Learning to adapt to change is key to thriving in the modern workplace. And yet, implementing organizational change can create challenges that are hard to overcome. For team leaders, managing change and guiding their employees through it is a challenge in itself. You can help employees adapt to change in the workplace and thrive by utilizing frameworks like Kotter’s 8-step change model, which we’ll explore in this article.

Introducing Kotter’s 8-step change model

Dr. John Kotter, Harvard Business School professor and author of the book Leading Change, has dedicated his career to researching organizational change, and change management models in the business world. Dr. Kotter developed the eight-step change model after observing numerous leaders and businesses throughout the process of executing their change strategies. The steps include: 

  1. Create a sense of urgency
  2. Build a guiding coalition
  3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives
  4. Enlist a volunteer army
  5. Enable action by removing barriers
  6. Generate short-term wins
  7. Sustain acceleration
  8. Institute change

The following is a more in-depth look at each step.

Step 1: Create a sense of urgency

In order to help others see the need for change and to take bold, decisive action towards an intended change, leaders must communicate the importance of acting immediately. You can achieve this sense of urgency by assessing potential threats that could arise in the future, like competitors overtaking your market share or advances in your industry. Start with a candid dialogue with your team where you can explain your vision while giving stakeholders the chance to voice their concerns.

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Step 2: Build a guiding coalition

To lead the charge on big changes, you’re going to need allies. Having other members of your team visibly united behind your vision sends a strong message, and helps spread support across the company. Try asking other leaders and trusted colleagues in your organization for their help in executing your vision. Work to create a team that consistently works together across projects that involve many members from various departments and company levels.

Step 3: Form a strategic vision and initiatives

You initiated the change based on a vision of how things could and should be done differently. To achieve the change you want to see, make that vision clear and understandable. Identify the core values you want to embody and create a strategy to execute according to those values. Most importantly, make sure members of your change management team can communicate this vision. For example, use visuals to map out processes, establish urgency, and clarify your vision for change. 

Step 4: Enlist a volunteer army

Large-scale change can only occur when many people rally around this new opportunity. Inspiring sufficient urgency around a proposed change is the first step in building a volunteer army. Communicating how the planned changes will create a strong competitive advantage can motivate your employees. If the right messages are sent from a passionate team to other colleagues, the volunteer army will gather. 

Step 5: Enable action by removing barriers

Resistance to change is to be expected. But to gain the momentum needed to enact real change, you have to remove as many obstacles as possible. Start by assessing your organization and identifying those most resistant to a new change or process, then work with them to address their concerns. Conversely, seek out leaders who see the value of the change you want to see. Make sure to reward and recognize those who support you in the early phase.

Step 6: Generate short-term wins

Building consistent momentum for your vision is critical to making it a permanent change. However, short-term wins are great motivators for those who are working alongside you, and for those who’ve yet to get on board with your vision. First, find short-term projects that aren’t costly and don’t require broad sign-off. After you select and reach an achievable target, recognize the progress made to keep the volunteers energized and engaged.

Step 7: Sustain acceleration

After your first win, it’s easy to coast, but really it’s more important than ever at this stage to keep the pressure on. True change only happens with repetition and expansion. To build on the change you’ve set into motion, you must analyze what went right (and wrong) after every win. Gradually set more ambitious goals, and leverage your credibility to bring on additional stakeholders who can further your vision.

Step 8: Institute change

The final step in the change process is communicating the connection between the new behaviors and business wins, making sure these behaviors continue until they become strong enough to replace old habits. Achieve this by talking about the progress made, and sharing the stories about what made your success possible. Don’t forget to also recognize your volunteer army, who’ll help reinforce the changes you’ve all implemented going forward.

Be the change you want to see

Change is uncomfortable, and can even be scary, but without it, you risk falling behind your competitors. Frameworks like Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model can help organizations overcome resistance to change. Boosting change agility can also help individual employees adapt and face changes head-on. Read more about guiding change, specifically to increase your employees’ innovation skills in Addressing the Skills Gaps That Hinder Innovation.