Kotter and Cohen’s Change Model’ Learnings

Increase Urgency

According to Kotter and Cohen’s change model, it is evident that the success of change depends on the capacity of organizational leaders to create a sense of urgency. Leaders ought to encourage employees to remain vigilant and harness every chance that comes their way. One can deduce four habits that hinder change implementation. They include complacency, deviance, immobilization, and pessimistic attitude (Kotter & Cohen, 2002).

The four behaviors prevent workers from being active. In case an organization is susceptible to crisis, leaders should not begin by creating a vision. Instead, they should swiftly take a step to help the organization overcome the crisis. In case of crisis, employers are mainly concerned with job security. Therefore, assembling them to discuss organization’s vision does not bear fruits. To create a sense of urgency, organizational leaders should table facts and use strategies that are compelling.

Employees can only embrace change if they are convinced that the organization is in dire need of change. Employers can convince workers by showing them vivid and compelling evidence of external factors that signify the need for urgent change. Leaders underplay anger, fear, and complacency. The three factors contribute to the failure of the majority of organizations.

Therefore, Kotter and Cohen (2002) advise that it is imperative for leaders to come up with easy and cost-effective methods to mitigate complacency. Employees are likely to support changes if they understand their relevance. Hence, organizational leaders have the task to ensure that the goals of the intended changes are not only achievable, but also relevant and real.

Establish the Guiding Team

The majority of scholars claim that for an organization to successfully achieve changes, it has to instill a sense of urgency in its employees. They argue that the sense of urgency prompts workers to act. Nevertheless, Kotter and Cohen’s change model underpins the importance of a strong guiding team. An organization cannot achieve change with a disjointed management team. Moreover, despite how strong an executive is, s/he cannot attain change single-handedly due to time constraints. The model confirms the need to establish a strong and dedicated guiding team.

The team is supposed to comprise skilled personnel and display teamwork (Kotter & Cohen, 2002). From Kotter and Cohen’s change model, it is evident that for a business to succeed in change implementation, it has to build a team comprising individuals with organizational credibility and leadership capability. The team does not primarily have to consist of individuals from the senior management. Leaders have to consider numerous factors when establishing a guiding team. They should select people who are capable of creating a feasible vision for the organization.

Organizational leaders should build a team that can promote credibility. One of the factors that hinder change implementation is internal workings. Consequently, apart from establishing a strong guiding team, it is imperative to provide the team with timely and genuine information about the status of the enterprise. The model emphasizes the significance of leadership qualities associated with enthusiasm, community, and dream. It also underlines the importance of establishing additional groups in different departments to facilitate implementation of change and synergy between the departments.

Create a Vision

Kotter and Cohen’s change model confirms that change management depends on the ability of the guiding team to establish an apparent sense of direction. There are numerous questions that help the guiding team to decide the appropriate course to take. The majority of leaders fail because they do not help their teams to establish a clear direction or adopt a levelheaded mission. In most cases, smart people fail to take a sensible course for transformation due to the perception that change management depends on budgeting and planning.

However, Kotter and Cohen (2002) allege that planning is not adequate when dealing with extensive change. Instead, leaders ought to be keen when planning, strategizing, budgeting, and formulating a vision for the intended change. Organizations should have a precise picture of what they wish to achieve. Once the organizations establish their goals, they ought to develop logical courses of how to accomplish the goals. Many organizations fail to realize their visions because they do not apply bold strategies.

Instead, they make minor adjustments in their operation procedures. Kotter and Cohen’s change model underlines the importance of using a speedy and robust change schedule. Multiple external factors influence organizational performance. Thus, organizations should accelerate internal changes so as to cope with the external factors. Besides, organizations need to work beyond logical financial plan and shun overdependence on methodical, financial-based vision practices. Corporations cannot accomplish change by depending on visions that just reduce operation costs. Such visions are recipes of depression and anxiety.

Communicate the Vision

Organizational leaders ought to communicate their vision and change strategies to employees in order to take the appropriate steps. In addition, leaders should ensure that they persuade as many employees as possible. A vision can only become a reality if many employees endorse it and commit to working towards its realization. In most cases, employees do not recognize the need for extensive change. An effective guiding team does not try to justify the need for large-scale change.

Instead, it works towards the accomplishment of the change. The Kotter and Cohen’s change model gives a valuable lesson on how to communicate vision. Rather than trying to convince employees, leaders ought to come up with strategies to handle employee anxiety, cope with anger, and induce confidence in the vision. Organizational leaders can organize for a question-and-answer sessions to allay fears and clarify issues that might trigger resistance (Kotter & Cohen, 2002). Exuding confidence during a question-and-answer session can go a long way towards encouraging employees to embrace change. Employees are likely to resist changes that appear technocratic and intricate.

Therefore, the model suggests that organizations should use heartfelt and simple change messages. According to Kotter and Cohen’s change model, there exists a gap between actions and words that hinder change implementation. Therefore, it is important to work on the gaps so as to encourage workers to embrace change. The guiding team should regularly evaluate its actions to determine if they match with the change vision. Change management depends on personal sacrifice and commitment of the guiding team.

Empower Action

Organizations can learn invaluable lessons from Kotter and Cohen’s fifth step of change model. The step maintains that most change implementation processes fail due to pessimistic skippers. Thus, once employees start working on a change vision, it is important to ensure that their leaders are fully committed and optimistic. Employees monitor and interpret the actions, subtle vibrations and words of their team leaders during change management. Consequently, leaders ought to exude confidence when managing a change process.

