Comfort with change is
John Kotter, professor and authority on management and
leadership, has influenced generations of global business leaders
with his perspective on strategy and management.
Centered in the philosophy of leading change, Kotter’s model is now deployed in
virtually any organization that decides to put a measurable structure around a change in
strategy and operations.
Over time and something of a contradiction to Kotter’s teaching, these highly articulated
programs have come to fall under the rubric “change management.”
As a process, change management matured in the last two decades of the twentieth
century. Almost as if to ensure that organizations would take them seriously, most
change management initiatives emphasized consistent execution of carefully designed
and orchestrated tactics. Management teams wanted to make sure that employees
understood they were serious about making changes. Yet many change initiatives
wound up disconnected from the strategic center of companies—often because those
strategic centers themselves had been compromised by a demand for quarterly results
and statistic-of-the-month spin. Navel-gazing also was a risk, often to the detriment of
customer focus and a forward orientation.
Comfort with change is essential to vibrancy /04
Still striving to find some equilibrium in this new century, workers are enduring the
kind of shift to new processes that our forebears in the last century had to master. Now
companies must grapple with the explosion of digital and personal technologies and
their impact on every aspect of doing business: customer expectations for experience
and relationship; emerging competitors’ product innovations; exponential masses of
data; and a new definition of employee commitment. No industry is untouched by the
digitization of production and communication. Besides the personal change required of
every individual, organizations must pivot without compromising performance.
On the other side of these pivots is the talent-wise organization. Access to a wide variety
of talent is a significant byproduct of the networked globe.
Online technology makes it possible to sell goods and services without boundaries
of time and place. Just as a brick-and-mortar retailer adds temporary staff around
year-end holidays, another company might retain outsourced workers for big production
projects throughout the year. Depending upon the company and if the work can be
performed remotely, however, the outsourced workers may be continents away from
the employer. They also might work via project contracts and not ever attain full-time
/05Comfort with change is essential to vibrancy
For mid-career managers who entered the workforce in the 1980s and 1990s, there was
no preparation for managing employees who are not just steps away. That entire teams
could be assembled project by project, on a freelance basis, with only a few, if any,
actual employees is also a significant shift. Perhaps the strangest concept is becoming a
contractor oneself and understanding the bright side of having more than one employer
and multiple skillsets.
The earth is shifting under everyone. For change management initiatives, classic means
of inventing, planning and executing change—always a risk—now require much more
than textbook implementation practices.
In the short term, change management means introducing new values and practices
to the cultures of most companies. Besides new modes of employment, companies
and people most likely will have to move through constant change in performance
methodologies and product features, due to the incessant development and addition
of technology. They’ll have to discern between distraction and utility with each new
platform or feature that appears in their information systems.
/06Comfort with change is essential to vibrancy
Over the long term, the capacity to pivot quickly and effectively will become a
basic element of organizational existence. Senior executives can expect strategy
implementation timelines not just to shorten but to adjust to market developments in the
moment. Real time now means immediately. As workers take on more personal visibility
through social networks and maybe even self-publish content about their careers and
work lives, they in effect become representatives of their companies’ brands. Company
leaders will have to account for employee word-of-mouth in executing changes to
products and services—and think about how to leverage it.
Doing business is going to require unanticipated levels of human and organizational
energy. The prospect of changing people and companies may be more complex than
ever but it is also much more exciting. In the hands of leaders, change can rejuvenate
more than organizations. Change can resuscitate languishing aspiration. Leading change
could become the most important management skill.
/07Comfort with change is essential to vibrancy
Leading change is different from
Ron Ashkenas, author and management consultant, writes
that companies invest greatly in change management tools yet
demonstrate a 60 to 70 percent failure rate in the resulting projects.
While this comes from a circa 2010 report, he says this statistic has remained relatively
the same since the 1970s. Ashkenas goes on to declare, “the content of change
management is reasonably correct, but the managerial capacity to implement it has been
The executives in the 30 percent of companies that succeed would agree. They have
the scars to prove it. Many of them prefer the “smaller” problems of penetrating new
markets and rolling out new products. Getting people to endorse new practices and
steer into change is that difficult a task. Yet they did it, and do it every day.
These executives typically use John Kotter’s model—The 8-Step Process for Leading
Change—listed in his words below, as their template.
Leading change is different from managing change /09
Kotter named his model carefully and says this about the difference between change
management and change leadership:
“These terms are not interchangeable. The distinction between the two is actually quite
significant. Change management, which is the term most everyone uses, refers to a set
of basic tools or structures intended to keep any change effort under control. The goal
is often to minimize the distractions and impacts of the change. Change leadership, on
the other hand, concerns the driving forces, visions and processes that fuel large-scale
Step 1: Establish a sense of urgency. Help others see the need for change and they
will be convinced of the importance of acting immediately.
Step 2: Create the guiding coalition. Assemble a group with enough power to lead
the change effort, and encourage the group to work as a team.
Step 3: Develop a change vision. Create a vision to help direct the change effort,
and develop strategies for achieving that vision.
