I am picking on Harvard because John Kotter is prof Emeritus there and he has been the master of the famous 8 steps of Change: create a sense of urgency, build a guiding coalition, form a strategic vision and initiatives, enlist a volunteer army, enable action by removing barriers, generate short term wins, sustain acceleration.
If you are not familiar with Kotter’s steps (how was your trip to Mars?) you will have not noticed that these are the new version of the old steps of 1996. Kotter has changed the terms and the pace. He now believes, promotes and sells (successfully) ‘acceleration’, and a less linear view of change. Actually he thinks that many of those can be done simultaneously.
Run the steps concurrently and continuously
Form a large volunteer army from up, down and across the organization to serve as the change engine
Function in a network flexibly and agilely outside of, but in conjunction with, a traditional hierarchy
Welcome to 2014, or 2015. The ‘run the steps concurrently and continuously’ has taken around 19 years to materialise as a piece of advise, as his website says, ‘after extensive research’. This non-accelerated discovery can only be matched by Vatican speed.
Viral Change™ was first published in 2006, reedited in 2008, and contained the fundamentals of a bottom up change approach, dealing with the non-linear nature of the organization, and mastering the combination of behaviours, influence, the informal organization, stories and what we call backstage leadership™. The alignment with management was there in the form of what we called World I and World II in Homo Imitans (2011). We have no ‘steps’ in Viral Change™ . We do this as we would run a social movement or a social campaign. We’ve been here 8 years earlier.
To be fair, many other people have been here before. More recently the always insightful and solid critical thinker Jon Katzenbach with his ‘Leading Outside the Lines’ (2010)
Hidden in Kotter’s sudden epiphany is still a heavy assumption of sequence and linearity, even after the ‘run simultaneously’ bit. What is more worrying is an invitation to even bigger corporate flash mobs of lots of people now getting together and doing something at once. The (smaller) coalition of 1996 is now ‘a large volunteer army’ in 2014.
My ranting can be seen as (1) frustration, (2) envy, (3) love of ranting, (4) ego, (5) combinations. Let me borrow from Obama’s latest State of the Nation address: ‘I don’t have more campaigns to run’, and twist it. I have only one more campaign to run: the injection of creative thinking and common sense in the overdue Reinvention of Management, and the abandoning of ‘management models’ as models. Kotter was a brilliant 20th Century instigator of change thinking. The 20th Century ended 15 years ago. Kind of.
I understand that with this criticism of New-Kotter-Same-Kotter I am producing at least two reactions. Number one, my chances of being called to become a professor in Harvard have gone. So I will stop checking the mail. Two: I will irritate many people who use the word Kotter as a gateway for legitimization. And that includes friends and people I have lots of respect for. Sorry, sorry, sorry.
I repeat my mantra: look outside management for management models. For change, that means social movements, political campaigns, emergent mobilization of people, and digital/social activism. Harvard research, not in the list.
No revolution will ever be made with Kotter steps. Not the 1996, not the 2014 steps. Yet, maybe ‘revolution’ is not the target of industrial reinvention, so, no problems here. But, dare to ignore it. For great management, read Kotter, say thanks, and then look outside the window. TV evening news is also a good bet.
Wow! I would have loved to live in Boston!