Skip directly to content

Forbes - John Kotter's Change Leadership

Kotter International
September 18, 2014

Growing up around the corner from Pete Frates, the man widely credited with kick-starting the ALS “Ice Bucket Challenge” phenomenon, I remember first hearing about his diagnosis with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. I struggled to reconcile his diagnosis with this terminal neurodegenerative disease, that attacks motor neurons in the brain and spinal cord, with the image of the healthy and vital Division 1 athlete I knew. This personal connection to Pete and ALS is the reason I’ve been fascinated to watch the evolution of the Ice Bucket Challenge from local cause to global sensation.

By now, we’ve all heard about the Ice Bucket Challenge viral fundraising campaign (under the hashtag, #icebucketchallenge), which challenges participants to either post a video on social media of having a bucket of ice water dumped over their heads or donate $100 to ALS, or both – within 24 hours. Interestingly, before going viral, the Challenge had been circulating online without a connection to a specific charity and without much media attention. Celebrities, from Matt Lauer to Martha Stewart, participated raising money for a variety of causes. But Pete changed that – he shifted the paradigm and crystallized the movement around support of ALS.

What is it that took the Ice Bucket Challenge from a small-scale effort, spreading around our hometown of Beverly, MA and other Boston-area communities, to a global fundraising movement that raised over $100 million in donations in just one month (according to the ALS Association)? What’s led to this tipping point?

Pete Frates — flanked by his father John and brother Andrew holding an ice bucket. (Photo credit - Patrick Whittemore, Boston Herald)

From Dr. Kotter’s research and our work with clients, we know that the foundation for achieving successful change lies in generating and maintaining urgency. With this in mind, here are a few key lessons we can take away from the Ice Bucket Challenge:

1. Engage the head and the heart when getting people to understand why the change is needed.

Humans are inherently emotional beings, so it’s not enough to just tell people why a change is necessary. Pete’s story engages the emotions of others – both because of his youth and drive – creating an immediate connection to his cause. Equally as important, as the Challenge gained momentum, Pete (and his family) explained to the media why the Challenge is so important for generating awareness, funding and research – all of which have been stagnant for the last 75 years.

This combination of engaging the head and the heart is integral in generating urgency around a change initiative. No matter how great your idea is, it will not find success unless you can capture people’s attention.

2. Use visual, creative and captivating ways to introduce the idea.

Realistically, not everyone has a story that generates empathy as immediately as Pete’s. Using visual, creative and captivating ways to communicate your change vision, such as video and the power of social media, can help engage others on an emotional level and allow for broad communication that stands out among the noise and chaos of our daily routines.

Some people, such as Bill Gates, have taken the creativity of the Ice Bucket Challenge even further, finding ways to participate that stand out. Our clients frequently struggle with naturally waning urgency. In sharing your change vision, it’s important to continually revisit how you are communicating, to prevent momentum from slowing.

3. Start with those you can easily engage, and recruit them to help promote the change.

In building urgency and inspiring people to buy-in, start with individuals who are easy to engage and will actively promote your change vision. As Everett Rogers’ Diffusion of Innovation suggests, it is essential to get early adopters’ support to reach that tipping point seen with the Ice Bucket Challenge. Pete started by challenging his friends – those in the Beverly, MA and Boston College communities. Before long, the Challenge had spread beyond the Boston area, with celebrities from Kim Kardashian to Oprah participating.

This is often the model we use with clients – starting our work with one specific department. Try starting with your team or functional area. If the urgency is high, and the change is needed company-wide, you can then begin to expand your initiative.

4. It’s not necessary, or realistic, to get 100% of people to buy-in.

Kotter International
September 11, 2014

By Ken Perlman

Kids these days. They’re a heck of a lot smarter than we were at their age, and their effect on our organizations and communities is going to be a lot greater than ours was, as well. That sounds great, as a parent, but less great as a manager or executive. The implications inside organizations as to how work gets done are just starting to create ripples. More important are the bigger ripples that are being created as Millenials leave organizations and start to compete directly with their old employers.

While finding and hiring the next generation of leaders has become relatively easy and somewhat sophisticated, retaining those leaders of tomorrow has become the new battlefront. Here’s why. It’s very much like an Anakin Skywalker vs. Darth Vader view of a generation. The very same capabilities, skills, knowledge and desires that make Millennials desirable as candidates can also make them dangerous to an organization. So let’s get all the Dark Side perceptions of Millennials out there – the largely unfair stereotypes frequently heard without context. Millennials are often generalized as having:

Let’s not debate or rationalize these perceptions one by one (e.g., They have no loyalty because many of them witnessed their parents getting laid off after working with the same company for decades. So, no they really don’t have the same sense of loyalty, but they don’t expect it from their employers either).  Instead, let’s look at how you can play Luke Skywalker to bring the Millennials back to the light side of the Force. To better align the organization with the demands of Millennials, who already make up more than 30% of the workforce, here are some guidelines:

Don’t Confine Them to Their Box on the Organizational Chart – These kids are smart, talented, experienced and eager.  Stretch them with challenges beyond their silo and outside their functional area. They will connect with old friends, former professors and a ton of other resources to get the job done, and the new networks they form within the organization will let them move faster to accomplish more and at a rapid pace.

