The ever-changing business environment requires companies to be able to adjust to changes. Change management requires an immense amount of energy, an accumulation of leadership experience, well-developed skills, and significant knowledge. A qualified leader should be aware of the critical factors that influence the success of the process of organizational change directly.
To facilitate the process of change in the contemporary companies, some thinkers accumulate their knowledge and create theoretical frameworks of successful change. In 1996, John Kotter presented his 8-step model of change, which has later been modified by his management consulting company, Kotter International. In this model, the author emphasized such critical success factors as employee engagement, effective leadership, employee commitment, productivity, and motivation. These factors have a serious impact on the outcomes of the innovation process.
One more essential success factor is effective communication. Effective communication has, in fact, more weight than other factors since it helps the other factors to be developed. For instance, clear communication makes employees more aware of what they are doing, which increases their productivity. The ability to give feedback enhances employee satisfaction. To make communication fulfill its role in the process of change, managers should make sure that communication is effective enough.
Critical success factors: The 8-step model
Change is a complex process. The success of initiating and running change is, therefore, hard to achieve. Some factors are critical for achieving success. In 1996, John Kotter, a Harvard Business school professor and scholar specializing in leadership, first published his book “Leading Change,” in which he presented these critical factors in a form of an 8-step model that is meant to be used as a plan for performing change management in any organization (Kotter 1996).
Over time, the model developed by Kotter has been modified, updated, and further sophisticated (Kotter International 2015). At present, it includes the following 8 steps:
- Develop a sense of urgency. Without this feeling, the majority of employees work passively, with a low sense of commitment and little engagement, which results in significant losses for companies. A sense of urgency will make them engage in the work of the company more actively.
- Create a strong coalition. Rather than rely on the formalized organizational structure, a change manager should build a coalition of people, who are able to lead effectively. The presence of such a coalition is highly likely to make an innovation successful and efficient.
- Create a strategic vision and form initiatives. A well-defined mission statement is known to increase the returns of a company. Having an organization aligned around mission and vision and inspiring followers with a goal are helpful in managing change.
- Enroll the employees in a volunteer army. The innovation process would not work with but a few number of participants. The more employees are engaged, the higher is the chance of a successful outcome. For this steps, it is necessary to find out what prevents employees from engaging and what encourages them.
- Remove barriers. Having found out what prevents employees from active engagement, a change manager should destroy these obstacles. It will increase the employee productivity and commitment.
- Notice minor victories. Short-term wins should be noticed and celebrated to make employees sure that the organization is moving in the right direction and making progress.
- Keep pace. The speed of the progress should be maintained during the innovation process. It means that a leader has to adapt to any situation to be able to keep pace.
- Institute change. To make sure that the innovations are preserved, and the acquired modes of behavior are repeated, the link between success and innovations should be defined and communicated.
An analysis of the model allows to define the following critical success factors: employee engagement, effective leadership, employee commitment, productivity, and motivation. The proposed 8 steps are reasonable since the understanding of the critical success factors, on which the steps are based, is proven to bring success to the companies that initiate change. Nevertheless, it should be mentioned that the framework is developed for such innovations that would help a company to comply with the changed requirements of the business environment. Therefore, the model is not suitable for all types of change (Appelbaum et al. 2012).
In addition to the mentioned, Kotter insists on preserving the sequence of steps and not mixing them; keeping the sequence means that failing one step will make it hard to fulfill the others. Such a rigid approach may lead to difficulties or even failure in some cases, considering the differences in organizational cultures and managerial styles. In general, models that cannot be amended or adjusted to the particular conditions of an organization are difficult to implement. It may also be possible that some steps are not necessary to fulfill in a particular organization for the reason that they are already fulfilled. For instance, the mission and vision of some organization are strong and clear enough, but change is still needed, so step 3 is not necessary and should be skipped while other steps need to be followed (Appelbaum et al. 2012).
What is more, the model is unable to predict all possible scenarios. While implementing the 8 steps, a company may face difficulties and unplanned situations that it would not know how to address. As an example, the model does not include such important factors as resistance and commitment to change.
Appelbaum and others mention the examples of case studies conducted for companies that have attempted to employ Kotter’s model when performing the innovation process. These companies report the following problems: a trouble implementing all 8 steps in the consequence defined by Kotter, the necessity to make the process long-term in order to fulfill all steps, and a problem with bringing up the level of implementation of each step (Appelbaum et al. 2012).
Overall, the 8-step model can be considered successful and workable, but only as a starting point. It can be used as an initial framework, on the basis of which a leader should develop a special change management plan adjusted to the traditions and organizational culture of their company, as well as to their own style of leadership.
Role of effective communication
Among the critical success factors that impact the outcomes of the innovation process is effective communication.
