What are the dos and don’ts when rolling out a long-term organizational change?

QRM gives a very clear idea of how to design your organization. But organizations can encounter various obstacles when rolling this out. John Kotter’s eight-step model sets out clear guidelines for those seeking to bring about a long-term structural change. It is also necessary to monitor the ‘guiding team’ within the change process to identify obstacles during the intervention. We show how you can do this using social network analysis. 

Imagine that you have identified the perfect structure for your organization. What should you think about when implementing this structure? 

  1. What are the preconditions for a long-term structural change? 
  1. How can you understand the change based on social network analysis?

  1. What are the preconditions for a long-term structural change? 

The eight-step model was developed in 1995 by business administration expert John Kotter [3]. The aim of the model is to successfully roll out a change in an organization. The model describes eight steps that are best followed chronologically when rolling out the change. The first four steps in the eight-step model focus on mobilizing internal employees. Steps 5 to 7 are about connecting the change to the organization. In the final step, changes are institutionalized in the organization.  

Step 1 Increase Urgency: This step is about making clear the need for change. Why do we actually have to change and what problems does it solve? Kotter emphasizes feeling as a driver for change, rather than just logic. You generate a sense of urgency and energy by fostering emotions such as hope, trust, optimism and enthusiasm. You also create this through visualization, so by viewing the organization from the customer’s perspective and by outlining a powerful picture of the future, rather than by producing a hefty report about angry customers. In other words, in the first step you show the need for change and clarify the role of managers in the change process. 

Step 2 Build the Guiding Team: The guiding team or coalition for the change does not necessarily have to consist of formal leaders, but there must be support from management to back up the guiding team. Employees must be able to identify with the guiding team. Sounding boards are a medium that is often used to boost this relationship. It is also important in this phase to bear in mind any weaknesses in the guiding team. The following quote from Kotter reinforces why a strong coalition and close collaboration are vital for change: “Real collaboration is about stepping outside of traditional institutional structures to focus on results. In fact, there is an 81% correlation between collaboration and innovation.” [4]  

Step 3 Get the Vision Right: A vision sets out the end point, and the strategy clarifies how this vision can be achieved. Developing these two components serves a number of purposes. For example, the vision indicates the direction of change, and employees are encouraged to take action. It is important for the vision to be concrete, realistic and easy to interpret. This step is mainly about what change is needed and why the outside world demands that we make this change. For example, if you are a manufacturer of concrete that wants to introduce multidisciplinary teams, why do you want to do this? Because you want reduced lead times? And why do you want these? These are all questions associated with defining the vision. 

Step 4 Communicate for Buy-In:  This step is important because informing employees can reduce the uncertainty and worry that accompany change. In addition, communicating the vision can help employees feel involved and give them the confidence to discuss certain matters. Therefore, communicate the change vision and inform employees in a clear and credible way about the upcoming changes. Managers play an essential role during communication by questioning the current organizational culture to some extent. This communication gets the dialogue with stakeholders going and strengthens personal involvement in the change process. 

Step 5 Empower Action: For the vision of change to be accepted, all the obstacles experienced by employees must be taken away or tackled. Without unconditional and long-term support, any organizational change is doomed to failure. The most important precondition is support and dedication from the top. In addition, it is important to remove barriers that complicate or stand in the way of the change process, e.g. obstructing factors for employees such as outdated evaluation systems and department-specific agreements. 

Step 6 Create Short-Term Wins: Making short-term wins visible for everyone and clearly linked to the change process creates a belief in the success of the new vision and strategy. This also provides direct and quick recompense for those who work hard to realize the new vision and strategy. 

Step 7 Don’t Let Up: Don’t become overconfident too soon! Many changes are not implemented successfully because too early on, employees feel that a change process has been completed. When there are initial successes, it is important that the organization does not become overconfident and feels that the change process is almost done. You should now look at what works, fine-tune the adopted approach and extrapolate changes to the organization at large. The organization has reached an intermediate stage: for example, some departments have rolled out more changes than others. A major pitfall in this step is exhaustion.  

