John Kotter on the Major Pitfalls of Organizational Transformation

August 16, 2015
Bob Morris
Media Appearances

In Leading Change: Why Transformation Efforts Fail (HBR OnPoint 2000), John Kotter identifies and discusses eight “pitfalls” to avoid when embarking upon organizational transformation. Here they are, accompanied by my brief comments:

1. Not establishing a great enough sense of urgency

Comment: People will wonder, “What’s in it for me?” If you don’t have a credible answer, forget about creating a sense of urgency.

2. Not creating a powerful enough guiding coalition

Comment: Senior-level executives need to embrace change and convey a strong sense of genuine excitement about how it will nourish personal as well as organizational renewal.

3. Lacking a vision

Comment: Identifying the “what” of change is relatively easy. Failure is certain unless and until people understand the “why.” (See #1.)

4. Under-communicating the vision by a factor of ten

Comment: People must “get” the vision or there will be no buy-in. Try explaining it to a child. If they “get it,” you’re in business. Otherwise….

5. Not removing obstacles to the new vision

Comment: Most resistance to change is cultural in nature, the result of what Jim O’Toole characterizes as “the ideology of comfort and the tyranny of custom.” Remember that those who defend the current status quo were probably among those who replaced the previous status quo.

6. Not systematically planning for and creating short-term wins

Comment: The LEGO Group was transformed “one brick at a time.” Never underestimate the importance of grabbing all the “low-hanging fruit.”

7. Declaring victory too soon

Comment: Success is a process not a destination. Take no one and nothing for granted. More often than not, “progress” is a subjective measurement and usually exaggerated.

8. Not anchoring changes in the corporation’s culture

Comment: In the healthiest organizations, people use first-person plural pronouns. If the folks you work with don’t, that’s a very significant early-warning sign, if not a symptom, of organizational decay.

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Bob Morris reviews mostly business books for several websites (including Amazon US, UK, and Canada) and interviews thought leaders when not helping his corporate clients accelerate their employees’ personal growth and professional development. Read more book reviews from Bob on his site, Blogging on Business.

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