Step 4: Communicate the vision for buy-in. Make sure as many staff as possible
understand and accept the vision and the strategy.
Leading change is different from managing change /10
Step 5: Empower broad-based action. Remove obstacles to change, change
systems or structures that seriously undermine the vision; and encourage risk-taking and
nontraditional ideas, activities, and actions.
Step 6: Generate short-term wins. Plan for achievements that can easily be made
visible, follow through with those and achievements, and recognize and reward the
employees who were involved.
Step 7: Never let up. Use increased credibility to change systems, structures and
policies that don’t fit the vision. Also hire, promote and develop employees who can
implement the vision. Finally, reinvigorate the process with new projects, themes and
Step 8: Incorporate changes into the culture. Articulate the connections between
the new behaviors and organizational success, and develop the means to ensure
leadership development and succession.
Leading change is different from managing change /11
Planning and budgeting Creating and strategizing
Organizing and staffing Communicating and clarifying
Controlling and solving problems Motivating and aligning
Reducing complexity and increasing efficiency Imbedding and sustaining agile technologies
The executives who succeed in leading change give company initiatives their personal
attention and the highest level of priority. Essentially, these executives own the change
themselves. They are coaches, evangelists, champions—but they are also the first to
make changes in their own processes and the last to ignore any challenge to their
thinking. They inspire people to adapt by evolving themselves. They make change a part
of their organizations’ genetic code in three ways.
1 Change leaders put skin in the game. They bet their careers on the ability to
inspire career and organizational pivots.
Leading change is different from managing change /12
2 Change leaders are personally close to employees. They do more then step
out of the executive suite; they work side-by-side with the people implementing
change. Change leaders recognize that not all change is led from the executive suite.
3 Change leaders like change and are good at it. They come to depend upon
change as an aspect of professional vitality and management effectiveness.
This is a different kind of executive profile than what we have come to expect in business.
The personalization of technology is making it less acceptable for executives to perform
as remote figureheads. Yet beyond the expectation for intimacy that social technology
is fostering, there is liberation from tasks and processes that took far longer to complete
twenty years ago than they do today. Executives now have the ability to witness the
impact of strategic plans more quickly and identify what is working. This frees them to try
new things more frequently and scale as appropriate across the organization.
Leading change is different from managing change /13
The four vital components of making
Executives often send a mixed message to organizations. They set
an expectation for efficiency and establish markers for measuring
it, encouraging workers to operate within those bounds—then they
ask people to think outside the box and incorporate new ideas, with
little direction for how to apply them efficiently or productively.
An appropriate change leadership initiative equips workers to fill the gap between the
routine and the possible. It positions change in a positive light, describing the impetus
behind the initiative, the desired benefits, and the pain points. Essentially, the logic
should be clear enough that even if people do not agree with the need for change, the
stage is set for them to come around. Plus, a strong initiative provides something of a
roadmap that articulates the logic stream and offers flexibility around its implementation.
The overall spirit of a change leadership initiative should focus on making the
organization resilient and ready to build a comfort level with fairly regular change.
Leading change does require a methodology. There are four things it should include:
strategy, governance, execution and dialog. Of equal importance, these components
equip change leaders to enable good judgment and balance discipline with flexibility.
The four vital components of making change less mysterious /15
“Our organizations were never
built to be adaptable. Those
early management pioneers,
a hundred years ago, set out
to build companies that were
disciplined, not resilient. They
understood that efficiency
comes from routinizing the
nonroutine. Adaptability, on
the other hand, requires a
willingness to occasionally
abandon those routines—
and in most organizations
there are precious few
incentives to do that.”
With strategy, think of the company as an ecosystem with interdependent
areas that feed upon shared goals and benefits. The change strategy should
make the case for itself based on opportunities as well as problems. To help everyone
climb on board, paint a picture—in Kotter’s model, the vision—of your current state and
the future state. Make the strategy interesting by using vivid terms that explain data
points and the new behaviors that will be required. Be transparent about the schedule,
the impact on current responsibilities, and how people can influence the initiative’s
success. Invite everyone to engage and make it easy for them to do so.
Regarding governance, establish personal accountability as a key
success factor. In determining roles and who fills them, identify high performers who
can act as everything from sponsors, to champions, to evangelists. They must be strong
managers but they must be able to think on their feet, stay focused and continually
re-establish context. These are the people who keep the change system moving.
They provide resources and information, so they are agile communicators who value
interaction—they listen and they share. The most effective change initiatives establish
several teams: programming, planning, implementation and training. They’ll use business
process maps and manuals to document and communicate progress. Meaningful
execution also requires an IT platform and tools that support real-time content sharing
and content management. This is essential to optimizing the time spent on approvals
/16The four vital components of making change less mysterious
and decision-making, keeping it as short and non-bureaucratic as possible. In that
regard, communication and problem escalation protocols are best established up front
and reflected in the content management plan.
