Kotter's New 8 Accelerators for Strategic Change

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Gary Wong
Consultant, Canada

Kotter's New 8 Accelerators for Strategic Change

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.

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  Gregory Johnson
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  Jaap de Jonge
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