Many leaders do not realize how important is the role of communication between them and employees while implementing change. Because of such attitude, they devote less energy to communication than to the financial and operational sides of the change process. It makes the success of change less likely to occur, and, in the long run, forces a company to spend more resources on achieving its goal (Baker 2007).
Communication allows employees of all levels, from a worker to a manager, to stay informed, thus making them aware of the specifics of the undertaken task, the short and long-term goals of the company, and the requirements and expectations of their superiors. In such a way, effective communication increases the ability of employees to perform tasks necessary for implementing change. Moreover, change often brings uncertainty, which hinders the working process, and only effective communication can help to prevent this occurrence (Baker 2007). Employing effective communication, a leader can explain the plans of change and the place of each of their subordinates in the change process. It is communication that creates room for change (Leeuwis & Aarts 2011). Effective communication helps to clarify the change strategy to employees and make a manager and their subordinates work in agreement, which has a strong accelerating effect on the innovation process (Baker 2007).
Conversely, not using communication as a means of facilitating the process of change causes hostility to change in employees, as well as the feeling of ambiguity. It creates an air of secrecy around the change process, which reduces the sense of belonging and commitment. Rumors are likely to form among employees in such a situation, and it is the task of a manager to clarify each issue and handle the negative or inaccurate information. Lack of effective communication can slow down the process of change because of misunderstanding, misinformation, and the absence of crucial knowledge. The things may become even more complicated in international companies, where the cultural differences already separate the employees, and the atmosphere of change only adds to the separation; only effective communication can solve the problem and create a positive environment for change. For managers, it is useful to bear in mind that the history of business knows no such case when change management has failed to achieve the goal because of over-communication (Baker 2007).
As it can be seen, the role of effective communication in the process of change is immense. However, to ensure that communication fulfills its role in the process, it is necessary to comply with the following requirements. A leader should develop a communication plan (Hrebiniak 2013). He or she also should communicate with employees affected by change face-to-face or in groups, directly. While a phone conversation or an email may be equally informative to a personal conversation, it leaves an employee less or no room for providing feedback. An opportunity to give feedback increases the employee satisfaction, which is itself one of the critical success factors. In fact, a combination of various ways of conveying a message is the most workable idea. Communication should be instant; if a manager informs employees about a change two months after a change was implemented, the communication is not effective and does not fulfill its role in change management. It is better to speak to employees before a manager plans to initiate change, if possible. The theoretical framework of the innovation process should be presented to employees in such a way as to make them comprehend it (Finch 2011).
A manager should also select a communication method that is the most suitable for their organization and situation. It is essential to consider the advantages and disadvantages of each communication method. For instance, the so-called line hierarchy, which dictates that employees receive messages from a senior level through a power cascade, make workers value messages and consider them important but is unreliable since, on the way down, a part of the message can be lost or misinterpreted (Finch 2011).
Effective communication should also work inside of the coalition that Kotter mentioned in his second step.
Finally, organizational communication should qualify for an effective one. To be effective, communication should be clear, honest, informative, regular, interactive, understandable, and two-way, i.e. not only a manager but also employees should be allowed to speak, present their thoughts, and exchange ideas, not only with a manager but also with each other. The conveyed information should be precise and relevant for each particular employee rather than vague and general since the latter can be misleading (Finch 2011).
Effective communication has a key role in change management. To make it fulfill its role, communication should be performed in an effective way and with the understanding of the needs of employees.
Due to the fact that the conditions are constantly changing, businesses have to change as well. To make the implementation of change successful, managers have to be aware of the critical success factors. The 8-step model of John Kotter is based on such critical factors as effective leadership, employee productivity, commitment, and satisfaction. Nevertheless, these phenomena are impossible to occur if effective communication is not used in a company. Effective communication allows employees to understand tasks more clearly, exchange ideas, comprehend the situation, avoid making up negative rumors, feel respected and valid. To make sure that communication fulfills its role, a leader should make a rational choice of a method and mode of communication and avoid presenting vague, general information instead of precise and relevant messages.
Appelbaum, SH, Habashy, S, Malo, J, & Shafiq, H 2012, ‘Back to the future: revisiting Kotter’s 1996 change model’, Journal of Management Development, vol. 31, no. 8, pp. 764-782.
Baker, D 2007, Strategic change management in public sector organisations, Chandos Publishing, Oxford, UK.
Finch, E 2011, Facilities change management, John Wiley & Sons, New York City, New York.
Hrebiniak, L G 2013, Making strategy work: Leading effective execution and change, FT Press, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey.
Kotter International 2015, 8 steps to accelerate change in 2015. Web.
Kotter, JP 1996, Leading change, Harvard Business Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Leeuwis, C, & Aarts, N 2011, ‘Rethinking communication in innovation processes: Creating space for change in complex systems’, The Journal of Agricultural Education and Extension, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 21-36.