They All Want to Wear Capes – Give them opportunities to be heroes. They want their work to matter and see action taken from their analysis. Millennials also want to see that they are making an immediate difference. Let them. Simply by telling them what comes next, or better involving them in the next steps, you will get an employee who understands the up-and-down-stream implications, and they will work across those silos to accomplish even more than what is asked of them.

Let Them Know You What You Think of Their Work – Many Millennials grew up in an environment of near-instant feedback from parents and teachers, not to mention the rapid response enabled by the technology they were raised using. Contrary to the stereotype, most Millennials aren’t seeking positive feedback alone, but rather a balance of the good with the bad – and all constructive. Providing feedback often and with balance can help Millennials find their balance and place in the organization more quickly.

Listen to Them – They have questions, lots of them, especially when they are new. Hidden in those questions are ideas, challenges to assumptions and comparisons with new case studies and best practices, which are powerful hints on ways to improve your organization. In exchange for your attention and answers, you will see a laundry list of the five to 15 ways to revitalize your business starting right now.

Lead With Questions – This generation is used to asking a teacher or parent a question and, instead of getting an answer, being asked, “What do you think?” Rather than giving them the answers to their questions, first ask them for their perspectives. They may surprise you with their insights.

Let Them Take Ownership – Frame the challenge. Tell them what you are trying to accomplish, and why it’s important. Then ask them how they would make it happen. If you like what you hear, let them run with it. You will get an employee who acts like an owner, and an advocate who is eager to knock down the barriers that stand in his or her way.

Create the Environment Where They Will Dare – When we teach our kids to walk, our job does not start with pulling them up to their feet. It begins by consciously deciding the best environment for them to learn (i.e., carpet vs. concrete, open space vs. near a coffee table, level ground vs. stairs). Treat work the same way. Create the environment that is conducive to what you are looking for. If you want innovators and disruptors, how do you create that safe environment?

Leverage Community Service for Organizational Service – This generation wants to ‘do well and do good.’ Giving back to a community and allowing workers to help those who are in need will go a long way in retaining Millennials. They want their work to matter, to make a difference and be proud of their organization. In return for this sense of pride, they will become quite compelling evangelists for your company (recruiting), your products (marketing) and your services (customer service).

While these actions are important, ultimately, the best way to bring Millennials back to the light side of the Force is to give trust first. Millennials will know when they are getting a company line or when they are receiving only part of the story. So don’t make them dig for the truth. Level with them. Be honest with and trust them to make good decisions with that information. They will repay your honesty with greater transparency, better information and feedback sharing, stronger connections to you as a leader.

Kotter International
August 21, 2014

Fostering more and better leadership is a challenge for executives across all industries.  Target’s former interim CEO John Mulligan recently commented in a letter to the company, “All across Target, we need more ‘leadership’ and less ‘committee.’” Target took steps to act on Mulligan’s words by renaming its executive committee the “leadership team” in order to reduce feelings of bureaucracy, as well as restructuring its offices to encourage greater collaboration among executives and employees.  As Target’s new externally-hired CEO Brian Cornell now takes the reins on Mulligan’s leadership-building initiative, he faces pressures not only to successfully lead, himself, but also to promote greater leadership throughout the company.

But what are the fastest ways to cultivate leadership within a company?  What lessons can leaders apply as they strategize new ways to encourage employees to step up and drive efforts toward achieving the organization’s major goals? How can leaders effectively communicate the company’s vision?

Illinois Target Store

Here are the most-read blogs detailing leadership advice from the Kotter International team.  The authors of these pieces are experts in guiding global organizations to make large leadership changes.  Read on for their words of wisdom:

The Fastest Way to Build Leadership In Your Company — Insource” – Randy Ottinger

The Executive’s Famous Last Words” – Jimmy Leppert

Leadership Lessons from Scrooge” – Pat Cormier

Saving Gotham: 5 Leadership Lessons We Can Learn From Batkid” – Justin Wasserman

Jedi Leadership: The Value of Lessons Learned vs. Lessons Taught” – Ken Perlman

Leadership Lessons from LEGO” – Ken Perlman

Leadership Tips for Cross-Silo Success” – Nancy Dearman

The Biggest Leadership Mistake of Failing Companies” – Holger Rathgeber

Leadership Tips, New York Style: Lessons from the NYC MTA“ – Jimmy Leppert
________________________

Follow Kotter International on Twitter, on Facebook, or on LinkedIn, or sign up for the Kotter International Newsletter.