Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model (History + Methods)

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Change is an inevitable and necessary part of organizational growth. The world constantly changes. Businesses that refuse to change get left behind while those that embrace change tend to succeed. For companies looking to succeed, having a reliable roadmap can make all the difference.

Kotter's 8 Step Change Model is a method developed by Dr. John Kotter to help organizations manage and put in place significant changes. This method identifies the essential stages of change and provides actionable guidance for each step.

In this article, you'll learn about the details and practical insights of Kotter's model.

Introduction to Change Management

corporate manager

When you're on a long road trip, you wouldn't head out without a map or GPS to guide you, right? Similarly, in the world of business, change management acts as that guiding tool, ensuring that shifts and transitions within an organization are smooth and effective.

It's all about guiding a business from its current state to a desired future one, while ensuring that everyone is on board and challenges are minimized.

Change management is important because it acknowledges that change, while necessary, can be challenging. People, by nature, often struggle with change. Without a proper strategy or approach, attempts to make significant changes can result in confusion, resistance, or even outright failure.

Change management models provide structured ways to introduce, manage, and solidify change. They help you understand the landscape, anticipate potential challenges, and ensure you have the right resources and strategies in place.

There are other change management models, such as Lewin's Change Theory, or the Transtheoretical Model of Change, but there doesn't seem to be one-size-fits-all.

With Kotter's 8 Step Change Model, you're not just getting a list of steps; you're getting an approach that considers every aspect of the change process.

Who is John Kotter?

Professor John Kotter is renowned in the realm of business management and organizational change. Born in 1947, he's been a force in the academic and corporate world, especially known for his time at Harvard Business School.

Kotter's observations and research led him to create Kotter's 8 Step Change Model. But it wasn’t just another theory thrown into the sea of organizational studies. It was a response, a solution, to the consistent patterns of mistakes and missteps he saw in real-world attempts at change.

Kotter's brilliance lies in his ability to simplify ideas, making them accessible and actionable for all types of organizations.

History of Kotter's 8 Step Change Model

Imagine a world where businesses kept trying to change and evolve but constantly stumbled. They'd make two steps forward and then three steps back. Frustrating, isn’t it? That's the backdrop against which Kotter's 8 Step Change Model was born.

Throughout the 1990s, John Kotter observed countless organizations attempting to change, only to mess up along the way.

While some managed to start change, they struggled to make it stick. Others faced resistance so fierce that their change initiatives barely got off the ground. It was clear that a different approach was needed.

Kotter's realization was that successful change wasn’t just about strategy or willpower. It was about understanding the human elements involved and systematically addressing them.

He realized that organizations needed steps that considered not just the end goal but the journey and the travelers as well.

Thus, in 1996, he presented his groundbreaking work, "Leading Change," which introduced the world to the 8 Step Change Model. This wasn't just another checklist or a theoretical exercise. It was a practical, step-by-step guide that accounted for the nuances, challenges, and dynamics of real-world organizational change.

Its strength lay in its comprehensive nature, ensuring that each phase of change was well-thought-out, from creating the desire for change to embedding it deeply into the organization’s fabric.

Understanding the Importance of Change in Organizations

Imagine a forest, where trees grow tall and stretch toward the sun. Over time, if these trees don't adapt to the changing environment—like too much shade, scarce water, or competing vegetation—they won't flourish.

Similarly, organizations, be it large corporations or small startups, are like these trees. They exist in a vast ecosystem called the market, full of competitors, evolving customer needs, technological advancements, and so much more.

Just like the trees, if organizations don't adapt and change, they risk withering away. There are many ways to find out if you need to change, and those ways fall under what is called market research.

Change in organizations isn't a luxury; it's a necessity. We live in a world where the only constant is change itself.

Today's cutting-edge technology can become useless tomorrow. Customer preferences shift, markets fluctuate, and unforeseen global events can disrupt even the most well-laid plans.

Organizations that resist change or are slow to adapt often find themselves outpaced by more flexible competitors.

On the other hand, those that embrace change, that view it not as a threat but as an opportunity, are the ones that thrive. They're able to innovate, enter new markets, improve their products or services, and enhance their overall customer experience.

However, it's essential to note that change for the sake of change can be counterproductive. The objective isn't to change randomly but to change with purpose and direction.

That's where strategic change management comes in. It's about making informed, intentional shifts that align with an organization's goals and vision.

What are Kotter’s 8 Steps?


Going on a journey of organizational change is like constructing a building. You wouldn't start without a blueprint, right?

