices, a good vision will be perceived as creating a better future for the organisation as a whole.
Kotter’s change model identifies six characteristics of an effective vision:
1. Imaginable – it must create a clear and credible picture of the future.
2. Desirable – it should appeal to the long-term interests of the organisation’s stakeholders.
3. Feasible – it must be realistic and achievable.
4. Focused – it must be clear enough to provide guidance to decision making.
5. Flexible – it should be responsive to changing conditions.
6. Communicate – it should be simple to communicate and quickly explain.
Step 4: Communicate the Vision:
Creating a vision for change is one step outlined in Kotter’s 8-step change model. But what you do with it will determine your success.
According to Kotter, most organisations under-communicate their vision by a factor of 10. Usually a memo is sent out to employees or the company’s CEO will deliver a speech outlining the vision. This is not enough.
To effectively communicate the vision, leaders must constantly remind their people of their vision for change. It must be referred to in meetings, over emails, in presentations – anywhere and everywhere to get the key messages across to as wide an audience as possible.
To effectively communicate the vision it must be:
1. Simple – to prevent confusion.
2. Vivid – to create mental images of a brighter future.
3. Repeatable – to spread easily throughout the organisation.
4. Invitational – to enable two-way communication of the vision.
When creating your vision it is important to remember that actions speak louder than words. By creating a simple, vivid, repeatable and invitational vision, you will be able to more easily communicate and share your vision with the rest of the organisation.
Step 5: Empower People and Remove Obstacles:
Having effectively communicated the vision and encouraged individuals to “buy in” to the need for change, great leaders identify and remove any barriers which may restrict the change initiative.
This should be done by empowering leaders who “buy in” to the vision for change and are capable of executing the vision.
To empower people and remove obstacles to change, leaders need to:
1. Identify and empower leaders to deliver the change.
2. Ensure that the organisation’s structure, job descriptions, performance and compensation are aligned with the vision for change.
3. Reward individuals for making the vision for change a reality.
4. Identify individuals resisting the change and encourage them to “buy in” to the vision.
5. Remove any barriers to change. This includes individuals who refuse to “buy in” to the vision.
Step 6: Generate Short-term Wins:
Generating short-term wins is critical to the long-term success of any change initiative.
By getting the guiding coalition to identify objectives that will generate short-term improvements, leaders can begin planning how to turn these objectives into wins that demonstrate the benefits of the change initiative.
To ensure a successful change initiative, short-term wins must be visible, ambiguous and clearly related to the vision for change. Such wins will provide evidence that the change initiative is paying off and can be highly motivational across an organisation.
To generate short-term wins, leaders should:
1. Identify and implement projects which will certainly be achieved without involving those opposed to the change.
2. Carefully select projects that are not too expensive to justify the amount invested in each project.
3. Analyse the benefits and costs of each shot-term objective.
4. Reward individuals that meet their targets.
Step 7: Build on the Change Initiative:
On the back of short-term wins, “letting up” can severely damage the overall change initiative. Critical momentum may be lost and potentially followed up with attacks by individuals within the organisation that still resist the change initiative.
It is therefore crucial that the organisation’s culture is aligned with any new behaviours and practices that result from the change.
To build on the momentum of change, leaders must:
1. Analyse each win (what went right and what needs improving).
2. Set objectives that will build on the momentum of change.
3. Be focused on continuous improvement (“kaizen”).
4. Freshen things up by adding new agents and leaders for the change coalition.
Step 8: Incorporate Cultural Changes:
Since culture involves the behavioural norms and shared values within an organisation, change initiatives must be planted into the culture of a firm if it is to be a long-term success.
Kotter’s 8-step change model provides advice for implementing a cultural shift in your organisation:
1. Ensure that culture comes last (not first).
2. Provide evidence to demonstrate the benefits of the change initiative.
3. Ensure that success is visible and well communicated across the organisation.
4. Be prepared to lose some people in the process for change.
5. Reward new norms and values to provide incentives for cultural change.
6. Reinforce the culture with all new employees.
By following Kotter’s 8 Step Process for Leading Change, organisations can increase their chances of success and adaptability to change. In turn, this will help them avoid failure (today and in the future) and enable the organisation to thrive.
Written by: Steve Eungblut, Managing Director of Sterling Chase