Brian Rast's Reviews > Leading Change

Leading Change by John P. Kotter
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May 03, 08

Read in January, 2008

In a more detailed and applicable way than the book Who Moved My Cheese (different author), Kotter touches on how to face change, saying that individuals that want to succeed in organizations in this age must be ready for it and the fact that it will come faster. Kotter presents two very good points: One is an eight-stage process to implement changes. And two, a very interesting premise about leadership vs management, which was mentioned in several other books on the Level II reading list, specifically Working With Emotional Intelligence. The table below summarizes this. In fact, in my graduate courses, the ideas Kotter writes about were mentioned frequently in a class called Strategic Management, as well as the marketing and a personal development classes. Those instructors obviously were reading Kotter’s very good ideas about vision, leadership, and management. Central to the book is an eight-stage process for creating change, which is based on a number of errors business could have avoided, says Kotter, between1986-96, had they made major changes. While the business world was looking at effects of globalization, the Corps was just beginning to face reforms with major change.
Management versus Leadership
• Planning and budgeting • Establishing direction
• Organizing and staffing • Aligning people
• Controlling and problem solving • Motivating and inspiring
Produces a degree of predictability and order and has the potential to consistently produce the short-term results expected by various stakeholders (on time for customers (public / stakeholders), on budget for stockholders (or Congress / taxpayers)) Produces change, often to a dramatic degree, and has potential to produce extremely useful change (new products that customers want, new labor relation approaches, more competitive)

As I read this book, I reflected on the Project Management Business Process (PMBP) and how that was a major change for the Corps. General Flowers must have realized that the old guard would not easily embrace the new PMBP or P2, and I wonder if he counted on turnover, at least retirements, to be part of the culture change, hoping the next gens could fire it up. 2012 was far enough off in the future that this may have been in someone’s mind.
The Corps needs management and leadership to stay relevant. Managing change is important, says Kotter. Without a competent manager in control of the transformation process, chaos can take over. More important is leading the change. Only leadership can spur the team on when motivation must be found. This is why a vision will serve the process for major change. The Corps did this with the CDs for the PMBP. Many laughed at the CDs and what was in them: PMBP proposed matrix organization, integrated processes, empowerment, and level of engagement. This is the same stuff taught in the Engineering Management graduate courses.
Leadership will only be possible if staff will take advantage of educational opportunities that are offered. For me, this is easy, since learning is my leading strength. Corps staff should realize that these opportunities do not come as easily to outside staff at consulting firms. Our work is closest to the action, so many of our employees have a lot of knowledge to share. Prospect courses and opportunities like the Planning Associates Program allowed me to develop and understand why the Corps process is setup a certain way: the result is a better ability to lead, because you can establish a vision with direction to help motivate a team. Even if you’re not the project manager (PM).
The Eight-Stage Process of Creating Major Change.
1. Establishing a sense of urgency
2. Creating the guiding coalition
3. Developing a vision and strategy
4. Communicating the change vision
5. Empowering broad-based action
6. Generating short-term wins
7. Consolidating gains and producing more change
8. Anchoring new approaches in the culture
The book was good, though I wish it was stronger in some areas. I’m still struggling with how he actually suggest allowing a financial loss to help justify creating urgency. Some of the analogies were for business, and what a government servant needs is analogies that are not tied to profit. Kotter needs more examples tied to growing stronger in government processes and saving taxpayers money. Most of what Kotter wrote could be readily adapted to some government situations, especially dealing with people. The importance of leadership and management is just as relevant in government. Business faced globalization in the 1990s. Federal government faced reforms, including the growing focus on Corps reform. I think Kotter is right about how the 21st century will have systems that depend on many performance information systems: The Corps is already seeing this in P2, NSPS, and regular customer/product surveys. Kotter also says that cultures will be more risk tolerant- this doesn’t refer to failures like for flood risk management. Supervisors will have to be more willing to delegate, that’s the risk Kotter is referring to, because empowerment will enable an organization to adapt to 21st century needs. One of the last thing Kotter mentions is the habits of the lifelong learner: takes risks, faces the failures, knows that learning from them produces bigger successes, reflects on their abilities in an honest manner, listens, and basically follows some of the advice in the other books on the Level II reading list… Those types are committed to improve themselves by managing and by leading.
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