Leading Change By John P. Kotter (Reaction Summary for Chapters 5 - 10)
Effective Leadership in review of Leading Change by John Kotter (Ch. 5 - 10)
Chapter 5 focuses on creating a congruent vision within your organization. A leader must be versatile with how they inspire this vision and implement it into the day to day processes of the company. Kotter mentions authoritarian rule and micromanaging as being effective, but he also notes that these styles of management are typically only effective in maintaining a current system that has already been established.
To effectively grow and expand a company you must create a vision and inspire it in others. This can only be done if that vision is communicated properly. But to clearly communicate the vision you must first clarify the vision within yourself.
Clarifying Your Vision
Kotter lays out three basic questions that will help you clarify your vision. You must ask yourself, if this vision is made real:
- How will it affect the customer?
- How will it affect the stockholders?
- How will it affect the employees?
These are the three feet of the tripod that any enterprising company rests on. When you determine a direction that will work well for all three of these components, then you can solidify that vision and begin implementing it into the organization.
When communicating this vision, it is not only important to paint the picture, but to give it life and put it in motion as well. To do this effectively you must create a sense of urgency. But creating a sense of urgency can be done in many ways and while all may seem effective at first, authoritarianism and micromanaging are not so much in the long run when it comes to developing change.
The Tree Analogy
I truly enjoyed the example of the leader getting his employees under the tree. The first showed the authoritarian style of the boss putting himself where he wants the company to be and screaming everyone into motion, which will, out of fear, create some sort of a sense of urgency, but it will be laden with reluctance. The second shows the leader overbearingly instructing every step the employees take, which only insights a sense of urgency because the boss is in their face giving them no other option but to move their way. But the problem with this is that it is stressful to the employees in a counterproductive manner, breeding reluctance while also wasting time and energy that the leader could be spending on the intellectual processes of his or her role. The third is clearly the best form of leadership with the leader telling everyone that a storm is coming and the tree (The vision) will provide them shelter and apples (incentivizing benefits). This example reminds me of the quote from Julius Ceaser “There is a tide in the affairs of men, which taken at the flood, leads on to fortune. Omitted, all the voyage of their life is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat. And we must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures.” The storm, the tide, they are all the opportunity any company has and it’s the leaders job to present it in a way that will show his employees what they will enjoy if they take advantage of it, and it’s the leaders duty to show them when and how.
I’ve experienced these various forms of motivation through my career in the mortgage industry. I’ve had the loudmouth boss who liked to bring people in his office and make them fear for their jobs or even humiliate them right on the sales floor. I’ve also had the overbearing boss who would linger from desk to desk peering over your shoulder and scrutinizing everyone’s calls and paperwork. But the best and most effective leader I encountered was Greg Englesbe, who I’ve written about before. He led his team with a finesse that embodied the three questions to clarifying vision that were mentioned by Kotter.
Greg would spontaneously give these speeches at points throughout the week that would clearly define his vision to progress the company and he would do it in a way that stirred the enthusiasm of everyone. He would start by complementing everyone on their hard work and even individually acknowledging certain leaders among the sales team. He would then open up to his aspirations for expanding, and how it would benefit everyone. He would also acknowledge the clients and the gravity of what we were dealing with, the fact that we were handling something that was precious to them and likely the most expensive thing they would ever have. He said it with a passion that really made us care about what we were doing beyond just numbers. Finally, he would incentivize us with friendly sales competitions that included outrageous prizes like boat trips and all-inclusive vacations. But he would also give us a taste of his vision by taking everyone out in Philly while buying up whole sections of the clubs for us to show us how we could live if we followed his vision and path.
Finesse in Communication
Kotter goes on to explain how to achieve this style of finesse while clearly communicating the vision with seven simple but effective steps.
- Keep it simple - Long, drawn-out speeches and flashy buzz words can become confusing. It’s best to be clear and concise about what you want and how you believe it can be achieved.
- Use Metaphors and Analogies - The best way to explain anything to anyone is by relating it to something they already know very well.
- Use Many Different Forums - Large group meetings, memos, newspapers, posters or informal one-on-one talks. Just like marketing, your audience must see it in various ways to get a full understanding of the vision. You’re basically marketing your vision to your people.
- Repetition - Like any good marketing campaign, it must be subtly beaten into the heads of your audience.
- Lead by Example - The best way people learn how to do something is by watching others do it the way it should be done.
- Explicit Addressing of Inconsistencies - It is important to monitor how your message is being received, and when there is any sort of misperception it is imperative to address it and clear it up right away.
- Always Listen and Be Listened To - Make sure all your employees have a voice. This will ensure that they feel like they are part of the catalyst to the motion and not just getting dragged along. People listen more attentively when they believe what they are doing is important and the information they are receiving will help them do it better.
Kotter then goes on to talk about empowering your people to be effective in achieving the vision that is set forth. He notes the importance of analyzing all the obstacles that employees may face and removing the as soon as possible. When day to day procedures become frustrating employees become reluctant and stop producing quality work.
He says the two common reasons why companies fail is because they don’t think through what will need to change (i.e. attitudes, skills, behaviors… ect.) and they don’t recognize what is needed to change (i.e. time management, money, new training, proper facilities, tools and infrastructure…ect.) He also mentions the importance of re-structuring the business to be compatible with the vision. You cannot achieve a new level of success with old ways of business.
Chapter 8 goes on to discuss short term wins. I know when I have a vision of something for my future, no matter how well I explain it to someone they will never intrinsically understand it, feel it or truly see it the way I do. This is why it is so important to maintain a consistent flow of short-term wins for the team to keep them motivated int the right direction.
Bringing a vision to life is typically a long-term process that sculpts something larger than any one employees’ career. But employees need gratification that pertains specifically to their efforts. They need to be shown firsthand that their work matters. This can be done many ways such as monthly goals with added bonuses, company outings, new equipment or improved facilities. Whatever the choice for these short term wins they must be sure to embody three characteristics. They must be visible, unambiguous as to why they are receiving the win and clearly related to their efforts. This will ensure that they are on the right track.
As the company evolves through its progression and you’re able to maintain these consistent short-term wins, it’s important to consolidate these gains and continue trimming the fat of the company by eliminating things, people and processes that are harmful to the company. By “consolidating gains” I believe Kotter is referring to the continuation of changing and elevating those of your team who are working in congruence with the vision set forth. As this change occurs the team must be taught and facilitated to be versatile in their skillsets and work interdependently with other departments. This will create a more cost efficient and thriving organization.
The atmosphere created by these methods will create an invaluable, organic culture that will absorb new employees and train them through experience. My favorite quote of chapter 10 was “Often the biggest lessons don’t come in a training session or a manual for new employees. The day you say something in a meeting and a stony silence comes over the group – that is influential.” When the culture of the company embodies the values and principals that lead to your vision, all those who do not follow suit will eventually, and more often quickly be weeded out, which will in turn protect the health of the organization.
The culmination of these chapters effectively portrays how to not only develop and realize your vision in depth, but to effectively convey it to your organization and inspire the same vision to create an organically growing and thriving culture that will continue to grow your business out of enthusiasm and care and not fear and half-assed reluctance. You must first realize the vision clearly, then present it in a way that will make others realize it too. This is the key to create not just a business, but a thriving entity.