Is Kotter’s 8-Step Model Still Useful in the Digital Age?

Kotter’s 8-step model is one of the most well-known and widely used change management models, but how relevant is it in the digital age?

As many business professionals know, change management is a well-established discipline with decades of history.

One of the most famous milestones in this history was the release of Kotter’s 8 step model for leading change.

Dr. John Kotter, a leading expert on change management, unveiled this change management framework in the 1990s, and it has since become one of the world’s most renowned change models.

However, since its release, the business world has changed, raising the question of whether this model is still useful in the modern organization.

How Relevant Is Kotter’s 8-Step Model in the Digital Era?

In 1996, John Kotter wrote Leading Change, his famous book on change management, in which he detailed a step-by-step roadmap for leading organizational change.

Those steps, according to Dr. Kotter’s institute, have several aims:

  • Enabling a core change team to drive change forward
  • Enacting change within a hierarchical organizational structure
  • Focus on one thing and execute a series of linear actions over time
  • Implement change sequentially and in a finite manner

This change model enjoyed a great deal of success, but, responding to the changing needs of the business world, Dr. Kotter and his team chose to update that model.

In 2014, he released a newer version of this model, the 8-step process for accelerating change.

This new model has different objectives:

  • Rather than running steps linearly and sequentially, they can be run continually and simultaneously
  • Instead of allowing a core change to drive change, change managers recruit a volunteer army who acts as the “change engine”
  • The new change model can function either inside of or outside of a traditional hierarchy
  • While the previous version of Kotter’s model emphasized specialization on one task, the new model aims to proactively seek new opportunities and complete them quickly

The newer version may seem superior in many ways to the former, but Dr. Kotter’s consultancy claims that they are both relevant – they are just designed for different use cases, circumstances, and objectives.

An organization that operates with a traditional hierarchy and wants to implement change linearly, for instance, would most likely find the earlier model more useful.

A modern organization with a flat hierarchy who wants to continuously implement change, however, would likely want to use the second model.

8 Steps to Accelerate Change: A Breakdown

Since today’s world is continually changing, many companies find themselves in a state of continual organizational transformation, so the latter model will likely prove more useful.

Here are the steps in that model:

1. Create a sense of urgency. One overriding theme in the Kotter model is the need to appeal to both the emotions and the intellect. A sense of urgency can be created by focusing on an immediate opportunity that will vanish soon. This will help create a sense of urgency and bring people together to support a common aim.

2. Build a guiding coalition. A cross-functional, diverse team will be in charge of guiding the change forward. This team should be enabled to work both inside and outside of the traditional hierarchy, and they should also be very committed to change.

3. Form a strategic vision and initiatives. The strategic initiatives are a set of coordinated activities that will transform the vision into reality. That vision, in turn, should clarify how the future will differ from the past, and it should be compelling enough to earn employees’ support.

4. Enlist a volunteer army. Only when enough employees have aligned behind a change effort will it succeed. They will only truly support a cause, however, if they want to, which reinforces the need for building a sense of urgency and creating a strong vision.

5. Enable action by removing barriers. Inefficiencies, old habits, and obsolete business processes can all hinder a change program. It is important to remove those processes, rules, and habits, otherwise they can easily hinder a change effort.

6. Generate short-term wins. Completed objectives, large or small, can contribute to the forward momentum of a project. Effective wins are meaningful to a number of employees, and the more that they can be scaled and replicated, the better.

7. Sustain acceleration. Momentum can easily be lost if change leaders do not continually push it forward. Even after a few wins have been captured, it is important to prevent deceleration by revisiting the sense of urgency, getting more people involved, and removing more barriers.

8. Institute change. To ensure that change lasts and employees stay productive, it is necessary to root these new practices permanently and eliminate old behaviors that crop up. By clearly linking those new behaviors to the organization’s success, the workforce will be more likely to maintain the changes going forward.

These eight steps, as mentioned above, can be implemented concurrently and continuously, making this model an excellent resource for any company implementing change in the digital age.

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.