Organizational leaders should acknowledge that it is hard for individuals who value status quo to embrace change. Consequently, they ought to use innovative methods to deal with team leaders that are reluctant to change implementation (Kotter & Cohen, 2002). Apart from team leaders, the fifth step brings up the idea of system barriers. Formal arrangements within an organization may act as barriers to change management. For instance, employees may resist change if it does not align with a company’s evaluations and rewards system.

The majority of workers associate rewards with money. Therefore, employees are likely to embrace a transformation if its success comes with financial rewards. However, organizations ought to realize that financial rewards do not automatically encourage employees to change their behaviors. As a result, they should use other methods like competitions and contests. Nevertheless, the methods should not be used as avenues to evade paying for performance. Another essential hurdle that the model identifies is information barrier. The model maintains that lack of information may lead to employee disempowerment.

Establish Short-Term Wins

The establishment of short-term wins helps to motivate the committed employees and put off critics. In addition, “early wins that are unambiguous, timely, meaningful, and visible ensure that change efforts do not run into severe challenges” (Kotter & Cohen, 2002, p. 30). Short-term wins act as impulsions to workers. From the sixth step of the change model, one learns that employees are quite choosy in how they utilize their time during change management. Thus, it is imperative to establish short-term wins that can be used as yardsticks.

The wins can help a guiding team to assess its strategies and visions. Moreover, the wins may emotionally reward a team and encourage it to go on with a transformation process. Appelbaum, Habashy, Malo and Shafiq (2012) allege that the short-term wins may also attract individuals who are opposed to a change. From the model, it is evident that large organizations fail to accomplish change because they focus on multiple projects concurrently. Large organizations should identify few projects that are likely to yield positive returns and work on them before embarking on others.

The success of such projects would motivate employees to embrace large-scale change (Appelbaum et al., 2012). The model underlines the importance of setting the priorities right when planning for change. An organization should start with projects that supply adequate wins so as to build a momentum. For instance, if a company wants to venture into the global market, the model suggests that it would be rational first to introduce a product and enhance it later.

Do not Let Up

A transformation endeavor gains force and bearing after the preliminary cluster of short-term successes. According to Kotter and Cohen’s change model, this acts as the most important stage in change implementation. Change agents ought to build on the impetus to achieve a vision. They also need to do away with redundant, strenuous, and upsetting tasks and avoid proclaiming victory hastily. The model proves that one of the reasons why organizations fail to accomplish lasting transformations is failure to maintain the momentum once they start realizing positive results.

The guiding team allows organizational urgency to go down. Short-term wins are meant to help an organization gain momentum and should not be interpreted as success (Appelbaum et al., 2012). An organization can hardly deal with multiple change efforts concurrently. That is why it is supposed to start with the easy ones and progressively take on the difficult change efforts. A change effort cannot be deemed successful if implemented half-way. Therefore, organizational leaders ought to persevere until they are through with the challenging change efforts.

The model underlines the importance of perseverance and courage in change implementation. No matter how employees are committed to a transformation, they might not succeed due to exhaustion. Therefore, it is important for organizational leaders to ensure that employees work on tasks that add value to an organization to avoid fatigue. They need to decide and agree on the tasks that employees should perform. Removing programs such as unproductive meetings can go a long way towards helping an organization to concentrate on relevant matters.

Make Change Stick

Brisson-Banks (2010) asserts, “Tradition is a powerful force” (p. 243). Failure to establish a supportive culture may lead to an organization falling back into its unproductive practices. According to Kotter and Cohen’s change model, it is clear that change succeeds only if an organizational leader creates a novel, superior and supportive culture. Therefore, corporate leaders ought to entwine transformation into the corporate culture. In an organizational setting, culture refers to mutual values and behavioral standards that employees uphold.

A corporation can make a change stick by leveraging culture. However, this might be difficult since the corporation would have to abolish its profoundly entrenched standards. The model suggests that organizational leaders can achieve a lasting transformation by ensuring that cultural changes are passed on to successive generations of employees. According to the model, employers should expose their workers to cultural changes immediately they are hired (Brisson-Banks, 2010). Besides, companies should establish a persuasive vision that assists employees to adapt to an organization.

Kotter and Cohen’s change model underlines the importance of considering new culture when promoting workers. Organizations ought to use an appropriate promotion strategy as it reinforces the organizational culture. An organization can uphold a culture of transformation by promoting employees who support change. In addition to promoting transformative employees, employers can establish a culture of change through recruitment.

They can achieve this goal by hiring employees who value change. Moreover, companies ought to accentuate the link between organizational success and change culture. In other words, Kotter and Cohen’s change model encourages corporate leaders to institutionalize novel methods to achieve perennial change.


Appelbaum, S., Habashy, S., Malo, J., & Shafiq, H. (2012). Back to the future: Revisiting Kotter’s 1996 change model. Journal of Management Development, 31(8), 764-782.

Brisson-Banks, C. (2010). Managing change and transitions: A comparison of different models and their commonalities. Library Management, 31(5), 241-252.

Kotter, J., & Cohen, D. (2002). The heart of change: Real-life stories of how people change their organizations. Pennsylvania: Soundview Executive Book Summaries.

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