Kotter's New 8 Accelerators for Strategic Change

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Change Phases > Best Practices > Kotter's New 8 Accelerators for Strategic Change

Kotter's New 8 Accelerators for Strategic Change
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
John Kotter published his “Leading Change” article in the 1995 issue of HBR. He introduces a framework with 8 Change Phases which at the time resonated with many readers:
  1. Establish a sense of urgency.
  2. Create a coalition.
  3. Develop a clear vision.
  4. Share the vision.
  5. Empower people to clear obstacles.
  6. Secure short-term wins.
  7. Consolidate and keep moving.
  8. Anchor the change.
In 1996 he released a book version. In the book preface he states, “Unlike the article, the book has dozens and dozens of examples of what seems to work and what doesn’t. In this sense, it is more hands-on and practical."
Kotter’s original eight-step process (1996) is very much top-down and places heavy emphasis on getting the early steps right. Change is seen as linear rather than cyclical, which implies that an idealistic end state can be reached rather than iterated towards.

Since 1996 the pace of change in the business world has sped up greatly. Leading Change was re-released in 2012 with a new preface. In this book, Kotter writes: “A globalized economy is creating both more hazards and more opportunities for everyone, forcing firms to make dramatic improvements not only to compete and prosper but also to survive.”

Kotter eventually came to the conclusion that in uncertain times, linear change models don't serve leaders particularly well. A MODEL WAS NEEDED THAT ACKNOWLEDGED NON-LINEARITY AND COMPLEXITY and enabled leaders to navigate their way through evolution and adaptively dealing with whatever emerges as they go. After extensive research he introduced an alternate change process with 8 "Accelerators" in his 2014 book Accelerate.

Kotter's new eight change accelerators are:
  1. Create a sense of urgency around a single big opportunity.
  2. Build and maintain a guiding coalition.
  3. Formulate a strategic vision and develop change initiatives designed to capitalize on the big opportunity.
  4. Communicate the vision and the strategy to create buy-in and attract a growing volunteer army.
  5. Accelerate movement toward the vision and the opportunity by ensuring that the network removes barriers.
  6. Celebrate visible, significant short-term wins.
  7. Never let up. Keep learning from experience. Don’t declare victory too soon.
  8. Institutionalize strategic changes in the culture.
There are 4 main differences between the original 8 steps and the 8 “accelerators” on which the strategy system runs:
  1. The steps are often used in rigid, finite, and sequential ways, in effecting or responding to episodic change, whereas the accelerators are concurrent and always at work.
  2. The steps are usually driven by a small, powerful core group, whereas the accelerators pull in as many people as possible from throughout the organization to form a “volunteer army”.
  3. The steps are designed to function within a traditional hierarchy, whereas the accelerators require the flexibility and agility of a network.
  4. The steps focus on one, single change objective in a linear fashion, whereas the accelerators are constantly seeking new opportunities and initiatives to capitalize on.
The chart illustrates these four key revisions.

The 1996 Process had leaders at the top unleashing an early burst of energy - ‘urgency’ and ‘power’ and ‘vision’. Then after Step 5, it was a rather straight-forward process delegated to managers lower down the hierarchy - ‘plan’, ‘consolidate’ and ‘institutionalize’.

The 2014 Process is different. It leverages how things really work in complex adaptive systems. The “volunteer army” is not top-down and self-organizes in networks that go beyond company boundaries. Betting on one big change idea in an uncontrollable world is high risk. The smarter play is to test many initiatives and monitor what positives and negative consequences emerge. Design the initiatives to be small to keep undesirable results from doing unrecoverable damage. Capture the desirable results by celebrating the wins. Accelerate change by non-linear ‘scaling’ not linear ‘cloning’. That means 'One size does not fit all.' Diversity is acceptable and encouraged.

Does the 2014 change model replace the 1996 change model? Not necessarily. It depends on the situation. The 1996 process is applicable in a work environment that is stable, predictable, and repeatable. A sequence of events can be predesigned in which vision and strategy can be decided up front, leading to a plan that sets out key measures, which then dictates front-line activities.
If an initial assessment reveals elements of turbulence, confusion, novelty, and ambiguity, the 2014 process with 8 accelerators should be used.

Changes at Tendency Level
srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
Tendencies are more powerful than the individual or collective will. It is even more powerful than the nature of environment created. Does change at tendency level requires a new change approach?

