Survival of the Changiest: How to Lead Change-EN

Picture of Alfred Maeso Aztarain

Alfred Maeso Aztarain

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Darwin didn’t say the smartest or strongest species would survive, but those with greater ability to adapt to change. This reflection is also applicable to companies. Adequately managing changes and the impact of changes in regular business operations is a key element in the evolution of all organizations. Even more in our current environment of agility, digital transformation, economic crisis, and energy. The challenge of adapting to change is no longer an option; it is a requirement.

In fact, each new project (or program) introduces a change. No matter how minor the change may be, it is always a modification of a current situation (AS IS) to a predictably better future (TO BE) scenario. Traditionally, however, organizations have focused on the impact a change has on processes, methods, or technology, and have forgotten that the success or failure of that change is largely determined by the extent to which people assimilate it and incorporate it into the new way of working. After analyzing data from other global studies, Sharon King and Larry Peterson stated that the ratio of failed change initiatives in companies is between 70 and 80%.

As William Bridges says in his book Managing Transitions, there is a key difference between change and transition.

  • Change is the set of events, activities, and steps that will be made to move from the AS IS to the TO BE that are contemplated within the project plan.
  • Transition is the psychological process of leaving behind a pattern and starting a new one. The transition is therefore a personal process, which everyone will perform at his or her own pace.

Just as the change activities themselves are planned and can respond well to structured and linear models, the transition in people is long, complex, and different for everyone. It requires adaptation, reflection, and continuous communication.

Although there are different models of change management (the Lewin model, the Senge model, and others), perhaps the best known of them is the one proposed by John Kotter. It consists of the following eight steps for leading change:

1. Establish a Sense of Urgency

Leaders should communicate and effectively transmit the following to the organization:

  • Disconfirmation: Any successful change must start from a level of dissatisfaction towards the status quo that generates the belief that change is urgent. The greatest enemy of change is the idea of, “We’ve always done it this way.
  • Feeling guilty or anxious: To implement change, it is important that everyone participates. People need to know that if they don’t change, there will be consequences for them personally, and for the organization itself.
  • Create “psychological security”: The organization must provide support, coaching, and accept the possibility of making mistakes.

2. Creating the Guiding Coalition (or Change Team)

For change to be successful, the whole organization must be involved (to a greater or lesser extent). The Guiding Coalition will be at the core of the primary decisions concerning change, and its composition must have the following characteristics:

  • Strong hierarchical power
  • Varied and appropriate experience to all aspects of the change in question
  • Credibility in the organization
  • Effective leadership

3. Develop a Vision and Strategy

The change vision describes how the future will be. It should be written in a brief and synthetic way, but at the same time in a concrete, realistic, and attractive way that is focused on the change efforts and serves to direct, motivate, and involve the people impacted.

4. Communicating the Change Vision

This vision must be communicated not just once, but repeatedly in clear and direct language, suitable to the audience, using different images, analogies, and channels. Give opportunity for feedback and debate, and time to encourage participation.

5. Empowering Employees

Dan Pink said that there are three motivating factors for people: Purpose, Autonomy and Mastery.

The vision, the strategy, and the creation of the Guiding Coalition generates a Purpose that helps motivate change. The organization must also empower the people impacted by the change and provide them with Autonomy to make their own decisions in their area of responsibility. They must “feel the change”.

Finally, organizations must provide the possibility to learn and acquire new knowledge and capabilities in the context of change to ensure that things are actually getting better. That is, the Mastery.

6. Generate Short-Term Gains (Short-Term Wins)

Keeping the momentum of change can be difficult. Some changes can take a long time to complete (think… a cultural change can take between 3 and 5 years). Organizations need to feed the energy of change by implementing short-term successes, those that might only take 3 to 6 months to occur.

7. Consolidate and Produce More Change

We can always find reasons to abandon the effort of change: complacency with what has been achieved to date, difficulties encountered, etc. Strong leadership is important to continue to promote and support change, consolidate achievements, and move the change forward in order to structure the organization to be better prepared to face new changes.

8. Anchoring Changes in Culture

Cultural changes require time, as noted above. Kotter emphasizes the importance of not abandoning efforts once the obvious objectives of a change have been achieved. If it is not reinforced and support weakens, old habits can reappear. Leadership must act as a model and reward the new behaviors acquired.

At Netmind, we understand the strategic importance of the change management discipline and offer a comprehensive catalog of training, certifications, and workshops to help IT professionals achieve success in their change processes. Let us know if we can help you!


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Picture of Alfred Maeso Aztarain

Alfred Maeso Aztarain

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