The 8 phases of Kotter's change

The 8 phases of Kotter’s change

Le 8 fasi del cambiamento di Kotter
21 Ottobre 2020
Comunicazione: Andrea Cornelli, vicepresidente di UNA Associazione Aziende della Comunicazione Unite e Portavoce PrHub
22 Ottobre 2020

The 8 reasons why many change processes are not successful Often, creating value requires significant change. John Kotter concluded in his book “A Force for Change: How Leadership Differs from Management” that there are eight reasons why many change processes are not successful:

  • Introducing too much complexity;
  • Failure to develop a strong enough or large enough coalition;
  • Failure to understand the need for a clear vision;
  • Failure to communicate the vision clearly;
  • To stumble into blocks against the vision;
  • Not planning short-term results and not realizing them;
  • Declare victory too soon;
  • Avoid linking changes to corporate culture.


The 8 stages of change

To avoid falling into the errors seen in the previous paragraph, Kotter has created the following model of Phases of Change. The model consists of eight phases that, according to Kotter, it is crucial to follow in the exact sequence.

John P. Kotter, professor at Harvard Business School, publishes an article on change management, as a preview of the book “Leading Change”, in which he presents a model consisting of eight steps, which will become a reference point for many companies.

1. Establish a sense of urgency (CREATE A SENSE OF URGENCY):

In order for change to take place, it is necessary that the organization really wants it and therefore creates a sense of urgency with respect to the change itself. This first phase, which may seem the simplest, is not really the easiest: more than 50% of companies fail because they have not given adequate space to this aspect.

To establish a sense of urgency, one must ask oneself whether:

  • You see a great opportunity that could turn people’s hearts and minds on;
  • If you know how to identify, articulate and communicate this opportunity;
  • If it is possible to link an external factor of change with a special ability of our organization;
  • If we know the constraints
  • If we know the consequences in case of failure.
2. Forming a guiding coalition (BUILD A GUIDING COALITION):

change should not only be managed, but also guided. A successful team must be able to do good teamwork and be made up of people

who are not afraid of change and who are able to positively influence and guide other colleagues. In most successful cases, the coalition is quite powerful, in terms of titles, information, skills and relationships. The coalition can be formed not only by executives, but also by other people in the organization.

To form a leading coalition is necessary:

  • Diversify the team in terms of level, function, geographical distribution, mandate and ideas;
  • An ability and willingness to work at every level of the hierarchy with respect and energy;
  • A commitment to change.
3. Creating a clear vision and strategy (FORM A STRATEGIC VISION AND INITIATIVES):

The coalition must develop a vision that clarifies the sense in which the organization will have to move and then develop a strategy to achieve it. If the coalition works, the initial vision will be better defined over time.

To create a clear vision and strategy is necessary:

  • Motivate people to act;
  • Coordinate and align their actions;
  • Clarify how the future will be different from the past and how that future will become a reality;
  • Link the strategic vision directly with the great opportunity.
4. Communicate and share the vision (ENLIST A VOLUNTEER ARMY):

Use every possible channel to transmit the vision and gain consensus. Generic communication is not enough, the message needs to be remembered frequently and strongly: send clear and credible messages about the direction of change, through words, facts and new technologies, to win over confusion and distrust.

To communicate and share the vision is necessary:

  • Give people a reason and motivation to join the movement. A strong vision goes a long way;
  • Recognize the effort of the resources hired to keep them engaged and engaged and recruit more of them.

Present in any process of change, whether individuals or structures.

To remove barriers:

  • You must identify them;
  • Think about why past initiatives have failed.
6. Create short-term goals (GENERATE SHORT-TERM WINS):

Change is a time-consuming process. However, it is necessary to design some short-term goals that have an immediate impact on visibility and results so that people do not become pessimistic and skeptical and lose confidence in change. It is also important that successes are in the personal sphere.

The characteristics of a short-term goal are:

  • To be relevant in light of the opportunity to be seized;
  • Be significant for others. People need to be focused on winning, whether they are members of your team or another team, clients, stakeholders, etc;
  • It must be unambiguous, visible and tangible so that people can replicate or adopt it. Victories have the greatest impact when they scale across organizations.
7. Consolidate the results and build the change (SUSTAIN ACCELERATION):

At this point, too often you think you have successfully completed the change process and the sense of urgency is lost. Real change takes years (even five, ten years), time and continuous support to really happen.

To support the change is necessary:

  • Revise the urgency after generating significant victories;
  • It is easy to lose sight of the ultimate goal, which is to bring initiatives into the culture of the organization and support them. It may be necessary to review some of the urgency activities incorporated at the beginning;
  • Involve more and more people, always looking for ways to expand the volunteer army.
8. Institutionalizing change in the corporate culture (INSTITUTE CHANGE):

This last step is critical to maintaining the changes implemented in the future. Showing how new approaches, behaviors and attitudes have contributed to improved performance can only help. The change needs to be internalized so that there is no danger that it will return to its original state.

The first seven accelerators focus on building new behaviors and new ways of working. This last accelerator focuses on sustaining change for a long time in the future.

To institutionalize change in the corporate culture:

  • New practices must be deeply rooted to replace the old modus operandi;
  • There must be clear and synchronized communication between the hierarchical structure and the innovative network of volunteers.


  • Kotter, John P., Mayors In Action, 1974
  • Kotter, John P., Self Assessment & Career Development, 1978
  • Kotter, John P., Power in Management, 1979
  • Kotter, John P., Organization – Texts, Cases, and Readings on the Management of Organizational Design and Change, 1979
  • Kotter, John P., The General Managers, 1986
  • Kotter, John P., Power and Influence, 1985
  • Kotter, John P., The Leadership Factor, 1988
  • Kotter, John P., A Force for Change, 1990
  • Kotter, John P., Corporate Culture and Performance, 1992
  • Kotter, John P. The New Rules, 1995
  • Kotter, John P., Leading Change, 1996
  • Kotter, John P., Matsushita Leadership: Lessons from the 20th Century’s Most Remarkable Entrepreneur, 1997
  • Kotter, John P., John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do, 1999
  • Kotter, John P., The Heart of Change, 2002
  • Kotter, John P., Our Iceberg is Melting, 2006
  • Kotter, John P., A Sense of Urgency, 2008
  • Kotter, John P., Managing Your Boss, 2008
  • Kotter, John P., Buy In, 2010
  • Kotter, John P., Accelerate: Building Strategic Agility for a Faster-Moving World, 2014
  • Kotter, John P., That’s Not How We Do It Here!: A Story about How Organizations Rise and Fall–and Can Rise Again, 2016
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