When a group of executives meets the authority on leadership and change an exciting discussion is guaranteed. In an exclusive circle John P. Kotter explored his thinking on the role of executives and their teams in leading transformations. The executives had the unique opportunity to engage in an intimate exchange with Dr. Kotter and Nick Petschek (Director at Kotter) and to learn from each other’s experiences and challenges as executives.

Change as the big opportunity

The biggest shift in our thinking about change relates to the assumptions about how much relevant change is going on. Over the last few decades, businesses have faced increasing uncertainty, complexity, and a rapidly accelerating pace of change. This unprecedented speed of change started with the industrial revolution but has increased tremendously over the last decades especially due to the continuous digitization of our lives. The latest research on the science of change informs the most successful approaches to leading change that create agile and adaptable organizations.

In his dialogue with the executives John P. Kotter laid out several important insights as to what becomes essential in tackling today’s challenges:

Consider change as a constant
The concept of the 8 accelerators is backed by extensive research and remain relevant, but have to be considered as spinning plates, escaping a project based view of change towards one that sees change as a constant. This needs to be communicated by leaders over and over again. For organizations this entails agility as a core concept.

Pay attention to the distinction between leadership and management
While management relies on creating efficiency, reliability and systems, leadership is about creating and communication a vision, that people really understand and embrace with their heads and hearts. Role modeling from above is essential: As a leader you need to demonstrate and talk about the change and its urgency constantly. Therefore John Kotter recommended one simple exercise for the executives: check your calendars and ask yourself: how do you spend most of your time?

Allow for two different systems
Most successful businesses start off with high leadership and low management before moving – over time – towards the right. Eventually management takes over and they move down to low leadership and high management. Here two co-existing, overlapping systems with the second system taking a more entrepreneurial and leadership-oriented approach might help.

Create the right kind of urgency
People’s biggest mistake when it comes to change is not creating a strong enough sense of urgency around the opportunity among enough people. Often times a false urgency is created – one that relies on anxiety, anger and fear rather than excitement, passion and deep believe. However only the right kind of urgency can create the energy that sustains for a significant period of time, for some people even years.

Create a social movement around the opportunity
In order to tackle big opportunities you need a social movement within the organization where people from different areas of the company bringing their different perspectives come and work together. Their commitment and excitement serve to attract more people to the movement. Spotlighting success stories and communicating them is also essential.

Allow for organic growth
This process should be one of organic growth – don’t force it but give people a way to take action if they so choose. While there might be a need to sit down for an honest conversation with people that are sufficiently powerful to block the change, looking for opportunities elsewhere might also be a solution for some.

Pay attention to the right indicators
Concentrating on the wrong kind of indicators might create the wrong impression. Here it is essential to identify leading indicators and to contrast them to lagging indicators. Every little success that is related to the change can help win over heads and hearts – the amount of these stories are good measures as well.