Creating the Right Climate for Change

Now that I have finished my MBA, I have time on my hands to continue writing about what I'm passionate about and what I have learned in the past few years. I will spend the next few months sharing some of my favourite (and most effective) topics and theories.

One of my favourite models, that I have also used to good effect in the workplace, is John Kotter's 8 Step Change Model. Not only was I intrigued by this model when I studied my Leadership module, I found it remarkably easy to use in practice, in delivering long-term sustainable culture change. We have all tried to make changes in our careers, sometimes successfully and sometimes without success. But how can we structure change to make sure we are more likely to succeed?

To keep things simple for a first post, I'd like to focus on the early steps of making change work using Kotter's model, how we create the right climate for change.

Step 1: Generate a Sense of Urgency

Regardless of what we are trying to change exactly, we must start by generating a sense of urgency. Our colleagues will only buy into the journey at the early stages if they recognise the need to change and more importantly 'feel' the need to change. This can be done in a number of ways, but I suggest they include the following.

  • Utilise customer feedback, particularly that which identifies shortfalls
  • Point out and highlight areas for urgent change
  • Involve the team in discussing opportunities
  • Benchmarking against other businesses and industries


As a leader we must take the initiative, plan how we will generate this urgency, then make sure it continues as we make progress. This will help as we build our team that will drive the change.


2. Build a Guiding Coalition

Very early in the process it is important to make sure the right team are in place to drive the change. People may naturally 'drop off' as you raise the bar, or simply feel they are 'not on the bus' as we say in leisure. But for those who stay along, it is important to ensure the right people who are bought into the changes stay around. As for those who do not represent change, or are unable to change, it is important to change the people early. You are doomed to fail if you do not have the right people and the wrong people will only undermine your progress and sustainability. 

Not only should we choose the team to be in place, but we can identify 'change leaders' who can support you in the implementation and change. They do not necessarily need to be senior team members, or on higher salaries. What is important, is that they are the right people who are great ambassadors for the change initiative and demonstrate the right characteristics. These people should ideally be volunteers and not chosen.

  • Take quick and decisive on who are the people to drive the change
  • Do not take along passengers, we need drivers
  • Create a coalition of energised and engaged people who will drive the required changes, because they want to, not because they are told to.

With a sense of urgency and an engaged guiding coalition to help you along the way, we an start to think about where we are going and most importantly what does this look and feel like?


Step 3: Develop a Vision and Strategy

One of the biggest mistakes companies make, is to firstly develop a vision and then try to tell their employees to do this. As Pye (2005) identified, people do not want to buy into someone else's vision. It is important to make sense to our team, in their own minds, of what the goal looks like and why they should be bought into it. Leadership is therefore 'the art of sensemaking' and this is what we should keep in mind as we create the vision. Empowering employees and leaders to be involved in the creation of vision is key to sustainable change.

It is OK to give our team a steer in the right direction, that is what kind of change are we looking to make. Coupled with customer insight and evidence of the current situation, we know where we are coming from. Then it is important to involve the team in deciding the way forward and help them to visualise what the vision should be. A team that is bought into their own collective vision, are capable of amazing things. I have seen this time and again in the workplace, I didn't always know what steps I was following, but where the team were bought in I succeeded every time. So for some simple terms:

  • Involve the team in the development of vision and strategy
  • Recognise those who make a significant contribution to strategy
  • Ensure that people think of the vision not only in tangible or objective ways, but to really visualise how the goal will feel intangibly, both to the team and to the customer
  • Execute the strategy with the help of your coalition, ensuring that all processes are in support of that vision


Now with a real sense of urgency, the right people to drive the change and a real clear collective vision, you are on the right track and a solid foundation to making real long term sustainable change. This is applicable to all industries and to any area we are trying to change. Next time you are trying to make a change, start off with these simple steps and you will be at an advantage from the beginning.

Hopefully this simple first post has been of interest, I would also love to hear your feedback on my articles. Stay tuned for more of my favourite theories and methods for success in business.

Kris :-)

Kristopher Ball, MBA