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on 3 March 2003
Being a professional business change specialist I approached “Leading Change” with great anticipation. Kotter is a famous writer, speaker and practitioner, the book was published by Harvard Business School and is praised very highly by many business leaders. So I was eager to discover new ideas, to broaden my horizons, to learn new skills. Unfortunately, I have been rather disappointed.
It is difficult to argue against Kotter’s views that in order to implement a major change one needs to create a sense of urgency for it, assemble a guiding coalition of powerful enough people to lead it, have a vision and strategy and communicate it well, frequently and to everybody, get rid of structural, cultural and system obstacles, consolidate gains on the way to facilitate further changes and ensure the changes are well anchored in the company’s culture and structures. But these are all well known, common sense ideas which have been tried before and yet so many change efforts still fail.
The problem is that Kotter, like almost everybody else, subscribes to the classic change management perspective where business change is seen as a gigantic, complex, difficult and lengthy one-off effort to move a company from where it is to some future state desired by its management board. As usual there is the scenario of everybody working hard and long hours and making sacrifices in the lengthy battle with status quo after which a state of corporate happiness will be achieved. Only to be followed, in time, by another Herculean one-off change effort. The major difference in Kotter’s book is the emphasis on leadership versus management. This must be ambrosia to the top executives - glamour can be intoxicating.
But as Kotter himself noticed, the rate of change is not slowing down, it is accelerating. So by the time the company has implemented this massive change and set it firmly in its culture and structures so that no gradual return to previous status quo is possible, the world around would have changed so much that this wonderful transition becomes largely irrelevant. Even the most humble of the employees will notice that and their enthusiasm and willingness for more sacrifices the next time round will be proportional to the relevance and real success of the previous effort.
In order to really be a winner in a volatile environment we need to make a fundamental shift in the way we perceive change: away from a series of discrete and sequential intrusions on ‘business as usual’ (the unfreeze – freeze model) to a multitude of ongoing, parallel and continuous processes (unified business change model). This is why standard programme management techniques even coupled with the inspiration of vision and strong leadership, the direction of strategy and powerful coalitions, the sustenance of short terms wins, etc. will never be sufficient to successfully control change. We need to move towards the unified business change model, i.e. operate a set of permanent processes specifically designed to manage any type and number of concurrent business changes and operate them like any other business processes. The vision and leadership are absolute imperatives but so are the day to day assessments of impacts and overlaps, the not so glamorous management and administration of multiple interdependent change initiatives. The world of changes will always, by its nature be, complex and full of interdependencies but we can make it visible so that the decisions will be well informed and all risks well understood.
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on 18 October 2003
Another "expert" on change management offers the following scenario:
If you were on a North Sea oil platform it is very unlikely that you'd jump 40 feet into the icy water just because someone said you should. If the platform were on fire, on the other hand, you'd probably jump without having to be told.
So, if you want to make a change management programme successful, just frighten people by demonstrating that they have more to lose by staying put than they do if they "jump".
Sound familiar?
Isn't Kotter's recommendation to establish a sense of urgency by analyzing competition and identifying potential crises another version of the same strategy?
The problem is that we know that people under threat/stress start to secrete certain chemicals (e.g. cortisol) which dampen down brain activity so as to cause them to become LESS flexible, LESS creative, LESS willing to take risks. In short, they are in the worst possible state to successfully implement a change management programme.
So what price the "burning platform" strategy - by any name you care to give it?
This is the sort of book that appeals to a certain type of executive because it allows them to blame everyone else when their change programme fails. What it doesn't tell them is that "command and control" management is the root cause of fiascos like BPR, "burning platforms" and the like.
What more effective management requires is better ideas, more skilfully applied, NOT just a more sophisticated version of the "same ol' same ol'", which is all that we have here.
With all due respect this is a blueprint for failure.
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on 18 February 2015
I purchased this book primarily for reference purposes whilst undertaking research for a leadership and management module. Kotter takes a common sense approach and his model is logical and written in a practical sequence. He also presents his own experiences well through use of case study examples. This makes for an easy read and offers a basis for understanding organisational behaviour and development. However, whilst I appreciate that this book was a best seller, I was hard pushed to find validation of the full eight step process. The book does not even contain references to any external sources, and the majority of `evidence' is presented by Kotter himself in follow up articles or books.

Despite the lack of validity, I do value Kotter's ideas. However, whilst I am certainly no match for a Harvard professor, I do not think leading change is as linear a process as Kotter's model suggests. Evidence from my own practice in social services suggests that the development and communication of a vision is of primary importance. This establishes a rationale for urgency by affording individuals opportunity to see what change can actually offer them which, in turn, can nurture their own leadership and team working skills. Urgency, without a purpose, can only be false and unsustainable. Contextual variables, therefore, must be accounted for, and I have found it more constructive to adapt Kotter's framework and consider it alongside other models and theories.

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on 21 March 1999
In the wake of numerous books and articles on the ability of businesses to remain competitive in a more globalized economy and increasingly fast-paced society, corporations will need to continually improve upon the services and products they provide. John Kotter contends that in a slower moving environments, managerial skills are more useful; however, in today's more accelerated business world leadership skills are required to implement and sustain needed change.
He differentiates managers from leaders where the former is more concerned with the smooth running of current conditions. The leader is more concerned with promoting meaningful change: developing a vision, making the vision transparent to others then implementing a plan that will make the vision reality.
