Kotter and the Knowing-Doing Gap

February 1, 2010
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I couldn’t seriously have this change leadership blog without mentioning the work of John Kotter. His 8 steps for leading change model formed the basis of the knowledge and experience I personally gathered in the field, first during my MBA, then in the consulting firm where I was employed.

This recipe for success has always been present in the change projects I worked on through various ways: to help designing the change program, to help analysing problems and identifying their solutions, to get new ideas and simply to use as a checklist during the change effort. My personal learning from applying the model and from hearing senior professionals advices, has told me that:

  • The steps don’t necessarily have to be chronological…

I couldn’t seriously have this change leadership blog without mentioning the work of John Kotter. His 8 steps for leading change model formed the basis of the knowledge and experience I personally gathered in the field, first during my MBA, then in the consulting firm where I was employed.

This recipe for success has always been present in the change projects I worked on through various ways: to help designing the change program, to help analysing problems and identifying their solutions, to get new ideas and simply to use as a checklist during the change effort. My personal learning from applying the model and from hearing senior professionals advices, has told me that:

  • The steps don’t necessarily have to be chronological, ie you can do step 3 while you’re doing step 1 and in fact…
  • Step 1, creating the sense of urgency is continuous, it hardly ever ends because feeling this urgency during the whole process is what fuels people to action; and so as Kotter explains himself, it is probably the most important of all steps

It seems to me (please tell me if you think I’m wrong) that no other framework has had such an impact on the way change is lead. A lot of people, consultants firms have come up with their own model, many of which are adaptations of Kotters in 3, 5 or 9 steps.

From knowing to doing

Nevertheless, one could argue that despite the widespread use of the model, the organistations’ ability to lead change hasn’t really improved:  success rate remains stuck at a worrying 30% . What does it mean? Is the model outdated? Do we need something new?

In his excellent online community of change management professionalsRick Maurer, while looking for ideas for his next book, sparked a very interesting debate about what people felt was missing in the current literature. The conclusion was: nothing is, but what people need to do is to close the gap between knowing and doing. In other words, moving from doing the right thing to doing it right. To me that fits very much with what I’ve seen happening in organisations recently. An example of that is the necessity to generate quick wins. A lot of managers talk about quick wins but there are enormous differences in what they each call a quick win and how they actually make it happen. The same thing applies to  “involving”: “we need to involve those guys” is what we hear all the time; yes that’s easily said but how? Do you consult them, do you empower them or do you just inform them?

This knowing-doing gap is probably one of the biggest challenges everybody faces today, because all the ideas, models, recipes, tools, methodologies are available, but what do we do, practically, what actions do we take and how? This is precisely why external help is still necessary but perhaps in different ways (many of you will be more qualified than me to verify that statement): more than knowledge it’s about skills like creativity, analysis, communication, rigour, energy and drive.

Kotter 2.0

So what does this leave us with, with regards to Kotter? The model is still valid as Kotter’s own research seems to prove and we need to get better at applying it by closing this knowing-doing gap. As we enter the entreprise 2.0 era, we have lots of new possibilities to communicate more interactively, to empower and collaborate, all of which are key levers to help us implement the strategy dictated by the 8 step model.

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