Don’t just Lead Change. Accelerate !

Leading Change : Why Transformation Efforts Fail by Dr John Kotter is seminal work in the field of change management. It put forth a step by step guide of what to do if we want lasting change. However is step by step really good? Step by step approach is fundamentally linear thinking in a deterministic world. However our world is no longer deterministic. The business world is now complex and organizational systems more often display attributes of than linear systems. More so in a knowledge economy. So does the model hold good even today. Not really. The eight step process that was described in “Leading Change” does not fit exactly the business and social environment of today where the pace of change is dramatically different than was in the 90’s. The hierarchical organizational structure model is quite out dated and not built for an era that requires agility at the speed of thought.

Though the underlying principles would still reverberate today, applying the steps literally won’t yield much results creating the need for a new model that helps drive change in the new world.

It is heartening to see that the model is enhanced by none other than Dr Kotter himself. An updated model was published by Dr Kotter in the HBR 2012 article Accelerate and later elaborated in the book Accelerate!

The enhanced model shows a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the organizational system as a complex adaptive system as is very evident from the changes done in principles that guide the 8 step process.

In a complex adaptive system, large number of elements and their rich interactions more often happening in a non linear way are the norm. This is well acknowledged and accounted for when the principle “drive change with a small powerful core group” makes way for “Form a large volunteer army from up, down and across the organization to be the change engine”. It is very clear that a small team cannot “drive” changes anymore especially in a workplace where the employees are more and more disengaged from the organizational goals.

As the “The surprising truth about what motivates us” showed very visually and powerfully, the motivators in a knowledge economy are vastly different than the the conventional workplace. Volunteer army can be raised only if the leaders are able to appeal to the heads and hearts of the employees – with a call that triggers them into action to do something beyond their regular call of duty and move ahead from the status quo.

The new model also recognizes power of the informal “network” which is much more influential than the formal “hierarchy” when it encourages people to ” Function in a network flexibly and agilely outside of, but in conjunction with, a traditional hierarchy”.

Last but not the least, the call to “Constantly seek opportunities, identify initiatives to capitalize on them, and complete them quickly” is great because these systems are non deterministic and the interactions are non linear. Things get irrelevant pretty soon and the process/tool you are trying to perfect might not be needed at all in the future. The window to recognize, execute and capitalize on the “big opportunity” is narrower than ever.

The need to transform is more critical than ever before. Its transform or perish. It is but essential that we will approach the problems of a newer world with tools that are based on a better understanding of our world.

Change is anyways happening. What we need is a way to Accelerate our adoption efforts towards a state that see constant change as the new status quo.

Hrishikesh Karekar

Hrishikesh is an enterprise agile coach with interests in varied disciplines. Frequently writing on Agile and Lean related topics, he also occasionally ventures into other stuff like Artificial Intelligence as well..