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Organizational Change Can Be Successful – Part 3

Organizational Change Can Be Successful

small__14421653192As we continue along with the exploration of Kotter’s eight step process to change, we already have urgency (Step 1) and the groups of people (Step 2), or teams, that will be needed to execute our change initiative. We now enter into step 3 where our focus changes to setting the vision that will guide our teams through the entire change process. A shared urgency for change may push people into action, but it is the vision that steers them in the right direction (Cohen, 2005, p. 63).

Step 3 – Get the Vision Right

Even the brightest, most motivated employees in your company are bound to fail without a clear understanding of the vision for this change. For change to be successful, it will take much more than a simple vision statement printed off and hung around the office. Consider the following approach in developing a true vision that will guide your teams through the challenging times that lie ahead:

Clarifying why a vision is necessary

Assuming you were successful in Step 1 – Increasing Urgency, you have started planted the seeds about why this change is needed. Perhaps it’s because global pressures are increasing competition or a recent merger is underway and without this change, inefficiencies due to the inabilities of both companies to work together threaten your newly formed organization’s survival. What ever the reason for this change, you have probably formed a vision of a much stronger company once the change has been executed.  One of the primary outcomes of this step is a vision statement, a statement that conveys to people the positive possibilities or the dire consequences of maintaining status quo (Cohen, 2005, p. 65).

Developing the vision

Unlike what many executives believe, developing a vision should involve many people with different perspectives. The recipe usually calls for both rational and creative thinking mixed in with just enough data to ground the vision to reality. From wherever the reason for change starts, whether it’s the boardroom or the mailroom, it’s important that it eventually gets drafted and then distributed to all the different players either directly involved in executing the change or impacted by it. You can expect this to be an iterative process where updates will be made and new feedback will be collected.

Analyzing the vision

Once the vision has make it through all the rounds of review, feedback and editing, you want to do some analysis on the vision to ensure the vision is built on a solid foundation. The analysis process may include the following:

  • External assessment of your industry and a SWOT (Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats) of your organization.
  • Internal assessment to identify core competencies, processes and performance that can be capitalized on during the change effort.  If lacking in key areas, you may decide to put the change effort on hold or scale it back.
  • Customer/constituent needs assessments to understand how they will benefit from such change.
  • Establish benchmarks that will be used to monitor the success of the change throughout the life of the change.

Clarifying the role of the senior guiding team

Before finishing up this third step on vision in Kotters’ process, it is important to take the opportunity to clarify the role of your senior guiding team. You’ll recall from my last blog post that the senior guiding team consists of individuals that have the influence and authority to make decision for the divisions/functional areas they represent. They are the ones that set the vision and engage the organization throughout the change process. Unlike your traditional steering committee that reviews budget and periodically status, the senior guiding team is actively involved in developing and implementing change. It is clear that they play a critical role in ensuring that the vision is known by all and in particular, how the new vision may change day to day activities of those in the organization.

Although at this point you may be thinking the hard work on the vision is now behind you, it’s really just beginning. The inner circle now knows the vision for the change but what about everyone else in your organization? This is where the importance of the senior guiding team comes in as they are tasked with the critical role of communicating the new vision to the organization. We’ll go into more detail about communicating vision in our next blog posting as we discuss Kotter’s fourth step in the change process – Communicating for Buy-in.


Cohen, D. (2005). The heart of change field guide. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.


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