His eight-step prescription for managing change fits well with established wisdom and seems like common sense. But it is a version of common sense that still sees the business world as ordered, predictable and ultimately controllable.
The eight steps
The eight steps, as set down in Leading Change (and The Heart of Change), are:
Establish a Sense of Urgency (Increase Urgency)
Form a Powerful Guiding Coalition (Build the Guiding Team)
Create a Vision (Get the Vision Right)
Communicate the Vision (Communicate for Buy-In)
Empower Others to Act (Empower Action)
Plan for and Create Short-Term Wins (Create Short-Term Wins)
Consolidate Improvements and Produce Still More Change (Don't Let Up)
Institutionalize the New Approaches (Make Change Stick)
Shifting from "coalitions" to "teams"
It is interesting to see that, during the seven years that elapsed between the publication of his two books, Kotter dropped the word "coalition" from Step 2 of his methodology. Despite the fact that his concept of a guiding coalition focused primarily on the coming together of positionally powerful members of the organization (although not necessarily all of them), he did recognize the importance of expanding its scope and complexity beyond this core group.
At first sight, this appeared to accept that textbook-style teamworking is not essential for effective change to be achieved. 'Members' of coalitions do not have to agree on everything. They don't necessarily trust each other and they may have fundamental differences about key aspects of organizational policy and practice. Power is also much more diffuse in a coalition than it is in a formally constituted team. Nevertheless, people can and do 'come together' in this way to deliver mutually desired outcomes. However, by emphasizing the need for teamworking in Leading Change and going one step further in The Heart of Change by abandoning the word "coalition" altogether, Kotter underscores his mainstream view that building a "real team" is an essential step in the change process.
The Informal Coalitions perspective
Informal Coalitions argues that managers need to move beyond the seductive but overly rational view of organizational dynamics presented in Kotter's eight-step methodology and similar n-step models of change. Other, ever-present features of organizational life, such as the crucial role played by informal interactions, the impact of power and politics, the paradoxical nature of organizations, and the powerful grip of cultural assumptions on decision-making and performance need to move centre-stage, if ‘do it better and get it right’ prescriptions such as Kotter’s are to have a deep and lasting effect. The informal coalitions perspective therefore seeks to blend the sensible use of formal, rational frameworks with an understanding of, and engagement with, the hidden, messy and informal dynamics of the real-world organizations that managers encounter every day.
Organizations do not follow the same rules as inanimate structures, systems and machines. Instead, they are made up of dynamic networks of people interacting with each other. And people have a habit of not conforming to the mechanistic assumptions that still channel much of the mainstream management thinking about organizational change and performance. In The Heart of Change, Kotter appears to acknowledge this by asserting that what he calls "see-feel-change" is more relevant than "analysis-think-change." He still, though, retains his stepwise approach to bringing this change about. In contrast, whilst Informal Coalitions also emphasizes the importance of helping people to 'see' more clearly and to deal with the psychological and emotional dimensions of change, it recognizes that people's perceptions and feelings are not within the gift of managers to control. The emphasis therefore needs to shift towards the underlying dynamics of change, and how managers might engage with these more effectively to build coalitions of support for beneficial changes.
Many of the topics covered in Kotter's eight-step process are addressed in Informal Coalitions, although from a radically different standpoint. In particular, specific chapters are dedicated to coalition building (Building Coalitions), organizational vision (Providing Vision) and leadership communication (Reframing Communication). In addition, Informal Coalitions also explores the cultural and political dimensions of organization in some depth (Thinking Culturally and Acting Politically), as well as considering ways of getting to grips with its inherently paradoxical nature (Embracing Paradox).