There are 8 steps in Kotter's Change Model that, together, provide that blueprint. It lays out a clear path from where you are to where you want to be.

Let's walk through each of these steps for leading change, understanding the role they play in the change process.

Step 1: Establish a Sense of Urgency

The initial phase isn't about jumping into action right away. It's about recognizing the need for change and ensuring everyone feels that need deeply.

It's about highlighting the reasons for change, whether it's external pressures like competition or internal factors like bad processes or corporate culture. And then creating urgency not just in the organization's management, but implementing organizational wide change.

Step 2: Form a Powerful Guiding Coalition

Change isn't a one-person show. It's a collaborative effort. Think of this step as assembling your dream team, a group of influential people who have the skills, passion, and power to drive the change.

This coalition acts as the backbone, supporting and steering the change initiatives.

Step 3: Create a Vision for Change

When you embark on a journey, you need to know your destination. In the realm of change, this destination is a clear and appealing vision.

It's a strategic vision of the future, a beacon that guides everyone’s efforts. Without a clear vision, efforts can become disjointed and lose direction.

Step 4: Communicate the Vision

Having a vision is one thing, but to make sure everyone understands it is another. This step is about broadcasting that vision far and wide, through all organizational communication channels.

You want to ensure that every member of the organization understands the need for change and support the change. This means convincing everyone that change is necessary by showing them what went wrong and clearly laying out the proposed change.

This is a good time to get feedback about the change initiative to see if there are any other development programs that might work better, or any specifics that can be improved.

Step 5: Remove Obstacles

Now, it's time to roll up those sleeves and get to work. But obstacles, both big and small, can hinder progress.

One of those obstacles can be resistance to change, which is when senior management demonstrate the new change management model to encourage employees.

Organizational norms are another obstacle, like rigid workplace cultures. It can also be hard to influence stakeholders. It's important to identify these potential obstacles so you can successfully implement change.

This step focuses on clearing the path, removing barriers, and giving people the tools and authority they need to implement change. It's about ensuring that everyone can contribute effectively to the change process.

Step 6: Create Short-term Wins

Everyone loves a win, right? Achieving small victories along the way boosts morale and builds momentum.

One way to do this is by identifying a vision statement, success factors, and having an early goal to the existing problem. If you can keep people excited, you can achieve lasting transformation.

Step 7: Build on the Change

Success can sometimes make us too comfortable. This step ensures that the change doesn't slow down.

It's about using the momentum from your wins to drive even more significant change, continuously pushing forward without getting sidetracked.

To make the change stick, each small step needs to stick too.

Step 8: Anchor New Approaches in the Culture

Last but not least, this step ensures that the changes stick. It's about embedding the new behaviors, processes, and approaches deep into the organization's culture.

With this step-by-step approach, Kotter's model makes sure that organizations don't just start change but see it through to its end—successful implementation.

The Role of Leadership in Kotter’s Model

When thinking about guiding a ship through stormy seas, it's not just the map or the route that matters—equally important is the captain who steers the vessel. In the world of organizational change, that captain is the leadership.

Leadership plays a central role in the success of any change initiative.

While Kotter's change management model offers the blueprint, it's the leaders who bring it to life, filling it with energy, direction, and purpose. Leaders are necessary to effectively implement change.

Guiding with Vision

Change leaders are not just communicating the change vision; they're living it.

Through their actions, decisions, and priorities, leaders show what the vision truly represents. They set the tone, making sure that the vision isn't just a statement on a wall but a lived reality for every member of the organization.

Building Trust

Change can be unsettling, and trust is the glue that holds teams together during such times.

Leaders cultivate trust by being transparent, listening to concerns, and addressing them. It's about showing empathy, understanding the human side of change, and reassuring team members that they're supported every step of the way.

Empowering Teams

A hallmark of effective leadership in Kotter’s model is empowerment. Leaders recognize that they don't have all the answers.

Instead, they lean on their teams, giving them the authority and resources to drive change. By decentralizing decision-making and promoting ownership, leaders create a sense of responsibility and pride among team members.

Celebrating and Recognizing

Every journey has its milestones, and leaders ensure that these are celebrated. Recognizing efforts, big or small, not only motivates but also reinforces the desired behaviors and outcomes.

It's a way of telling the team, "You're on the right track, and your efforts are valued."

Inspire Persistence

The path of change isn't always smooth. There are bumps, detours, and sometimes even roadblocks.

Leaders inspire a sense of persistence, reminding everyone of the bigger picture and encouraging them to push through challenges.

