Leading change

“A change is as good as holiday” as the saying goes.  If this was the case, change would be welcomed by all teachers but alas it is not.  In fact, I would probably place change in amongst public speaking, death and taxes on the list of fears that most people have.  Why is this the case?  Why is “this is the way that we have always done it” so easily accepted?   Personally I like change.  It is what makes my job exciting.  The frustrating element is when something I believe to be transformational falls flat with peers because I haven’t managed the change fears.  According to Seth Godin “change almost never fails because it’s too early. It almost always fails because it’s too late.”   But what do you do if it is as Seth says, too late.  I have mulled over change and change management for many years and tried to read as much as I can about it.  Through this reading, I came across John Kotter’s 8-step change model and this really resonated with me.  Maybe it was the fact that I could place the change that I was leading along the model and have an idea about the next step.  Kotter’s model is best viewed as a visual.


The eight steps are broken up into three main categories and I particularly like this as it assists greatly with project scoping.  The first aim is to “create a climate for change”, to prepare the conditions for your organisation to shift.  In step 1, we need to “increase urgency” by assessing the current reality.  We used a SWOT analysis to discover this element.  This then provided the springboard or catalyst for change.  With large scale change across an organisation, a team with enough influence and vision needs to be assembled (Step 2).  This team is then responsible for developing the right vision (Step 3).  Once the vision from the guiding team is in place, the first phase of Kotter’s model is complete.  The key to this process is not to rush.  I have been in my role for 14 months now and have spent considerable time in phase one, step two.  Without step two locked down, the vision was really hard to develop.  It felt like it was owned by a few and not all of the guiding team.  Now that the right team is in place, the vision has shifted and has distinct clarity.  We have laid the foundations for change.

In phase two, we are looking to take the vision to the masses.  This is equal parts exhilarating and terrifying.  Step 4 means the rationale and vision for change are communicated to all.  According to Les Robinson and his work with diffusion theory, our population can be broken down into 5 groups.


An understanding that your population will probably fall into one of the above categories helps with step 5, empowering action.  You know who will be on board instantly.  You know who will be extremely resistant.  The key is to know your crowd, lead by example and remove barriers to allow people teetering on the edge of change to take risks.  You are working to reach what Malcom Gladwell calls the tipping point.

“The tipping point is that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”

Malcom Gladwell

Step 6, creating short term wins helps fan the flames of motivation, engagement and buy in and helps build momentum towards your tipping point.  You are working in response to the needs of your staff, no matter where they sit on the diffusion theory spectrum to enable them to change.  Step 6 completes phase two, which could also be called your implementation phase.

Phase three is what I like to call the change sustainability phase.  You have reached a tipping point in your organisation but you want this to have ongoing, long term success.  In step 7, you are not letting up.  You are refining the policies and procedures around the change.  You are trying to reinvigorate the process and you may also be looking for new people to buy in to your vision.  Unfortunately you may not get all onboard and may find that you have staff leave.  This is for the best.  In step 8, we are looking to make the change stick.  A great measure of sustainable change is the success of that change when key leaders step back from leading the change.  Does it die, survive or thrive?

Kotter’s model has allowed me to professionally reflect on change that I have led before and to grow as a change agent and it really has CHANGED the way that I work.   I would love to hear from others who have used it in an educational context.  As always, thanks for reading.


2 thoughts on “Leading change

Add yours

  1. Resistance is the natural push against change. Important change seldom happens without it. People resist change because human beings, psychologically, physiologically, and sociologically prefer homeostasis (normal, predictable).
    Unmanaged resistance is the primary reason change initiatives fail. Resistance can be managed if you understand its nature and if you have the necessary skills. I heard this at Harvard by Jeff Howard.

    1. Thanks for commenting Andrea. This provides a clearer insight into the ‘why’ of change resistance and starts to clear up the path to take. Would have loved to hear it first hand!

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