Change Phases Approach Depends a Lot on Created Sense of Urgency
Joy S. Pillejera, Manager, Philippines, Member
A lot depends on the leader's “created” sense of urgency.
What if the opportunity seen is not correct?

Strategic Change at the Organizational Level
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
@Srinivas: The Inside-Out change model I use starts with Personal ⇒ Team ⇒ Organization ⇒ Community ⇒ Society. Kotter’s approach is designed for STRATEGIC CHANGE AT THE ORGANIZATION LEVEL. Can you further elaborate what you mean by change at the "Tendency" level?

Crossing the Chasm (Geoffrey Moore)
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
@Joy S. Pillejera: In Geoffrey Moore’s book Crossing the Chasm, he places Innovators and Early Adopters as people who see the opportunity as correct and prepared to move forward. On the other side of the chasm are the resistors: Early Majority, Late Majority, and Laggards. They do not agree with the opportunity sought.
Kotter’s aim is to get them to cross the chasm to build momentum.
My preference is his 2014 model, since it gives resistors a voice.
In an uncertain, unpredictable world, no one can flat out say an opportunity is incorrect. Conceivably the voices could be strong enough to influence the leader that the big opportunity sought isn't totally incorrect but with some shaping can be improved.

Exploring Further Into the Personal Being
srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
@Wong: You would agree we behave in a particular way, despite our likes and dislikes. However if we take an integrated approach and work on the tendencies at all layers the being is comprised of (physical, intellectual, negative emotions, positive emotions, conscious, subconscious, guidance, engagement and achievement of complete focus), one would achieve the desired objective despite the conditions which the external environment has to offer.

Personal Beings in a Complex Adaptive System
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
@Srinivas: I agree that we have a tendency to behave a certain way based on past experiences. That is, “this has worked for me before” or “I’m good at doing this.” Every person in a complex adaptive system is an autonomous decision-maker inclined to follow one’s tendencies. The aim is to evolve the self-serving behavior of autonomous agents to enable successful outcomes to emerge. Working on tendencies means to me changing the relationships and interactions people have with each other.

Working on Tendencies
srinivas, Lecturer, India, Member
@Gary Wong: It seems recent research corroborates the findings that 95% OF OUR BEHAVIOR IS SUBCONSCIOUS DRIVEN. It how we are wired in the being… However the experiential system states that 5% window is sufficient to have a desired outcome basically it is achieved by conversation and disassociation of tendencies.To me an adaptive application may also enable such a conversation using the application of artificial intelligence concepts.

Vision and Focus
Gregory Johnson, Coach, United States, Premium Member
Having been a John Kotter follower for many years, these updated 8 Accelerators in addition to the great and historical work regarding organizational dynamics reinforce the discipline to become and to remain FOCUSED. The object of being focused is given birth through preparation and VISION.
The leadership discipline required to be successful with this process is held in the management of both the unconscious mind and the conscious mind. This is a great resource for every professional setting no matter whether it is a for profit setting or a non-profit setting.
Great bit of information to look deeper into for each of us.

Strategic Change - 8 Accelerators
Akuru Gabriel, Entrepreneur, Nigeria, Member
Thanks for sharing the article on 8 accelerators for strategic change. It is so insightful and apt for the dynamics of today's business and management. As a consultant focused on quality in the education sector, I find this article a lifeline of some sort. My late employer used to say and I quote: "Little things make for perfection and mastery but perfection is not a small feat" - Brown Etonye.

Vision, Opportunity and Obstacles as Motivators of Organizational Change
Tamas Schauermann, Career Consultant, Hungary, Member
It was interesting to observe, that in the original version opportunity didn't play any role, and the 5th point only contained the “obstacle” element. As “opportunity got added to the model, the 5th point has become much richer, as both vision and opportunity found their way into that sentence.
This reminds me one of the ideas of Bobb Biehl, who suggests, that there are three types of people with regards to motivation. One is motivated by goals (vision), one is motivated by problems (obstacles), finally there are those who are motivated by opportunities. The procentages are something like 15% for Vision, 80% for problems and 5% for opportunity-driven people. One of the obvious things to do is to have all three mentioned in any kind of a motivational effort to get everyone on board. But the other interesting aspect is that you need to teach everyone to evaluate and prioritize by the vision, this way you can drop the irrelevant opportunities and problems, and only capitalize on the useful ones.

Careful with #6. Quick Wins
Towlson, Manager, Zambia, Member
Be careful with number 6… Quick wins can sometimes have unintended consequences. Quick wins normally involve addressing and cashing in on quickly solving obvious issues. However, the results can be sub-optimal with negative impacts or unintended consequences somewhere else within the system or process. So what constitutes "quick wins" needs to be discussed in greater detail.

