Stage 7 of the 8-Stage Process of Transformation
Transformation Across the Organization
Part of our Series on Leading & Adopting Change
As we shared in the previous article, short-term wins are vital for the success of a long-term transformation effort. After each victory, it’s important to celebrate the hard work your team has done, yet at the same time, to use that energy to start the next project. Beware of big celebrations, which spread the message “We’ve done it! Everyone can relax now,” because as soon as people begin to believe they have arrived, complacency can begin to creep in, and urgency is lost.
Major transformations take a long time, and there are several factors that can slow down or stall this process:
- Turnover of key leaders
- Celebrations that communicate “the task is done”
In a very short time, years of work can be undone. Instead, during Stage 7 of transformation, leaders must do 3 things:
- Relentlessly use small successes to renew urgency (remind everyone of the ultimate goal)
- Sustain acceleration or even gain momentum (use energy from wins to start new projects)
- Increase credibility (communicate how these short-term wins validate the overall change effort)
The fact is, resistance to change is always waiting just around the corner: irrational or political resistance will never go away entirely. Therefore, John Kotter’s cardinal rule in Stage 7 is this:
Whenever you let up before the job is done, critical momentum is lost and regression may follow.
When momentum is lost and complacency returns, it can be much more difficult to remove the 2nd time!
Five Characteristics of Stage 7: Consolidating Gains
For leaders and members committed to seeing change happen, the first stages can seem to take forever, because no actual changes are taking place. In fact, at the beginning of stage 7, no one will have a sense of the size of changes that will take place. As things move forward, however, change begins to affect the entire organization.A. More Change, Not Less
The guiding coalition uses credibility from by short-term wins to tackle more or bigger change projects. One change leads to another, and soon, dozens of elements are targeted for action. “If you give a mouse a cookie . . .”
- Restructuring that was avoided early on due to resistance is finally taken on
- Two new engineering projects (conceived early on) are now launched
- The strategic planning process is scheduled to be redesigned
To restructure, re-engineer, and change strategic planning, the organization will also have to alter training programs, information systems (BI), add/subtract staff, and introduce new performance evaluation systems.
B. More Help
As more elements are targeted for change projects, additional people are brought in, promoted, or developed to help. The volunteer army grows with new recruits, which necessitates going through each of the stages of transformation again, at a smaller scale:
- Growing the guiding coalition (stage 2)
- Adjusting the vision or strategies (stage 3)
- Leaders keeping vision communications front and center (stage 4)
- Empowering these new volunteers by removing more barriers (stage 5)
- Planning, measuring, and communicating about short-term wins (stage 6)
Leadership is key in integrating new people into the process.
C. Leadership From Senior Management
During Stage 7, there may be as many as ten or twenty change projects existing simultaneously. The question is, how can leaders oversee so many projects? Answer: they can’t. In successful transformations, leaders both leave management of these projects to subordinates and focus on on maintaining clarity of purpose for the overall effort and keeping urgency up.
Managing many projects can fail for two reasons:
- The old management approach is too centralized: if a few managers try to get involved in all the details, everything slows down
- Without vision and alignment that only leaders can provide, people in charge of each of project spend endless hours trying to coordinate efforts with one another
Managing many projects is possible if:
- Senior executives focus mainly on overall leadership tasks
- Senior executives delegate responsibility for management and more detailed leadership as low as possible in the organization
In this way not just merely 10 executives, but 100 or 1,000 people are available to help manage the organization’s 10-20 projects.
D. Project Management and Leadership from Below
People lower in the organization’s hierarchy must be called upon and empowered to lead and manage these specific projects. The change effort cannot depend on executives and the guiding coalition alone to succeed - every person involved in a project related to the effort must lead. It's senior leaderships' job to remove barriers, and from there project managers should take the reigns to see their part in the effort through to completion.
E. Reduction of Interdependencies
We will talk about this more in the next section, but to make change easier in both the short and long term; leaders must identify and eliminate unneeded interdependencies during this stage.
As a transformation effort moves forward, it becomes tempting to celebrate the progress made and “take a break.” It’s important that leaders overcome this temptation and sustain urgency and momentum. Until changes are embedded deep in the culture of the organization, they are very fragile.
Progress can slip for two reasons:
- Corporate culture (we’ll talk about this more in the next article)
- Interdependence created by a fast-moving environment
The Problem of Interdependence
Change happens more easily in a system of independent parts. A stable and prosperous market enables organizations to minimize this interdependence:
- Ex: Large inventories protect Manufacturing from actions in Sales
- Ex: Slow and linear product development processes allows Engineering, Marketing, Sales, and Manufacturing some degree of independence
- Ex: Lack of better transportation and communication options gives a subsidiary considerable independence from the parent company
Unfortunately, most organizations are very interdependent – what happens in one department (sales), affects others (finance, operations), and vice-versa. Strong interdependence means that an organization’s divisions are connected to one another in multiple ways and when one is changed, all of them are changed. On top of this, as a business environment becomes more competitive, organizations are forced to become more interdependent.
Government is an exception to this. Most Government Agencies are not operating in a competitive environment, and in some ways, this means change is easier for Government. At the same time, competitive forces are a key driver of transformation efforts in private companies, whereas Government organizations are largely unaffected by these forces.
Change in Highly Interdependent Systems
- Is difficult: an organization can rarely change just one element at a time, which means dozens, hundreds, or thousands of elements must be changed, requiring more people to be involved
- Is much more complicated
- Must slow down first to build up urgency and reduce complacency in each system
- Is more time consuming
Therefore, leaders should eliminate as much unnecessary interdependencies as possible by encouraging inquiries into interdependencies:
- Discover which ones are a product of history, rather than current need/reality
- Did a crisis happen a long time ago that led to a policy that is no longer necessary?
Purging these makes both the present transformation and future efforts easier.
Leadership and Successful Long-term Change
At the extreme, Stage 7 can become a decade-long process in which 100s or 1000s of people help lead and manage dozens of change process. Leadership is invaluable here because:
- Leaders are willing to think long-term: decades or even centuries can be meaningful time frames; driven by visions that are personally compelling, leaders are willing to stay the course to accomplish important objectives
- Leaders usually stay in their position for years
- Instead of giving up and moving on, leaders help launch the many change projects required
- Leaders take the time to ensure that all the new practices are grounded in the organization’s culture
If leadership is lacking, the 10-20 change projects happening during stage 7 will ultimately create chaos, and the entire transformation effort may collapse.