How to Use Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model: A Deep Dive

Kotter’s 8-step change model is one of the “gold standards” of change frameworks.

However, the model has changed a bit since its original inception in 1996.

Below, we’ll look at the new – and old – versions of the model. Then we’ll explore each step and look at the similarities and differences between the “new” and “old” versions.

But first things first…

What Is Kotter’s 8-Step Change Model?

Change managers need a change management framework, or an action plan, for effecting organizational changes.

Kotter’s 8-step model is one answer to that problem.

This model provides a step-by-step method for driving change in an organization.

Kotter’s model is very widespread, very popular, and widely referenced.

There are many reasons for considering this change model, but it’s not the only one out there.

The question is … is it right for your organization?

Below, we’ll get up close and personal with Kotter’s famous blueprint for change. We’ll look at each step and explain how it works. Finally, we’ll look at the model’s benefits and drawbacks.

Then, you can decide for yourself whether this model is a good fit for your needs.

Kotter’s “New” Model vs. the “Old” Version

In 1996, Kotter came out with his original 8-step model.

Over subsequent years, however, the model’s approach changed slightly. Its core focus and the core steps remained the same.

However, application has changed since then.

First, let’s look at characteristics of the original version:

  • Steps are applied sequentially
  • A core change team takes charge and drives change
  • The change process operates within a traditional hierarchy
  • Change processes occur linearly, step-by-step

This approach worked very well for a long time.

However, in 2014, Kotter’s model was updated for today’s agile workplace.

As mentioned, the core principles remained the same – only the way they are applied has changed.

The 2014 version looks like this:

  • Steps are applied “concurrently and continuously”
  • Change is driven by an organization-wide army of volunteers
  • The change program operates outside of, but in conjunction with, a traditional hierarchy
  • Opportunities are capitalized upon as they arise

This approach fits very well with modern-day workplaces, which tend to be more agile, more digital, and less traditional.

The 4 Core Principles

Before getting to the actual steps, let’s explore the cornerstones of the model.

These 4 core principles should act as guides throughout the change process:

  • Leadership + Management – Without leadership, change will go nowhere fast. Implement both to ensure that change moves forward and gets managed along the way.
  • Head + Heart – Emotions inspire, so give purpose and meaning to change. Do so and you’ll see much better results.
  • Select Few + Diverse Many – Pull more people on board the change initiative and you empower change at all levels.
  • “Have To” + “Want To” – Make the change effort meaningful and team members will act because they want to, not just because they have to.

These principles form the foundation of Kotter’s 8-step model, which we cover below.

Kotter’s 8 Steps Accelerators

Another feature of the “new and improved” Kotter model is that it doesn’t call the steps “steps” any more.

Instead, they are called “accelerators.”

Conceptually, though, they are the same.

This fits with the theme of the updated model, which aims at accelerating change instead of leading change.

Regardless of whether you call them accelerators or steps, they operate in much the same way as the original model.

1. Create a Sense of Urgency

The first priority is to enlist a volunteer army by appealing to their heads and their hearts.

In this stage, you identify a big opportunity.

That will be what grabs the hearts, minds, and attention of the workers.

2. Build a Guiding Coalition

Your guiding coalition is a cross-disciplinary team formed from all levels of the organization.

It doesn’t adhere to traditional hierarchy, but it’s critical to the success of the project.

3. Form a Strategic Vision and Initiatives

A strategic vision should have a few qualities. Among other things, it should be:

  • Communicable
  • Desirable
  • Flexible
  • Feasible
  • Simple

To help overcome employee resistance, this vision should be built by employees and validated by business leaders.

4. Enlist a Volunteer Army

The volunteer army, as mentioned, should be recruited from across the organization.

To recruit them, it’s critical to get people to “want” the change.

If they merely feel obligated, then find ways to make the idea more beneficial, appealing, and exciting.

5. Enable Action by Removing Barriers

Traditional work processes can hinder change.

Remove archaic processes, norms, and other barriers to change. This will enable your volunteer army to make faster progress.

6. Generate Short-Term Wins

Spur motivation by communicating short-term wins and results … and rewards don’t hurt, either.

Collecting data and demonstrating progress helps sustain motivation, because people can see the real fruit of their labor.

7. Sustain Acceleration

After you have a few wins, don’t let up the pressure.

Instead, push harder on the gas pedal and keep going. These early wins will fuel accelerated change, increasing your chances of success.

8. Institute Change

Experienced change managers know that change can unravel unless it’s reinforced.

At this point, you will institute cultural changes, which come once you are “deep into a transformation.”

Final Thoughts: Has Kotter’s Change Model Changed?

Though the new model has been updated, its core function remains the same.

Much like a software update, it contains new features. It is designed for use in a new context, by new users.

However, it’s underlying principles have not changed all that much.

At its heart, the Kotter model is very much about effecting change by recruiting employees, instilling the will to change, and embedding that change into the company culture.

Chris is the Lead Author & Editor of Change Blog. Chris established the Change blog to create a source for news and discussion about some of the issues, challenges, news, and ideas relating to Change Management.