Careful with Quick Wins in Organizational Change Efforts
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
@Towlson: I agree, quick wins are powerful motivational mechanisms, but they are double-edged swords that can be quite dangerous too.
Don't let the word "quick" fool you: quick wins (should) involve results that can be achieved in a short time frame and will yet have a substantial positive motivational impact. But obviously quick wins should NOT be prepared and planned for in a quick or even sloppy way.
Rather, because they are such important motivational tools and indeed as you say can have negative, unintended side effects, they require careful, professional preparation and planning.
The last thing you want is that your quick win becomes a show stopper of your strategic change effort!
For more on quick wins see also best practice: New Management Position? Avoid Quick Win Traps (Premium).

Credibility of Kotter's New 8 Accelerators for Strategic Change
Graham Williams, Management Consultant, South Africa, Premium Member
Perhaps fiddling with/ "updating" a model or paradigm to try and maintain its credibility in new circumstances is an example of not changing... And throws some doubt on the credibility of the model?

Models are Partial Representations of the Real World
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
@Graham Williams: Models are designed to represent the real world. Kotter realized how the world has become more turbulent and uncertain due to complexity. Instead of throwing doubt on model credibility, I suggest his approach is evolving to stay current with the unpredictable times we face.

Kotter's New 8 Accelerators for Strategic Change are Important
Sihol Situngkir, Member
It is a critical time to elaborate on organizational change efforts in more detail, considering the substance of (external) changes today related to disruption due to the application of massive information technology in all aspects of life and business, and due to global business competitiveness.
Moreover, the substance of change itself should be tied to the needs and expectations of millennial generations in today's world.

Transparency in the Change Process
Bjarni S. Jonsson, Business Consultant, Iceland, Member
I agree with @Jaap de Jonge on quick wins. I think transparency is also very important. Making the progress of change transparent to all creates a feeling that the system is actually moving and in the desired direction. Or, alternatively, indicates whether the system is at standstill or going in the wrong direction. Complete organization-wide transparency of aligned actions and how they are contributing to the overall change is what I think will deliver more than quick wins.
So I would interpret accelerator 6 as the urge to celebrate visible progress; quick wins as well as overall progress of implementing the change in the whole system.

Transparency in the Change Process
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
@Bjarni S. Jonsson: that's a very good point you are making… It also fits in our current informed world. Transparant communication of all actions, results and overall progress of the change effort, probably in the form of some special intranet site and/or regular information meetings, is as important as quick wins and might be given more emphasis in Kotter's next version 😃. Perhaps a 9th accelerator?

No Model can Represent the Real World in all Instances
Graham Williams, Management Consultant, South Africa, Premium Member
@Gary Wong: Someone once said that models are like lamp posts - a drunk may use them for support, but they are intended for illumination. No model can represent the real world in all instances. So I prefer to avoid promoting anyone's model, and rather rely on useful insights from a number of models. Just saying...!

All Models are Wrong
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
@Graham Williams: I like eminent statistician George Box’s quote: "All models are wrong but some are useful".
Just like lamp posts come in various designs, so do change models such as ADKAR, AIM, Conner. And we have self-proclaimed expert bodies (ACMP, CMI) issuing change professional certifications if you buy into their standards.
The key takeaway is that you must understand in what system you are implementing change. While the change models mentioned above are effective in linear systems, they will struggle with complexity.
As Nobel prize winner Murray Gell-Mann states: “The only valid model of a complex system is the system itself”.

This Approach Used to Work Well, But I don't Know How it Can Cope with the 'modern World
Ivan Kohlinsky, Management Consultant, United Kingdom, Member
I am familiar with this approach as it used to be the (undeclared) approach of management consultants in the 70s - 00s, recognising the behavioural science side of organisations with 'hot buttons'/'quick wins', emotional involvement and 'sign on' at all levels. But I fear that now, in organisations, as in society, small (often undemocratic) but very vocal pressure groups can destroy the emotional momentum and 'sign on' to the vision etcetera that this, and most change programmes rely on.
I would be interested, being out of this world for sometime, in how the modern day practitioner handles what can be negative destructive forces.

