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Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change

We’ve talked about different change models in the past, and in this episode we’re focusing on John Kotter’s 8-step process for leading change. It comes from his book, Leading change, and he also used it in his subsequent book—Our iceberg is melting—an easy-to-read fable about a group of penguins dealing with change.

Kotter’s eight steps provide a framework for groups and organisations to navigate and implement change effectively. As enablers of change, extension practitioners often play a key role in guiding farmers and other stakeholders through these steps. Let’s delve into each step and explore its relevance in our field.

  1. Create a sense of urgency: This step is about communicating the need for change and highlighting the risks of maintaining the status quo. For example, we might emphasise the increasing pressure on farmers to adopt sustainable practices to address climate changes and meet consumer demands for ethically produced food. In the iceberg book, this is characterised by Fred, the observant penguin, screaming “Our iceberg is melting!”. 
  2. Form a powerful coalition: Change is easier when led by a strong, dedicated team. Extension practitioners can act as connectors, bringing together key stakeholders, farmers, researchers, and industry specialists to drive change collaboratively. For instance, we could facilitate partnerships between farmers and research institutions to develop and implement innovative agricultural practices that make better use of technology such as artificial intelligence.
  3. Create a vision for change: When leading change, we need to develop a clear, compelling vision that outlines the desired future state. This vision serves as a roadmap, inspiring others to embrace change and work towards a common goal. For example, we might support farmer groups to document their future where sustainable farming practices are the norm, leading to healthier soils and increased biodiversity. For our penguins, this was to become a nomadic colony with no fixed home. 
  4. Communicate the vision: Effective communication is crucial in change management. As enablers of change, we should ensure the vision is communicated clearly and consistently, using various channels to reach different audiences within the agricultural community. We might use workshops, field days, and digital platforms to engage with farmers and share information about the benefits of the proposed changes.
  5. Remove obstacles: Change often faces resistance due to various obstacles. Extension practitioners can identify and address these barriers, whether they’re resource constraints, outdated policies, or cultural norms, to facilitate smooth progress. For example, they could provide training and support to help farmers overcome the challenges of transitioning to new farming methods.
  6. Create short-term wins: Celebrating small victories along the way boosts morale and demonstrates progress. To do this we can highlight early successes to show the tangible benefits of change and build momentum. For instance, we might showcase farmers who have successfully adopted new practices and seen improvements in their yields or profitability.
  7. Build on the change: To embed change, it must become part of the organisational culture. We can support continuous improvement by encouraging reflection, learning, and adaptation to ensure lasting change. Extension practitioners could facilitate peer-to-peer learning networks or community of practice groups where farmers can share experiences and learn from each other.
  8. Anchor the changes in corporate culture: Finally, to make change stick, it must become the new norm. We need to embed the new practices and behaviours into the fabric of the agricultural community, ensuring long-term sustainability and growth. To achieve this, we might work with agricultural organisations and industry bodies to update standards and certification schemes to reflect the new practices and values. For our penguins, this was forming a new Leadership council with Fred appointed as the Head of Scouts.

So there you have it—Kotter’s eight-step model for leading change. We’ve shared our insights, and now it’s your turn to join the conversation! Share your experiences with Kotter’s model in the comments below the blog post, and let us know your tips and ideas for successful change management. We value your input and look forward to hearing from you!

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Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.

Kotter, J., & Rathgeber, H. (2006). Our iceberg is melting. St Martin’s Press.

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David Bicknell
David Bicknell
13 days ago

I like this model – simple yet covers most of the steps needed. Something I learnt from the community based social marketing model is for step 5 – not only remove obstacles to the proposed change, but also put obstacles in the way of continuing the old behaviour! The obstacles could be peer pressure, or all the way to regulations and access to ‘markets’. As you progress from 1 to 8 there is also a need to have more collaborators for the change. Embedding a significant change to be reflected in a cultural change takes a fair bit of time… Read more »

Mal Cock
Mal Cock
13 days ago

Thanks again I like Kotter’s eight steps leading to change. I would include a step as a part of Kotter’s Step 3: How did we get here on this melting iceberg? In other words look at their history: birth to present time. Noting various: milestones, events, happenings, positives and negatives. Our genetics, our people and our environment all go to make us who/what we are now. This could be personal, business, group or community. I have found this process helpful in a number of ways to bring people into present time and be able to have a clearer vision of… Read more »

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