In essence, while Kotter’s model provides the framework, it's the leadership that breathes life into it. They're the driving force, ensuring that the steps aren't just theoretical concepts but actionable strategies that lead to clear results.

Use-cases: When to Implement Kotter's 8 Steps

building blocks

You know how sometimes you have just the right tool for the job? Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model is kind of like that – a versatile tool ready to tackle a bunch of different challenges.

But when should you reach for this tool in your organizational toolbox? Let’s check out some moments where Kotter's model really shines.

Dealing with Market Upheavals
Picture this: The business world is buzzing with new ideas and sudden shifts. Maybe there's a brand-new app everyone's raving about, or a young startup making waves.

In these shifting times, Kotter’s model acts as your compass, helping you steer your ship and stay ahead.

Blending Companies Together
Ever tried mixing two different paints to get the perfect shade? That's what it's like when companies merge or when one company buys another. It’s a mix of cultures, ideas, and visions.

With Kotter’s guidance, this blending becomes smoother, creating a unified, vibrant shade that stands out.

Refreshing Company Culture
Sometimes, it's not the outside world but what's inside that needs a change. Maybe your company's spirit feels a bit outdated, or there's a push to think more outside the box.

When you're looking to give your company culture a makeover, Kotter's steps can help paint a new, inspiring picture.

Adjusting to New Rules
Imagine playing a game and then, suddenly, the rules change. That's what it feels like when new industry rules pop up.

But instead of just playing catch-up, Kotter’s model can help you master the new game, turning these rule changes into your next big win.

Rolling Out Shiny New Tech
Introducing new gadgets or systems in a company can be a bit like teaching someone a new dance. Some might get the steps quickly, while others might trip up.

Kotter’s steps ensure that everyone is grooving in sync, making the most of the new tech tunes.

Growing Bigger and Better
Growing pains aren't just for teens. Companies feel them too. As your company dreams bigger and spreads its wings, Kotter’s approach ensures the growth is smooth and the flight steady.

In a nutshell, Kotter’s model isn't just for one kind of rainy day. It's your go-to umbrella, shielding you in various downpours, be it strategic shifts or surprises from left field.

Real-world Examples of Kotter’s Model in Action

Let's face it: you might understand something better when you see it in action. Think of Kotter's 8 Step Change Model as a recipe. It sounds promising on paper, but you might need to see it to believe it.

So, let's look at some real-life stories where organizations just like yours turned to Kotter's steps for change.

A Tech Company's Comeback
Imagine a big tech brand that once led the digital world. But then, smaller, nimbler startups began stealing the spotlight with their cool gadgets. This tech giant didn't sit back. Instead, they took out Kotter's model and put it to work.

They rallied their most creative minds, dreamed up a new tech vision, and spread the word to every employee. Celebrating each new product launch and tech milestone, they slowly climbed back to the top. Today, they're not only a market leader but also a hub of constant innovation.

A Hospital's Swift Shift
Now, picture a big hospital adjusting to new health rules. These weren't just tiny tweaks but big changes that could affect patient care. Using Kotter's steps, the hospital's leaders highlighted how soon these changes had to be in place.

They teamed up with doctors, nurses, and even patients to craft a plan that went beyond just ticking boxes. Through open chats, training, and a pat on the back for jobs well done, this hospital didn't just meet the new standards; they set a gold standard for others.

Going Green in Manufacturing
Next, let's talk about a factory known for its usual ways of producing stuff. But as talks about the planet's health got louder, this factory decided to step up.

Using Kotter’s model, they showed everyone why going green was crucial, not just for Earth but for their wallets too. Forming a team of eco-experts, they sketched out a future where their factory was both productive and planet-friendly.

Through new equipment and green training, they started their eco-friendly journey, marking and celebrating every green achievement. Today, their green ways are just how they do things.

Shop Local, Dream Global
Last, imagine a popular local store, a favorite in its town. They dreamt of having stores in cities worldwide. Kotter’s model became their guide.

They gathered folks who knew international markets and painted a picture of their brand shining both at home and overseas. They made sure everyone, from managers to cashiers, knew this dream.

As they opened stores in new places, they cheered every ribbon-cutting and opening sale. Now, they're a global name with a local heart.

Pros and Cons of Kotter's 8 Step Change Model

farmer's market stall

Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model, while highly esteemed, also has pros and cons. Here’s a balanced look at what works in its favor and where it might have a few challenges.


1. Comprehensive Approach
One of the big wins for Kotter's model is how thorough it is. From recognizing the need for change to making sure it sticks, it covers the entire journey. You won't find yourself halfway through a change, scratching your head, wondering what’s next.