Handling Negative Destructive Forces
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
@Ivan Kohlinsky: I believe a modern day practitioner needs to understand how complexity adaptive systems (CAS) work. Our initial task as change practitioners is to map the CAS through the power of Storytelling. What are the constraints, attractors, dominant patterns at play? With a map we make sense of the Present and use it to chart a desired direction and deal with negative forces.
A lesson I’ve learned is to never directly attack a pressure group. That only gives them more fuel. The key is to influence followers and dissipate the energy followers give them. The CAS map can point to Adjacent Possibles”, places where followers will find it easy to get to and be just as attractive if not more than what the pressure group is offering.
It's also appreciating as a change agent there could be "good positive intents" behind "negative destructive" forces. Nudging the small pressure group to move to an Adjacent Possible that everyone desires co-evolves the CAS as well as the map. John Kay explains in his book Obliquity why our goals are best achieved indirectly. Moving from Adjacent Possible to another Adjacent Possible is obliquity in action.

Kotter Any Real Change from Steps to Accelerators?
Maurice Hogarth, Consultant, United Kingdom, Premium Member
No model provides one right answer (for there is no such thing in management); most managerial-management situations need some variation of or mixing and matching from more than one approach.
How are the Accelerators concurrent? Logically they cannot all happen concurrently: 2 can only happen after 1; 3 must come before 4, etc. They seem to be no more than a re-write of the original 8 Steps, within a narrative reflecting a different operational situation/culture. Changing ‘create’ to ‘build’; ‘develop’ to ‘formulate’ etc. with some additional descriptive words – while the essential nature of the tasks seems unchanged – is hardly a new concept or model.
Can an organisation rely on the strategic changes needed to capitalise on an opportunity being achieved by ‘volunteers’? Surely the tasks necessary to take advantage of a business opportunity will be delegated through the business plan golden-thread within job descriptions.

Use Accelerators for Speed, Agility and Innovation, Not for Stable Conditions
Gary Wong, Consultant, Canada, Premium Member
@Maurice Hogarth: My understanding of "Run the steps concurrently” means at the same time you have a workforce keeping the existing business going, you also have a group exploring emerging opportunities. This is the co-existence in one organization of a traditional slower-paced, stable hierarchy and a more agile, more network-like structure moving rapidly in a turbulent, complex environment. Kotter calls this a "Dual Operating System".

Change 4 Change????
Gregory Johnson, Coach, United States, Premium Member
I am a Kotter fan for a long time and find the new 8 Step resource beneficial to accelerate a project of task to an outcome. From my perspective it is an ACCELERATOR.
However, as an "old school" coach/consultant, I try to take clients to their foundation first. Their foundation is where they look at their organization and the elements that drive it. So, as part of my initial conversation I nearly always utilize Kotter's Organizational Dynamics from the 80's. Utilizing this tool when engaging new clients has given me nearly instant credibility, by walking them through the seven 7 Centers of Energy that they immediately can connect with.
Nothing against the current work, and I believe it has great purpose in getting things done, but the foundation of an organization is critical for the Leader prior to speaking about specific planned projects.

Accelerators to Be Concurrent with Current Activities, no Kidding
Maurice Hogarth, Consultant, United Kingdom, Premium Member
@Gary, I understand and accept the dual speeds aspect and am not criticising the model.
Grammatically ‘…run the steps concurrently’ means that the steps are concurrent, not that they are concurrent with something else. To avoid such ambiguity the phrase would need to read something like: “run the steps concurrently with the normal day-to-day working of the organisation”. Regardless of the comparative speeds etc. of the processes I would expect such dual or tandem working to be the norm in any organisation.
My concern with such a statement is that it is telling me that I should NOT stop doing the day-to-day work while implementing some major strategic development, that these should be ‘concurrent’?! If I was told this I would feel that my intelligence was being insulted. If, as a consultant, I said this I should expect to receive short shrift.
So I stick with my understanding that the changes, as described, seem essentially that of language rather than nature of activity.

How Kotter's New Accelerators Should Be Run Concurrently and Continuously
Jaap de Jonge, Editor, Netherlands
@Gary and Maurice. In my opinion:
  • Kotter's original 8 "steps" are supposed to be run in a rigid, finite, and sequential way (first step 1, then, only after the step was performed successfully, proceed to step 2, etc.). Appropriate for traditional, stable, predictable circumstances.
  • Kotter's new 8 accelerators are supposed to be run concurrently and continuously, non-sequential, at the same time. Appropriate for complex, VUCA circumstances.
Yes this is indeed needed in VUCA circumstances, and at the same it is very difficult for large organizations. A challenging paradox...

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