Analysis: The Challenge of Change by John Kotter

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Ways in which change can be brought upon within an organization have been studied and theorized upon. John Kotter (1996) developed a model for change which was based on the premise that an individual’s behavior within the organization needs to change. This was a contrast to other models of change which focused on changing an organizations structure or culture. This models also serves to shift the focus from upper management to the employees within the organization itself. Through analyzing Kotter’s model for change based on this premise it can be determined whether the individuals within the organization or the organization itself need to be changed. 

In Kotter’s model of the change theory, he suggests that in order for change to occur a sense of urgency needs to be created within the organization. This sense of urgency serves to unite upper management in a coherent goal. It also serves to place pressure on the employees within the company to improve their efficiency so that the change can occur. This urgency can be created through spreading informal dialogue about the changes through the employees. This can also be completed through formal strategic planning to determine how change can be created. This urgency is focused on changing the behavior of the employees rather than changing any policies. While the urgency could bring about change it could also unintentionally create unwarranted stress and worry among the employees.

Once employees are aware that the change is occurring the change can begin to occur. In order to begin implementing the change employees will need to be lead. Kotter suggests forming a guided coalition which would outline and implement the steps needed to bring about change. The coalition would work towards creating a vision for the change and also establishing steps to communicate the vision. As change within an organization can be difficult it is important to establish a vision for that change. This is the case especially when the individual’s behavior will be the guiding force the change. Communicated the vision to those who may not belong to the organization is essential as well. An organization changes not just for the individuals within it but also those who engage with the organization through supporting their message or by buying their products.

Once a vision is established Kotter stated that the practical side of change can begin. At this point the employees within the organization should support the change and their behaviors should begin to adjust. Kotter emphasized that during this phase a leader should be able to identify and remove any obstacles that may stop the change from occurring. This may occur through letting go employees whose behaviors have not been able to adjust to the change. The leader may also need to work with policies or structures within the organization that are not allowing the change to occur. This phase demonstrates that perhaps not all of the change needs to occur within the behavior of the individuals within an organization. Sometimes, the organization needs to be re-engineered for change. Although the individuals may be ready to change if structural barriers are present the change cannot occur without first addressing these barriers. 

These barriers can be overcome through making short term gains with the changes implemented. Kotter argued that small victories can speak volumes to those who criticize the change or are blocking the change from occurring. These short term gains are also important in establishing to the employees that the behavior changes they are making are working. This will strengthen the new habits the individuals have made and influence them to continue to change. These small gains may not be noticeable to everyone and it would important for an effective leader to be able to recognize them. A leader must also be able to make losses appear positive in some way to combat the negativity that change can bring about.

Once individuals have made these small gains it is important for the organization to continue working hard and striving for changes. Kotter argues that change often does not occur as organization stop implementing the strategies once small victories have occurred. Leaders within the organization must pressure their employees into working even harder to ensure that the changes remain. Once the change appears to last it can become a part of the culture of the organization. The change will no longer be something new it will just be the way in which the organization operates.

This model identifies the way in which change needs to be though about. Rather than focusing on changing an organizations whole structure or culture, which can be a daunting task, this model focuses on starting small through changing an individual’s behavior. By being able to change each employee’s behavior the culture of the organization as a whole can be changed. This model can be applied to more than just the workplace. The steps for change can be applied to communities, families or groups which are facing challenges and are no longer able to function the way in which they currently exist. This model is lacking in emphasizing how not all change can occur at just the individual level. As some changes may face structural or policy barriers it is not realistic to focus on just the individual. By starting the work with the individual the change can be expanded to these other areas.  This model also serves to shift the blame from upper management who are able to state that the change did not occur because of obstinate employees. By incorporating all levels of employees with needing to change the model can work effectively for the whole organization rather than on those who do most of the work. By making these changes this model could make a difference for many organizations.


Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading change. Harvard Business Press.