Step 8 Make Change Stick: In the last step, the new approach is institutionalized in the organizational culture. The change is secured if it is systematically measured, evaluated and fine-tuned. This is not only about systems, but in fact above all about the discipline and perseverance to keep doing things differently. In practice, this is often neglected, causing changes to get bogged down. What is not measured is perceived as unimportant. 

  1. How can you understand the change based on social network analysis? 

Many changes occur in organizations during a change process. This makes it important to monitor the informal change network: a view grounded in social network analysis. Those adopting this approach regard organizations as networks in which employees are connected to each other. Social network theory examines the relationships between employees and analyses flows of information. This theory can be used to determine the origin, destination and route of information within an organization. In a research paper, Granovetter (2005) focused on “weak ties” within social networks. He noted that because our friends and colleagues move in the same circles as we do, the information they receive overlaps considerably with what we know. Distant acquaintances, for example, have more novel information to offer than close friends. Thus, more novel information flows between individuals with weak ties than between those with strong ties. In social network analysis it is also said that the homogeneity of information, new ideas and behaviour is much greater within certain groups than between groups of people. 

Individuals who can connect groups of people are also called ‘mediators’ and have significant competitive advantages, as they can pass on important information from one group to another, and so have a key ‘gatekeeper’ function. These individuals can gather the best ideas from both groups and extract the best possible information from them. At the same time, these mediators occupy a precarious position: after all, the links between the groups are fragile, and it is time-consuming to maintain these links. If two individuals have complementary information but the information flow has been stopped or limited, then the theory speaks of a ‘structural hole’. For example, if you want more innovation and new ideas in your organization, you can see where parties need to be connected to span these structural holes. 

How can you apply this theory and terminology in your organization?  

  • Who has been impacted by the change? 
  • Who is in the guiding team? 
  • Which impacted people in the change process have strong ties? 
  • Which impacted people in the change process have weak ties? 
  • Are there structural holes? Where are they? 
  • Who are the mediators and what is their current role in the social network? 
  1. Outline the informal change network in your organization. In doing so, focus on answering the following questions: 


  1. Monitor the informal change network to spot and solve any structural holes. In interpreting the social network you can use the following key: 

The image below shows the start of a change process where the focus was on an organizational change in the maintenance department. It is striking that at the start of the process: 

  • the external suppliers are not involved, although the maintenance department is often working with them; 
  • there is only one person who is in contact with the Executive Committee via a weak tie; 
  • the maintenance department also has limited communication with the guiding team through a weak tie; 
  • the guiding team has a strong or weak tie with almost all stakeholders in the organization, except the R&D department and external suppliers. 

At the end of the change process, the informal change network looks different: 

  • Several people from the guiding team are no longer part of the organization, and so that team has been substantially weakened.  
  • The monitoring between the guiding team, the impacted maintenance department, the Executive Committee and the cooperating external consultants has stopped or is very limited. This finding is confirmed by the structural holes in the diagram. 
  • However, there are two managers of operational departments who are now committed to making more changes. 

In other words, the network of stakeholders mobilizing for change in an organization is crucial if you want to observe whether: 

  • interventions take place within a given time frame; or 
  • an intervention of a certain quality or of a certain type has taken place. 

Need help? 
The Interreg project QRM4.0 helps production companies improve their lead times by providing practical advice and giving financial support to companies trying to take action to roll out digital tools in their workplace. Want to find out more? Contact sander.smouts@workitects.be or seth.maenen@workitects.be  


  1. Burt, Ronald S. (1995). Structural Holes: The Social Structure of Competition. Cambridge (Massachusetts): Harvard University Press. 
  1. Granovetter, Mark (2005). The Impact of Social Structure on Economic Outcomes. Journal of Economic Perspectives19(1): 33-50. 
  1. Kotter, John P. (2002). The heart of change: real-life stories of how people change their organizations. Brighton (Massachusetts): Harvard Business Press. 
  1. https://www.slideshare.net/haileycowan/kotter-eight-steps 
  1. https://communicatietraining.nl/inspiratie/acht-fasen-model-van-kotter/ (in Dutch) 

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