Disadvantages of the Kotter Change Theory

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van der mije, Student, Netherlands
I would like to know If someone thinks there are disadvantages to using the Kotter Change Phases theory?

  Disadvantages of Kotter's Change Phases Theory
David Coates, UK
Having used Kotter for many years, with a good rate of success, the only thing I can say is that the process is good and logical which might give you a tendency to rely on it too much. I always need to pinch myself at some stage in the process and remember there are resisters out there who might say they 'get it' but either don't, or don't want to and can be explicit or implicit in frustrating what otherwise is accepted as a good plan of action.
In short, always look out for de-railers - even if all else says we are 'green for go'.
  Disadvantage of Using the Kotter Change Sequence
Graham Cowle, New Zealand
First of all I have to say that I like Kotter's model. Thinking about disadvantages is the flip side the the advantages, I suppose: not doing the steps in order or leaving one out will mean the change will not work.
If the model is followed it could take a long time, and a business might not have that time. Also while going through each of the eight steps, if one is not worked through properly the 'resistance' to the change will beat the change program. Just some thoughts.
  Caution: Kotters Change Sequence
Victor L., Australia
My only caution with Kotter's sequence is that I have experienced major organisational backlash from a major change program, because sharing the vision and the communication timing with various stakeholders has come too late in the change cycle. This immediately gets many stakeholders off-side. I would suggest that developing a clear vision and sharing that vision through effective and timely communication should be the first 2 steps performed at a higher level & communicated immediately to others levels once agreed upon.
Establishing a sense of urgency and creating a coalition and empowering people should then follow. People that 'survive' a change process in the organisation will influence the rate and level of success by either supporting the vision or not, depending how you handled the early communication process and how transparent you were.
  Kotter Change Stages - Caution 1
David Coates, UK
@Victor L. : I hear your caution and offer a few thoughts. Timing is everything as you say and it can be self-defeating to get things moving too quickly.
In this regard, the first half of Kotter is worth thinking of as front end loading for the pre-implementation. So, how would it be if you take Kotter's stages before "communicating the change vision" as being iterative?
There is great value in working the first 3 stages in that way. Not least because from a leadership perspective too many organisations seem to struggle with the true concept of the guiding coalition. In Jim Collins' terms, you have to get the right people on the bus, and importantly get the wrong people off the bus. The guiding coalition is that means. So the guiding coalition has to be sufficiently broad and powerful enough to ensure all stakeholders are actively consulted and on board. Collins states it is important to sort out who before what, and this is matched by Kotter.
  Kotter Change Stages - Caution 2
David Coates, UK
Yet the need for all this is preceded by the sense of urgency, (which is the why). For without that why should anyone change at all?
Iteration within the initial Kotter stages is important - these are the leadership stages - and it is important to get this front end loading right. Signing off the same sheet! From "empowerment" you get into the more management related phases, which are smoothed having got the right sponsorship in place.
Seeing Kotter as adaptive and matching it to circumstances is empowering in itself. The beauty of Kotter is it provides such a powerful foundation, onto which the likes of Collins, Covey, Bridges and others can be so easily blended to suit your circumstances. Utilising such combined wisdom it is much easier to ensure stakeholders get better messages to better stay on-side.
I would not lose sight of your cautions though, they serve you well; just increase your use of your guiding coalition to make you stronger.
Great discussion, I'd love to hear more...
  Kotter Model Disadvantages (Cautions)
Stephen Rafferty, Ireland
The key disadvantage for me is that the Kotter model is presented as a linear model with no scope for departing from the defined process. I find that the reality is often somewhat different and some steps have to be revisited before moving forward. I would suggest that communicating the change cannot be underestimated and is often required at various stages of the process.
  Careful with Linearity over Sequence
David Coates, UK
Revisiting is fine and of course often necessary. Whilst the model is presented in this linear fashion, there is no intention for it to be uni-directional either.
The importance is in the sequence.
The intent is to progress each step in order… as this creates momentum to overcome inertia. It is OK to operate multiple steps at once, however skipping a single step or getting too far ahead without a solid base creates problems. So for example, without a strong guiding coalition, it is difficult to settle on more detailed strategies, and prevent mixed messages. Sometimes it is important to revisit a step. Therefore make sure you don't get too far ahead with other steps if you do have to revisit one at some stage.
  Kotter Disadvantages
Steven Locke, Australia
Kotter's model is an excellent and proven change process for organisation wide, transformational change.
It can however be too much for more local or project based changes. In these instances, my preference is PROSCI Model as it steps out some of the nitty-gritty components of this kind of smaller business change.
  Top - Down versus Cyclical Approach
David Wilson, Canada
Kotter is a top-down model. It is typically viewed as a linear approach, but it may be better to view change using a cyclical approach, which may better align with a "learning organization" or "workforce planning" model.
Kotter is a good model that identifies the basic requirements in change management, such a leadership, creating a guiding coalition, engaging stakeholders, celebrating quick wins, etc. By following the eight steps, his model provides a good process for change. Note, Kotter also suggests change needs to be reinforced and managed.
However, many people see a top-down approach as nothing more than the flavour of the month. Thus, I prefer to use the Deming and Toyota models, as they are based on continuous improvement and cyclical change.
Check out:
- Daryl Conner (1998) - Leading at the Edge of Chaos
- Peter Senge at al (1999) - Dance of Change
- Jeffery Liker & James Franz (2011) - The Toyota Way to Continuous Improvement.
  Kotter's 8-Step Change Framework
Sylvia Grant, Australia
@David Coates: Kotter's 8-Step is an excellent framework that is easily blended with other approaches. A favourite of mine is to blend Kotter's 8-Step with Prosci's ADKAR: with the 8-Step emphasizing the guiding coalition [leadership] and ADKAR highlighting the human dimension. This is similar to the way that a blend of PRINCE2 and AGILE, can produce great results in project management.
I also recommend using neuroleadership to add a finishing touch to the blended product. It works a treat!
As always the secret lies in the way the blend is implemented and whether stakeholder engagement is done effectively, in a timely manner, meaningfully, and consistently throughout the transition process until the business transformation is fully completed.



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