Change as a Growth Imperative

If you’ve read our One Word Wows, you’ll see that we include change as one of the imperatives for business growth. Change can come in many forms and can range from the significant variety, as in change in strategy, to something less significant such as a change in a policy or procedure. Fundamentally, a business cannot grow and prosper without change, yet we see a reluctance to change as one of the most frequent growth decelerators among smaller organizations. For many reasons, many people are still embracing a twentieth century career and growth model. Business owners and executives often have been consistently successful so they ask – why change?

Sometimes these leaders have no clear vision of the 21st century, and so they don’t know how they should change. Some view all the changes (especially the economic downturn) that occurred in the early 2000s as too daunting to deal with so they react with fear. In some cases, that fear can immobilize a business owner to the point where he or she chooses to cling defensively to what they currently have. In effect, they embrace the past, not the future.

A strategy of embracing the past will become increasingly ineffective over the next few decades. Our world, our culture and our economy are changing at warp speed, so it’s better for most of us to start learning now how to cope with change, to develop our potential for growth before it’s too late, and to help our employees and our key leaders embrace the process.

So we turn to the invaluable guidance of John Kotter, a professor of leadership at the Harvard Business School and one of the most well-regarded management experts over the last 25 years. He wrote Leading Change nearly 20 years ago, yet the book’s practical advice and insights are just as relevant today, if not more so, than when he first wrote it. Most importantly, he dispels the myth that the need to lead change is solely an activity for large corporations. In our work as business advisors to smaller organizations, we understand the practical necessity for owners and executives to not only embrace change, but to lead change in order to creative a sustainable future for their companies, their customers, and their employees.

Below, we’ve outlined the eight major steps involved in the Change Process. For any business owner truly interested in growth, this process is not only vital but it’s relevant to helping you navigate change – whether you’re preparing to launch into a new market, abandon an old one, or restructure your business to compete more effectively.

The 8-Stage Process of Creating Major Change*
Foundation for Development of a Growth Vision Strategy

1. Establishing a Sense of Urgency

  • Examining the marketing and competitive realities
  • Identifying and discussing crises, potential crises, and opportunities

2. Creating the Guiding Coalition

  • Forming a group with enough power to lead the change
  • Getting the group to work like a team

3. Developing a Vision and Strategy

  • Creating a vision to direct the change effort
  • Developing strategies for achieving the vision

4. Communicating the Change Vision

  • Using every possible vehicle to communicate the new vision/strategies and expectations for implementation
  • Having the guiding coalition “role model” the behavior expected of employees

5. Empowering Broad-Based Action

  • Getting rid of obstacles
  • Changing system or structures that undermine the change vision
  • Encouraging risk-taking and non-traditional ideas, activities, actions

6. Generating Short-Term Wins

  • Planning for performance improvements or “wins” and creating those wins
  • Visibly recognizing and rewarding people who made the wins possible

7. Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change

  • Taking responsibility for changing the systems, structures and policies that don’t work and don’t support the strategy and change vision
  • Hiring, promoting and developing those people who can implement the change
  • Reinvigorating the process with new projects, themes, and change agents

8. Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture

  • Creating better performance through customer-centric and productivity-oriented behavior, more and better leadership, and more effective management
  • Articulating the connections between new behaviors and organizational success
  • Developing the means to insure leadership development and succession
*Adapted from Leading Change by John P. Kotter, Professor of Leadership at the Harvard Business School, published by Harvard Business School Press, 1996