According to Kotter, leaders typically make mistakes throughout this process. In the first chapter, Kotter briefly identifies eight key errors that prevent organizational transformation. He then addresses each in subsequent chapters.
Leading Change coincides with research that deeply rooted organizational change cannot come from one person. Change may start with one person, but it is more likely to become embraced and embedded with when a strong, broad-based coalition is guiding the organizational change.
The author proposes a fairly prescriptive format for leading an organization; however, there is latitude to make adjustments for your particular setting. I recommend Leading Change to those who have a vision, who are passionate about their ideas and are willing to work with others in making the vision reality. Before you read the book ask yourself whether you would rather manage a group or lead a team.
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on 3 September 2014
Great book that will get you thinking about the communication of and the ownership of change and new working methods in any organisation as well as the importance of vision. Whilst it could have suffered from the 8 stages feeling a little too 'off the shelf' rather than responsive to real situations, actually the stages offer a sense of sustained focus that is often lacking in this kind of book. The stages feel surprisingly as useful for the linear as the abstract thinkers. Kotter's understanding of change leadership rather than management seems to stand head and shoulders above the other writers in this area. If I have a criticism (it is either a criticism or a suggestion for another book) it is that Kotter's plan for change management could do with asking how it might work in an organisation where the new vision is coming from the bottom up rather than the top down. On the whole, if you are facing change in your organisation and you haven't read this book then I would simply ask you why on earth not?
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on 12 January 2005
Organisations need change. We all know that. But how can an organisation adopt great ideas, tools, and methods, absorbing them in a way to stimulate change and get superior results?
Harvard-professor John P. Kotter has been observing this process for almost 30 years. What intrigues him is why some leaders are able to take these tools and methods and get their organizations to change dramatically - while most do not.
How many times have we not seen somebody get very excited about some new tool (CRM, e-business, etc.)? Yet two years later there is no performance improvement at all. Often because most of the organisation has rejected the change needed to make it happen.
When people need to make big changes significantly and effectively, Kotter finds that there are generally eight basic things that must happen:
1. INSTILL A SENSE OF URGENCY. Identifying existing or potential crises or opportunities. Confronting reality, in the words of Execution-authors, Charan and Bossidy.
2. PICK A GOOD TEAM. Assembling a strong guiding coalition with enough power to lead the change effort. And make them work as a team, not a committee!
3. CREATE A VISION AND SUPPORTING STRATEGIES. We need a clear sense of purpose and direction. In less successful situations you generally find plans and budgets, but no vision and strategy; or the strategies are so superficial that they have no credibility.
4. COMMUNICATE. As many people as possible need to hear the mandate for change loud and clear, with messages sent out consistently and often. Forget the boring memos that nobody reads! Try using videos, speeches, kick-off meetings, workshops in small units, etc. Also important is the teaching of new behaviours by the example of the guiding coalition
5. REMOVE OBSTACLES. Get rid of anything blocking change, like bosses stuck in the old ways or lack of information systems. Encourage risk-taking and non-traditional ideas, activities, and actions. Empowerment is moving obstacles out of peoples' way so they can make something happen, once they've got the vision clear in their heads.
6. CHANGE FAST. Little quick wins are essential for creating momentum and providing sufficient credibility to pat the hard-working people on the back and to diffuse the cynics. Remember to recognize and reward employees involved in the improvements.
7. KEEP ON CHANGING. After change organizations get rolling and have some wins, they don't stop there. They go back and make wave after wave of other actions necessary for long-term, significant change. Successful change leaders don't drop the sense of urgency. On top of that, they are very systematic about figuring out all of the pieces they need to have in place before they declare victory.
8. MAKE CHANGE STICK. The last big step is nailing big change to the floor and making sure it sticks. And the way things stick is through culture. If you can create a totally new culture around some new way of managing, it will stay. It won't live on if it is dependent on one boss or a couple of enthusiastic people who will eventually move on.
We can divide these eight steps in three main processes. The first four steps focus on de-freezing the organization. The next three steps make change happen. The last step re-freezes the organization on the next rung on the ladder.
I've personally used Kotter's change process in several e-business projects. It has helped me a lot. I highly recommend that you buy this easy-to-read and affordable book. Alternatively, read his Harvard Business Review article from Mar/Apr 1995 on the same subject.
Peter Leerskov,
MSc in International Business (Marketing & Management) and Graduate Diploma in E-business
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on 1 November 2014
John Kotter's work is a classic volume on change leadership. The book is readable and the steps which he describes make sense to me. I have found the ideas helpful in my workplace and they have formed part of a leadership course which I recently attended. The hard-back binding which I purchased also makes the book durable and more of a pleasure to handle and read.
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on 7 November 2014
Everybody who is frustrated in a corporate environment (or even just works in a corporate environment) should read this book. If nothing else it will help you understand why change is so difficult, and will give you a fighting chance of actually making a positive change.
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on 30 November 2003
I notice the US reviewers said how wonderful this book is and the UK reviewers were far more realistic.
Some useful ideas, e.g. use a video camera as a way of looking at your business processes from a fresh persepective.
Without the stories it would be a VERY dull read.
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on 31 May 2014
An excellent book that is written so that youc an pick it up and read the section of interest without having to read the whole thing. Also written in a light, interesting and informative way that makes it an easy read. Recommended
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