2. Focus on People
Many change models dive deep into strategy but overlook the human side of things. Not this one. Kotter’s model understands that for change to work, people need to buy into it. It emphasizes communication, empowerment, and celebration—making everyone feel involved and valued.

3. Clear Structure
With its step-by-step approach, Kotter’s model serves as a clear roadmap. Whether you're new to managing change or a seasoned pro, having a structured path can make the journey smoother.

4. Versatility
Whether you’re a small startup or a global enterprise, Kotter’s model flexes to fit. Its principles apply across industries and scales, making it a go-to choice for diverse organizations.


1. Potential for Rigidity
While the step-by-step nature is a strength, it can also be a double-edged sword. If followed too strictly, organizations might miss out on unique opportunities or insights that fall outside the prescribed steps.

2. Time-Intensive
Real change doesn't happen overnight. Kotter’s model, with its emphasis on thoroughness and embedding change deeply, can be time-consuming. For organizations looking for a quick fix, this might pose challenges.

3. Requires Strong Leadership
The model leans heavily on the need for effective leadership. If leadership is weak or not fully committed, some steps, especially those requiring broad organizational buy-in, might falter.

4. Overemphasis on Urgency
While creating a sense of urgency is crucial, there's a fine line between urgency and panic. If not managed well, the push for urgency might create undue stress or a rushed approach.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) about Kotter's 8 Step Change Model

1. What is Kotter's 8 Step Change Model?
Kotter's 8 Step Change Model is a structured approach developed by Dr. John Kotter to guide organizations through effective and meaningful change. It offers a sequence of steps that consider the challenges, dynamics, and human elements involved in organizational transitions.

2. Why is the model important in today's business landscape?
With rapid technological advancements, evolving customer preferences, and a dynamic global economy, change is inevitable. Kotter's model provides businesses with a roadmap to navigate these changes successfully, ensuring they remain competitive and resilient.

3. Can this model be applied to any organization, regardless of size or industry?
Yes! Kotter’s model is versatile and can be adapted to suit businesses of all sizes and across various industries. Its focus on both the strategic and human elements of change makes it universally applicable.

4. How does Kotter's model differ from other change management models?
Kotter’s model emphasizes the need to instill a sense of urgency, the importance of a guiding coalition, and the integration of new approaches into an organization's culture. It's a holistic approach that not only looks at the initiation of change but also its consolidation and institutionalization.

5. How long does it take to implement the steps in Kotter's model?
The duration varies based on the organization's specific challenges, the scale of change, and the existing culture. Some steps, like creating a sense of urgency, might be achieved quickly, while others, like embedding new approaches into the culture, might take longer.

6. Are there any potential challenges or pitfalls to be aware of when using this model?
As with any change initiative, there can be resistance from employees, unforeseen external challenges, or even resource constraints. It's important to be aware of these, anticipate them where possible, and address them proactively using the guidance provided by Kotter's model.

7. Can Kotter's model be combined with other change management methodologies?
Certainly. While Kotter's model is comprehensive on its own, it can be integrated with other change management strategies or tools, depending on the unique needs and nuances of the organization.

8. Where can I learn more about Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model and its applications?
Dr. John Kotter's book, "Leading Change," is a fantastic resource. Additionally, many case studies, courses, and workshops delve deeper into the model and its practical applications.


Picture standing at a crossroad. One path is familiar, well-trodden, and comfortable. it's the status quo. The other is new, a bit uncertain, but filled with promise and potential. Life and business often present such crossroads.

And while the familiar path is tempting, growth and innovation lie on the road less traveled. That's where change takes you.

You've walked through Kotter’s 8 Step Change Model, seeing it not just as a theoretical concept but as a practical guide. It’s like having a trusty compass in your pocket, always pointing you in the right direction.

Whether you're facing market challenges, evolving your company culture, or standing at the brink of massive organizational shifts, this model offers a roadmap.

Remember, change isn’t just about new processes or strategies. At its heart, it's about people—your team members who adapt, innovate, and drive your organization forward. Kotter’s model understands this.

It prioritizes the human side of the equation, ensuring everyone is on board, engaged, and excited about the journey ahead.

With Kotter's guidance, you're equipped to make informed, strategic decisions. Embrace the winds of change, and let them propel your organization to new heights.

The path of transformation is challenging, but with the right steps, it’s also immensely rewarding.

Reference this article:

Practical Psychology. (2023, October). Kotter's 8 Step Change Model (History + Methods). Retrieved from https://practicalpie.com/kotters-8-step-change-model/.

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