Leading Change in an Organization

Peter Doyle
By | Updated April 10, 2024 | 7 min read

Key Take Aways

  • Context for change in organizations
  • Models for change management
  • Ways to manage change
  • Kotter’s change management framework
  • 8 steps to implement change

Context for Change

First of all, I want to examine the different types of strategic change an organization can face before identifying frameworks for implementing change.

Balogun and Hope-Hailey’s model  (2008) put forward four different classifications of change that map the extent of the change required and the nature (or speed) with which the change is to be achieved (Figure 1).

The strength of Balogun and Hope-Hailey’s change model lies in its recognition of the complexity of change and the need for change designs to be context-sensitive. Because the Balogun and Hope-Hailey’s framework is context-sensitive it can be used to understand the most appropriate approach for change even if the context that it will be applied is different from what was originally envisioned.

An organization’s vision can drive the company strategy, therefore the focus for change should be aligning the company culture with this strategy. To that extent, based on the different types of strategic change, an Evolution/Adaption change type would be deemed appropriate for many organizations.


Figure 1 - Extent Vs the Nature of Change

  • Evolution: Transformational change implemented gradually through inter-related initiatives. It is where cultural change is required but this can be accomplished over time.
  • Adaption: Change undertaken to realign the way in which the organization operates and implemented in a series of steps. It can be accommodated within the existing culture and can occur incrementally.
  • Revolution: Transformational change occurs via simultaneous initiatives on many fronts. It is more likely to be forced and reactive and involves fundamental changes in both strategy and culture.
  • Reconstruction: Change undertaken to realign the way in which the organization operates with many initiatives implemented simultaneously. It involves rapid change but without fundamentally changing the culture.


Implementing Change

The next step is to identify a framework for implementing this change effectively. John Kotter (2012 p.46) examined companies with traditional hierarchies and processes that are optimized for day-to-day business but are unable to handle the challenges of strategic change.

Kotter proposes an 8 step process (Ref. Harvard Article) where organizations can avoid failure and become adept at change and states “by improving their ability to change, organizations can increase their chances of success, both today and in the future. Without this ability to adapt continuously, organizations cannot thrive”.

The key benefits of Kotter’s model are that the steps are clear and easy to understand and give guidance to the process and he makes the focus on the buy-in of employees as the focus for success. When applying Kotter’s framework to changing the culture in an organization, it would break down the 8 steps as follows:


1. Create a sense of urgency

This urgency starts at the top of the organization and the management team needs to acknowledge and reinforce the message to their staff.


2. Build and maintain guiding teams

The core of this strategy is the guiding teams which are led by the management team who maintain the message for the opportunity and should identify key members of their staff to support the message.


3. Get the vision right

Develop change initiatives around the company’s vision that are designed to capitalize on the opportunity for successful growth. This enables everyone in the organization to contribute to the opportunity.


4. Communicate the vision to create buy-in

If done correctly and perhaps with creativity, such communications will attract employees to buy into the ambition of the opportunity and share their commitment to it.


5. Accelerate movement and enable action

Accelerate movement towards the opportunity by enabling the team to work together on the vision and removing any barriers blocking the opportunity.


6. Celebrate short-term wins

The strategy won’t last long without confirmation that its decision and actions are actually benefiting the organization. Celebrating short-term wins will demonstrate proof of the strategy to skeptics.


7. Never let up

Maintain the urgency and keep learning as you go along. Continue to carry through on strategic initiatives while creating new ones to adapt to shifting business environments.


8.  Make it stick

No strategic initiative, big or small, is complete until it has been incorporated into day-to-day activities and institutionalized into the company culture.



leading change

Figure 2 – Framework for Implementing Change

What approaches can Leadership take to bring organizational change?

It is unlikely that your previous approaches will work in bringing about changes at the organizational level. As leaders of the organization, you need to bring a novel approach to introduce organizational change and enable your teams to adapt.

Let’s take a look at some leadership approaches or styles you can adopt as change leaders:

  1. Agitator – He is often the disruptor, who suggests change as the essential path to growth and then also acknowledges any grievances or resistance in the way of that change.
  2. Innovator – Innovator is the one who brings forth a plan and suggests the next steps to address the grievances brought by the Agitator.
  3. Orchestrator – These change leaders orchestrate the road map to change. They coordinate between teams, departments, and hierarchies to move the action plan of the innovator to make the change a reality.

It is possible that as change leaders, you will have to adopt all of the above leadership approaches to successfully bring organizational change.


Balogun, J., & Hailey, V. H. (2008) ‘Exploring strategic change’. Pearson Education.

Kotter, J. (2012), ‘How the most innovative companies capitalize on today’s rapid-fire strategic challenges–and still make their numbers’. Harvard Business Review, 90(11), 43-58.

What Is Change Leadership? | HBS Online

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Peter Doyle
Peter Doyle

BrightWork Project Management Consultant

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