Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the Legal Marketing Association’s Leadership Conference, as part of my role as Technology Committee Co-Chair for 2016. In preparation for the conference, we were tasked with reading John P. Kotter’s Leading Change. I’ll admit, I was not a huge fan of the book, though it did offer some good advice – I felt that Kotter could have said more with less, and that his Harvard degree gave him too much license for arrogance.
What WAS helpful were the chapter book reports that were presented by members of the LMA’s International Board for 2015/2016, which took us through the salient points of the book. I’ll share my notes with you here and invite you to read the book for further examples and depth.
Chapter One: Transforming Organizations: Why Firms Fail
Chapter one was all about the message that change is inevitable (I think we all know that already, right?). But because of this, we need vision, a team, and to be good communicators of the vision. Communication isn’t just about words; as the old saying goes, “actions speak louder than words.” Setting up some of the other chapters, Kotter also explains that we’ll need short term wins, and to anchor changes within our organizations (he’ll tell us how in later chapters).
Chapter Two: Successful Change and the Force that Drives It
Economic and social forces will drive the need for major change. There is a multistep process that overwhelms inertia. This process MUST be driven by leadership and not management (this theme of leadership versus management is a key one throughout the book).
Sequence is important – in the next eight chapters, Kotter details the steps for leading change (see what I did there?) and doing these steps in order is key. The steps can often be taken in tandem, but you have to be doing all of them, and you have to do them in order to find success.
Chapter Three: Establishing a Sense of Urgency
The first step in the process is establishing a sense of urgency, or a reason to change. Complacency is hard to fight against, but you have to in order to move change along. Sometimes, it seems that there’s no visible threat, so you have to identify whether you’re really measuring the right things in order to create that true sense of urgency.
Chapter Four: Creating the Guiding Coalition
The next step is to develop a guiding coalition – this is a team with power, expertise, credibility, and proven leadership. Management is needed here, but leadership is more important. What you don’t need in this step are single visionaries, egos, bureaucrats, part-time enthusiasts, or equal representation in all department meetings.
Composition is important, as is adaptability. Can you keep this going as the firm moves forward, regardless of who is part of the coalition?
As we mentioned, managers and leaders are important – managers provide plans, while leaders provide vision. Trust is the foundation, and in some cases, it will have to be assumed until it’s proven with action.
Chapter Five: Developing a Vision and Strategy
The third step is about having an effective vision, which must be imaginable, desirable, feasible, focused, flexible and communicable. Kotter also emphasizes once again in this chapter the importance of not skipping steps, as it can be tempting to start with the vision. The chapter reviewer for chapter five looked at how this applied to us as leaders for LMA and pointed out the following (which can be generally applicable as well):
- Don’t forget the vision while tending to the details.
- All stakeholders matter and have a voice.
- It will be challenging and messy.
Chapter Six: Communicating the Change Vision
You’ve got to communicate…correctly. It’s not just about talking; communicating is also about listening. We have to “socialize” change with people in a way that THEY understand. And it takes 10-15 touchpoints to get a message through.
What are the key elements of a message?
- Keep it simple: don’t use consultant-speak
- Metaphoric: use metaphors to illustrate
- Multiple forums: use different channels to reach people
- Lead by example
- Address inconsistencies
- Give and take
Chapter Seven: Empowering Employees for Broad-Based Action
Empowerment is really about removing the barriers to change, and that means you need to understand those around you – they’re the only people who will make change.
There are four barriers to change:
- Structures (historical organizational structures)
- Skills (a lack of)
- Systems (the constraints of existing)
- Supervisors (troublesome ones and passive aggressive behavior)
To deal with these, ongoing communication is critical. You want to address structural changes and make people part of the process. Training also helps, as does addressing resistant voices proactively.
Chapter Eight: Generating Short-Term Wins
We can often get so caught up in the long-term focus on the end goal that we don’t create any short term wins, but these are essential because they help to provide evidence that the sacrifice is worth it. Short term wins rewards change agents, help to fine-tune the vision, undermine any cynics, and keep the bosses on board.
Chapter Nine: Consolidating Gains and Producing More Change
Chapter nine examined interdependencies, which illustrated how one change can impact many other things. That creates a need to purge some of the obstacles that are in the way. Creating change is a marathon, not a sprint, and in this stage (stage 7), we can actually see MORE change and need more help from the guiding coalition and others. You need leadership from senior management, project management and leadership from below, and a reduction of unnecessary interdependencies.
Chapter Ten: Anchoring New Approaches in the Culture
Ah, culture. A company or firm’s culture is the shared norms/behavior and values that it has. This is something that we have to be cognizant of and stay true to in the face of change. Why is change powerful?
- It can powerfully influence human behavior
- It can be difficult
- Because it’s nearly invisible, it is very hard to directly address
Culture eats strategy for breakfast.
There are two types of cultural issues that come into play when change is happening – when new practices are grafted on to old culturse and when new practices replace old cultures.
Importantly though, cultural changes comes LAST – it’s a by-product of other things happening with time.
Chapter Eleven: The Organization of the Future
The organization of the future is all about change (no surprise there):
- There’s a persistent sense of urgency: change or die
- Feedback is key: they’re not politically correct
- Teamwork at the top: no room for Superman
- Fail forward: there’s a “culture of learning” where everyone has room to try things and adjust, and they understand WHY the end result happened (it’s about recovering well)
- Developing leaders, not managers
- Entrepreneurial spirit: empower everyone to contribute
Chapter Twelve: Leadership and Lifelong Learning
In chapter twelve, the final chapter, we “leap” into the future where we need to be risk-takers and embrace change. Embracing change is a powerful force. What that means for us in LMA (and other organizations) is:
- Affecting real change for the good of the organization
- Any discomfort is probably a good thing
- Need to believe – walk the walk, articulate the plan, demonstrate that we’er on the right path, and avoid any claims of early success
I’m curious to hear from others who have read the book (and anyone who goes ahead and reads it after perusing the above review). Also, two other book recommendations were made during the session, which I plan to read as well:
- The End of Membership as We Know It by Sarah L. Sladek (seems to be available used or on eReaders)
- Hope is Not a Strategy by Rick Page
I’m also going to add in another Hope is Not a Strategy (by Ted Gee) that deals with leadership principles and is well-reviewed on Amazon. Let’s add that to our reading lists too!