Insights from the book 'Accelerate' (John P. Kotter)
My favorite insights from
by John P. Kotter
Maarten Cannaerts – 1/5/2014
Images from www.sxc.hu
The world is changing at a rate at which the systems, structures
and cultures built over the past century can no longer keep up.
Incremental adjustments to how you manage and strategize, now
matter how clever, are not up for the job.
This book answers the question how to stay
competitive and grow profitably amid this increasing
turbulence and disruption…
… by identifying two necessary operating systems
companies use in their operations and change work.
A combination of these both operating systems is
necessary to be successful as a company.
Operating system 1
With a well structured hierarchy and
with managerial processes that are
driven with skill, this mature
organization can produce incredibly
reliable and efficient results on a
weekly, quarterly or annual basis.
Such an operating system lets
people do what they
know how to do
The limits of this hierarchical system
(operation system number 1)
• You find yourself going back again and again to the same small number of
trusted people who lead key initiatives.
• Communication across silos does not happen with sufficient speed or
• Information from top to bottom and vice versa is slow.
• Policies, rules, procedures become barriers to strategic speed.
• People cling to their habits and fear los of power and stature.
It is easy to blame the middle management, but the reality is that
this problem is systemic and directly related to the limitations of
hierarchy and basic managerial processes.
A management driven hierarchy systematically creates
and, when the pressures are great, false urgency.
Silos limit access to information about the big picture, and certainly any
big picture opportunities or threats.
Narrow job parameters send the message that as long as you are doing
your little job today, you are fine.
Managerial processes tend to focus people’s attention inward – on the
budget, the plan, the staff, and the metrics.
Great communication – no matter the topic –
always connects with people’s feelings and
with what they find meaningful.
But the management driven hierarchy
does not even try to connect with feelings.
Even if it tries to communicate information
about a Big Opportunity, it will have an
inclination to do so by making a
“business case” for it.
What we need is a second operation system, which is
organized like a network
next to the existing hierarchy.
This network based operating system complements
rather than overburdens the hierarchy, freeing the
latter to do what it is optimized to do.
Informal networks of
operate under the hierarchical
radar to make something new
The processes in this network
look less like management and
The dual system organization has on the one side the hierarchy, on
the other the network.
The network organization contains no bureaucratic
layers, command-and-control prohibitions, and six sigma
processes, the network permits a level of
individualism, creativity, and innovation that the hierarchical
organization simply can not provide.
The network liberates information from silos and hierarchical layers.
The network organization needs to be seamlessly connected to and
coordinated with the hierarchy in a number of ways, chiefly
through the people who populate both systems.
The executive committee must launch the network, explicitly bless
it, support it, and ensure that it and the hierarchy stay aligned.
best when no one
tries to project-
That means it is not carefully
controlled. There may be no one in
senior management who can list even
5% of the activities going on.
5 to 10% of the managerial and
employee population in a
hierarchy is all you need to make
the network function beautifully.
Modest but aligned actions, taken
by many passionate people who
bring them wish insight from all
levels and all silos, imbue the
network with the power it needs
to undertake smart, strategic
PRINCIPLES of the dual operating system:
• Many people drive important change, not just the usual few appointees
(you need additional people, with their own particular windows on the world, and with their own
particular good working relationships with others, in order to truly innovate).
• A “get-to” mindset, not “have-to”
• Action that is head & heart driven (not just head)
• More leadership, not just management
• An inseparable partnership between the hierarchical organization and the network
(constant flow of information; volunteers in the network also have jobs in the hierarchy)
Eight accelerators should be in place
• Create a sense of urgency around a Big Opportunity
• Build and evolve a Guiding Coalition
• Form a change vision and strategic initiatives
• Enlist a volunteer army
• Enable action by removing barriers
• Generate & celebrate short term wins
• Sustain acceleration
• Institute change
But how do I hold the people in this network
accountable for what they do? How do I measure
In the right-side organization, it is urgency, passion, open
communication, empowerment, a “want to” operating principle, and
leadership from many that are at the center of success.
People hold each other accountable for playing their roles.
The network organization is driven by lots of people
focusing their energy and action on a Big
This Big Opportunity should be
rational (why us, why now why…),
emotionally compelling (a sincere,
positive, authentic appeal to the heart), and
memorable (clear, short, no jargon).
What is the role of the ‘guiding coalition’?
• Making sure the network has a change vision aligned with the Big Opportunity
• Agreeing on the strategic initiatives of the network, and ensuring these are
aligned with the hierarchy-side of the organization
• Keeping tight communication with the executive committee
• Monitoring (not controlling) activities in the network
• Looking for wins and celebrating them
• Keeping the eight accelerator processes running well
Our people are already
stretched in their time.
How can they do even
People’s energy levels are not a zero-
sum number. It is not the case if people
spend 20% of their energy on network
activities, that only 80% of energy
remains for their hierarchical job.
Should all strategic initiatives be handled by the
right side (network organization)?
No – all activities not requiring massive change, remain on the
left side (hierarchy).
High-stakes initiatives, where speed is important, or there are
ambiguities, or where innovation and agility is needed, should
go on he right side (network).
Where is the budget
for the network
It is the job of the volunteers and the
guiding coalition to find
resources, when they need
them, and to convince people on the
hierarchical side to allocate money
• Read the book! (XLR8 – John P. Kotter)
• “Leading change” (HBR login required)
• XLR8 Book review