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Kotter’s Eight Stage Change Process– SKCI Business Strategy Tool


Dr. John Kotter published his Eight Stage Change Process in 1990. Kotter’s process provides an effective model for changing the status quo of an organisation. For almost all organisations, strategy development is about making an impactful change and this process simplifies a complex process into eight clear steps. 

Change often has resistance and prevents the new strategy being fully embedded into the company. These steps assist in overcoming resistance. 

When To Use The Eight Stage Change Process

If you have decided what strategy you want to pursue, it is time to come up with a plan to implement it. The Eight Stage Change Process provides a clear management structure to follow. This is an iterative process and you have to constantly question whether you have really completed each stage.

While you may be making various strategic changes at one time, it is important to try and follow the process through to the end. This may mean having overlapping stages for different projects which can get confusing.

Ensure that you are managing all your strategic changes, otherwise the organisation may default to its original practices. 

How To Use The Eight Stage Change Process

1) Identify the current position of the company and the barriers that need to be changed at each of the eight stages. 

2) Design a plan of how to overcome these barriers.

3) Once you have started, keep referring to the plan and reflect on where you are in the process and when and how you could get to the next stage. 

  • Has the current position of each stage changed? If yes, alter your plan.
  • Are you confident that previous stages have been fully completed?

4) If you are stuck at one stage, reflect on what is going wrong and how you could work to solve the issue. These questions may help you progress through the stages:

  • Who is the key change preventer? Why are they reverting to the previous normal? 
  • What other barriers stand in the way of the new strategy?
  • Have you reiterated the purpose and effectively reignited the sense of urgency?
  • What actions are needed to move to the next Stage?

Worked Example

Let’s consider an example of a company in which the leadership had been applying this process to their strategy development and had reached stage 5. 

Our example company wanted to encourage its staff to embrace ESG across the company; this required a number of changes in every department and to all employees. 

The company changed their operating systems to make it easier for staff to do this, but people still resisted.

In this example the current stage is ‘Remove Barriers to enable change’. The CEO felt that there was a majority of people excited by the new future and therefore step 4 was complete.

However, the teams were reverting back to the old ways and not embracing change.  On investigation the primary reason was that the teams found the system too different and turned a 10 min task into a 20 min task as they struggled to find what they needed. More time training would elevate this.  

But on further reflection the excitement of the change and initial urgency was dulled and has turned into frustration. The previous step ‘Enlist a Volunteer Army’ was not actually completed as the staff believed that this was another crazy idea by the CEO and that it will pass. The CEO will need to reignite the senior board to get them to demonstrate to everyone that this change is here to stay. 

It is very important for those doing the communicating to listen carefully to those conducting change and tease-out why people do not believe in the vision. 

Naturally, ‘resistance to change’ is an often-quoted reason for this but, in a world where people embrace continual change outside of work (think streaming services, social media, ecommerce, etc.), it’s clear that people will happily change their behaviour if they feel it is in their interest to do so.

How Does This Fit Into The 5KQ Strategy Framework?

SKCI’s unique 5 Key Question (5KQ) strategy framework gives our clients an effective way of managing strategy development. Questions 4 and 5, How are we going to change?’ and How long will we manage progress? would use Kotter’s Eight stage Change process as a back bone to answering these questions 

By looking at each stage and planning how each stage will be delivered and pre-empt potential responses will allow change to occur with less resistance. 

Additional Resources

Additional Strategy resources, including blank worksheets in PowerPoint and Word format, are available from the SKCI website: www.skcinv.com/business-strategy-resources

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