Assure seamless execution by positioning the outcome as desirable and
the benefits as shared. Most companies have some sort of history with change. The
chances of success with the new initiative increase when change leaders review that
history to use what works and avoid what does not. Apart from the idiosyncrasies unique
to each organization, sharing ownership of the initiative, in terms of both responsibility
and reward, boosts execution quality. Training is essential to execution and should
extend beyond the introduction of new technologies to include immersion in the
business model, customer relations, best practices and staying attuned to industry and
competitor developments. These elements help to expose the context for the proposed
changes and reinforce the rationale for the initiative.
Emphasize dialog as a core value. Like the proposed changes themselves, the
process for achieving it must be relevant across the organization. Workers should see
the methodology and the proposed end state as doable and appropriate to their roles.
People are more likely to remain open when they see that their experience and opinions
matter. And it’s always a good idea to ask people if the process is giving them what they
need to make the changes. Changed processes that are inaccessible to the organization
/17The four vital components of making change less mysterious
usually get lip service. The desired change rarely happens on the scale it should—no
matter how pressing the need or sensible the initiative.
The effectiveness of these four components also can be told in the story of what the
company gains from disorder during a transition. Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who has made
both controversial and insightful observations in books such as The Black Swan and the
recent Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, makes the case for risking collateral
damage—i.e., loss of employment, loss of business, loss of market position—during
periods that threaten the status quo or even present danger. Taleb attributes risk aversion
to the top-down planning motifs of conventional strategy models; he created the word
“antifragile” to describe true strength, in a company’s case, as prospering from volatility
and emerging stronger from the experience.
Taking the body blows inherent in the antifragility concept may be beyond the reach of
executives answerable to shareholders and responsible for employees. Yet accepting
pain and resistance to strengthen an organization is also a chapter in the story of
/18The four vital components of making change less mysterious
Change is often counterintuitive. It is usually contrarian.
It is often controversial.
Leading change is risky. On a personal level, it often makes a career. It also has been
known to break a few. For an organization, change requires context, process and
dedication—like any initiative or project, but often with more vigilance to the impact on
workers and customers.
The qualities of healthy change /22
“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.”
“Observe always that everything is the result of change, and get used to thinking that there
is nothing Nature loves so well as to change existing forms and make new ones like them.”
Marcus Aurelius, Roman, on change.
/23The qualities of healthy change
You have You have not
Executed a change leadership model Underestimated the significance
of the proposed changes
Spent time evaluating the organization’s climate Developed the goals in the executive
suite and pushed them top-down
Incorporated the change initiative into your project list Delegated leadership of the project
Identified and engaged stakeholders
from all areas of the organization
Invited a select few executives to participate
Orchestrated workshops and milestone meetings
with representative participation and specific
outcomes and measures
Assumed people are communicating
results and problems
Included specific steps for achieving
Left it to business units and departments to
roll the initiative into their schedules
Gained authentic commitment from all constituents
and a plan for winning over the holdouts
Kotter International process for leading change
“Change Management Needs to Change,” Ron Ashkenas, Harvard Business Review Blog Network, April 16 2013
“Change Management vs. Change Leadership—What’s the Difference,” FORBES, July 12 2011
“Why Companies Need to Change the Way They Change,” Gary Hamel, CNNMoney, April 22 2013
Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder, Nassim Nicholas Taleb
“Nassim Taleb’s Cure for Fragility,” Larry Prusak, Harvard Business Review Blog Network, November 29 2012
“Marcus Aurelius’ Six Timeless Observations of Life,” Michael Miles, Pick the Brain blog, August 8 2008
About the Author
CHRISTOPHER P. JOCK is vice president and practice leader of Kelly Outsourcing and Consulting
Group. Appointed to his current post in 2009, as global leader for KellyOCG’s Center of
Excellence (CoE) for Global Managed Solutions, Jock works with his team to assist companies
with the operational management of their core and non-core functions, ensuring and increasing
efficiency, productivity and quality. No stranger to effecting and leading organizational change and
transformation of varying size and complexity, he has been involved in well over thirty such projects while engaged
in various roles over his career. He is well-suited and suitably experienced to be a trusted advisor to organizations
that might find themselves in similar situations. He is responsible for strategy, brand relationship management and
business development and support for Managed Solutions worldwide.
is the Outsourcing and Consulting Group of workforce solutions provider Kelly Services, Inc. KellyOCG is a
global leader in innovative talent management solutions in the areas of Recruitment Process Outsourcing (RPO), Business
Process Outsourcing (BPO), Contingent Workforce Outsourcing (CWO), including Independent Contractor Solutions,
Human Resources Consulting, Career Transition and Executive Coaching, and Executive Search.
KellyOCG was named in the International Association of Outsourcing Professionals®
list, an annual ranking of the world’s best outsourcing service providers and advisors.
KellyConnect is a pioneer in the set-up and maintenance of virtual workplaces. We have access to local talent via
440 Kelly-owned branches across the US. We combine this with the intellectual property of understanding how to
deliver plug-and-play technology solutions (if you don’t have your own).
Further information about KellyOCG may be found at kellyocg.com.
For more thought leadership go to talentproject.com