Kotter’s latest HBR article “Accelerate”


For those of you who follow change management, you will no doubt be familiar with John Kotter’s ‘eight steps to change management’. They are followed with an almost religious zeal by some.

I have been a critic for several years as I understood more about complexity; the difference between technical and adaptive challenges; the neuroscience of learning; and the importance of emotion and the role of the heart in decision making. Sam and I have both argued for some time that Kotter’s 8 steps will only work where incremental change (continuous improvement) is the answer. And our context has changed significantly. The rate of change outside organisations is now so great that organisations of traditional structure are unable to adapt using the 8 steps.

So, it was pretty satisfying for me yesterday when I sat down to read Kotter’s latest article in the November 2012 HBR.

He does not retreat from his eight steps but associates them with the more rigid hierarchy where they are more appropriate for simple problems “with relatively straight forward solutions”  – technical challenges in Heifetz’s language.

He acknowledges these eight fairly rigid steps are insufficient for today’s environment of rapid and unpredictable change(conditions of complex adaptive systems.)

He proposes a new set of eight accelerators (rather than steps) to be developed with volunteers (using passion and their personal strengths) to be unleashed within organisations in a networked fashion and in concert with the hierarchy. (This is exactly the strategy we have used in my PhD research project.)

I still have some issues with Kotter’s new accelerators – they don’t go far enough.

There is still a lack of trust in his volunteer network that is inherent in his approach to the controlling connection between his Executives in the hierarchy and his guiding coalition in the volunteer network.

He backs off surrendering to the powerful forces that might be worked with if he encouraged the C-suite to give up the need to control and create the environment that sets people up for success instead.

He still has the C-suite needing to install a ‘sense of urgency’ – even more urgently than before!  And although noting the importance of a vision that includes words that are emotional, backs off allowing a truly co-created vision which has been a growing part of our work over the last 2 years.

(And all of the above links to the need for facilitation skills which I have been highlighting in the past month or so in my article Game Changer.)

But he does link this networked and more informal approach to higher staff satisfaction, professional development and staff engagement – which is really great to see – and a part of my own experience.

As a person with little profile and none of the academic credibility that comes from publishing in HBR, but with ideas that for so long that have been regarded by many as ‘lacking credibility’ it is great to be able to say “The Partnership has been on this path for sometime” And I hope it provides you with a sense of confidence that the ideas you have been engaging in with me, are in fact with credence. You are validated too – if you needed it 🙂

I recommend you check out Kotter’s article (not something I have done before:) ). Let me know if you are unable to obtain a copy.