Change leadership models and methods
- Higher ed institutions can benefit from change leadership techniques
- There are three primary models: Kotter, ADKAR, and Bacharach
- Each model has its own advantages and purpose
In the first part of this blog series, I outlined the reasons why change leadership is important, and why it’s particularly useful for higher education. In this blog, I’ll examine the various models for change leadership and what sets them apart from each other.
But first let’s remind ourselves of what change leadership is—and conversely—what it isn’t. John Kotter, Professor Emeritus of Change Leadership at Harvard Business School, is a pre-eminent author and thought leader on the topic. He clearly and succinctly sums up the definition of change leadership:
“I am often asked about the difference between ‘change management’ and ‘change leadership,’ and whether it’s just a matter of semantics. Change management, which is the term most everyone uses, refers to a set of basic tools or structures intended to keep any change effort under control. The goal is often to minimize the distractions and impacts of the change. Change leadership, on the other hand, concerns the driving forces, visions and processes that fuel large-scale transformation.”
Change leadership, then, is not a “one-and-done” technique. It’s a way to handle ongoing change at the institutional level. And how can that be accomplished? By employing one of these prominent models for change leadership.
The Kotter Method
John Kotter is probably the most respected thinker when it comes to change leadership. He has significantly shaped the theory and practice of change leadership, and his ideas are tested and true.
His method works primarily on the organizational level. That means his technique for managing change is best suited for steering large groups. For example, the Kotter method could be utilized to guide an institution’s advisory council, faculty senate, or its cabinet toward a desired change. It provides an effective roadmap for working with these groups and their leaders.
Kotter’s method begins by identifying the errors and obstacles that can impede lasting change. They are:
- Allowing too much complacency
- Failing to create a powerful leadership team
- Underestimating the power of vision
- Under-communicating the change vision
- Permitting obstacles to block the change
- Failing to create short-term successes
- Declaring victory too soon
- Neglecting to anchor changes in the culture
This method arms you with an awareness of the pitfalls when it comes to instituting change, so that you know what to avoid. This is especially useful when dealing with those aforementioned groups, as group-dynamics can come into play. Kotter’s method offers a communication strategy that can help you hurdle the all-too-predictable resistance, hesitation, and (sometimes) outright hostility toward change, especially from institutional groups and organizations.
The second part of Kotter’s method outlines the required stages to effectively lead change. These are almost an inverse of the errors and obstacles:
- Establish a sense of urgency
- Create the guiding coalition
- Develop a vision and strategy
- Communicate the change vision
- Empower broad-based action
- Generate short-term wins
- Consolidate gains and produce more change
- Anchor new approaches in the culture
Basically speaking, Kotter’s method is geared toward organizational development through the techniques outlined above. These eight points form the backbone of an effective strategy to anticipate—and overcome—resistance to change within a group.
The ADKAR Approach
But Kotter’s method is not the only way to tackle change leadership at an institution. Yet another change leadership method goes by the acronym of ADKAR—which stands for the following:
- Awareness of the need for change
- Desire to participate and support the change
- Knowledge on how to change
- Ability to implement required skills and behaviors
- Reinforcement to sustain the change
The ADKAR approach was developed by Jeff Hiatt, founder of the change management consulting and research group Prosci, as a way to foster and develop a change-oriented culture. In contrast to the Kotter method, however, the ADKAR approach works best with individuals, rather than groups or entire organizations. It is most effective when managing individual employees or staff members in helping them see and accept the value of change—and his or her role within the organization in helping to make that change happen. If Kotter’s method is akin to keeping a car on the road toward a destination, the ADKAR approach is akin to making sure the individual parts—the tires, the headlights, and so on—are working harmoniously on the journey.
The ADKAR approach describes the required phases that an individual will go through when faced with change—it’s a foundational tool for understanding “how, why and when” to use different change management tools. The ADKAR model simply describes how one person makes a successful change, and effective change management requires an individual model as its foundation to encourage effective organizational change.
Now, when looking at the components of the ADKAR acronym, this method involves asking yourself some key questions or becoming more aware of what’s needed to communicate and guide change within an individual:
1. Awareness of the need for change
- What is the nature of the change?
- Why is the change happening?
- What is the risk of not changing?
2. Desire to participate and support the change
- Personal motivation to support the change
- Organizational drivers to support change
3. Knowledge on how to change
- Knowledge, skills and behaviors required during and after the change
- Understanding how to change
4. Ability to implement required skills and behaviors
- Demonstrated ability to implement the change
- Barriers that may inhibit implementing the change
5. Reinforcement to sustain the change
- Mechanisms to keep the change in place
- Recognition, rewards, incentives, successes
One of the primary criticisms of ADKAR is that it may be overly simplistic—particularly when applied to the unique needs and requirements of higher education. Simply put, faculty and staff at a university or college may not think or behave in the same way as their counterparts in the corporate world, so the ADKAR approach may be less effective.
The Bacharach Approach
There’s one more change leadership method that higher education administrators should consider: The Bacharach approach.
This model was developed by Samuel Bacharach, professor at Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations. Bacharach developed his perspective on leadership via a focus on winning support and maintaining momentum, outlined in his books Get Them On Your Side (2005) and Keep Them On Your Side (2006).
The key element of the Bacharach approach is the concept of leaders as agents of change. Revisiting the automotive analogy mentioned earlier, the leaders of an organization might be considered the GPS system that provides the guidance and direction required to make the journey successful. The Bacharach approach outlines a few principles to help institutional leaders guide change. In short, leaders must:
- Develop an agenda
- Map the political terrain
- Get them on your side
- Make things happen
With this approach, it’s the leaders of the group or organization who lay the groundwork for effective change. The Bacharach approach is not some kind of hardline, top-down method wherein the leader marches into a boardroom and announces that changes are on the horizon—and everybody better get on board. That type of tactic is almost always a recipe for disaster. The Bacharach approach empowers leaders with the effective organizational and psychological tools to guide change in an organic fashion, rather than a dictatorial one.
The onus is on these leaders to generate support and buy-in for the change, and to establish and maintain momentum for that change.
And momentum is the linchpin of this approach. Instituting change without momentum leads to frustration and—sometimes—suspicions about the motivations for the change in the first place. Bacharach advises leaders to look at four sources of momentum to keep the change rolling:
- Structural: Maintain capacity and keep things going
- Performance: Monitor and make adjustments
- Cultural: Motivate to sustain focus
- Political: Mobilize support and anticipate opposition
Remember that change is not a destination, but a continual process. That’s why momentum is so important, and according to Bacharach, it’s best sustained through vision, culture, and political agility.
What’s the right model for your institution?
There’s no single, correct answer to that question. It depends upon the kind of change being implemented, the culture of the institution, or the personalities involved. Perhaps a hybrid approach might be the most effective—and in many cases, it can be.
Regardless, the important point here is to recognize that there are a handful of useful tools to craft a successful change—and to become familiar with these methods in order to determine your path forward.
This is the second blog of a four-part series. Part three, will discuss why higher ed is different from the corporate world and poses unique challenges in change leadership.