Kotter’s 8-Step Process for Leading Change

This process is at the core of Advisory Services solutions that enable strategy alignment, launch and execution. It also guides our offerings from the Kotter International Center for Leaders, the purpose of which is to provide awareness, learning and skill building in the critical aspects of leading and executing change.

Advisory Services

Are you convinced that if enough of your people were engaged, truly urgent and moving fast, they could change your organization so it could achieve the results you envision? Are you bold enough to adopt an approach that will make your organization one of the few that successfully transforms itself?

The following video illustrates how your organization can transform itself with the help of Kotter International.

Through our Advisory Services, we help leaders and organizations transform themselves and execute their strategies on a large scale and in real time – from entire functions, to business units, to geographies, to full enterprises.

And we take you three steps further: your transformation or execution is accelerated, your results surpass expectations, and we put ourselves out of a job by teaching you how to apply the 8-Step Process for Leading Change yourselves.

We offer three kinds of Advisory Services solutions so that we can meet you where you are in terms of needs, timeframe and capacity.

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Strategy Alignment

Clients engage us for Strategy Alignment when:

  • A CEO, unit head, function leader or executive team is on the verge of implementing a new strategy or undertaking a major transformation and first needs to get aligned, clear and engaged on what they expect the organization to do – and how.
  • A leadership team is aligned on the general need for implementation or transformation, but needs to identify and define a specific opportunity to direct and guide the effort.

Laying the foundation for Step 1

Establishing alignment is critical to the success of any transformation. Our Strategy Alignment solution serves as a pre-launch to our process, and can stand alone or be used to lead into a Strategy Launch or Strategy Execution engagement.

The beginning of the process

The first stage of our process is the Big Opportunity Session, which sets the language, tone, energy and direction for the entire transformation process.

The leadership team

The executive team responsible for leading the transformation meets face to face for a one- or two-day experience.

The goal of alignment

The objective of the session is to align the leadership team under a common belief, driven by both data and passion, that the pursuit of an articulated opportunity will help transform the company quickly.

The deliverable

The leadership team works together to draft a clear and compelling Big Opportunity statement that stands out because of its alignment to the strategy and appeal to employees’ hearts and minds. It ignites urgency and serves as the North Star for the volunteer army and the strategic initiatives they execute.

The timeframe

Depending on how quickly a client can move, Strategy Alignment can take as few as two weeks or as many as six weeks.

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Strategy Launch

Clients engage us for a Strategy Launch when:

  • A major initiative is underway but stuck, slow or lacking impact
  • Key executives have read Dr. Kotter’s A Sense of Urgency or his other works that focus on urgency and want to ignite it in their own organization
  • Executives want to get started quickly and generate some initial wins, but/and also take the time to understand the implications of a longer Strategy Execution engagement before embarking on one.

Execution through Step 1

Igniting engagement is essential to any large-scale transformation. A Strategy Launch, which takes you through the completion of Step 1, can serve as an alternative – or precursor – to a Strategy Execution engagement.

Starting with the Big Opportunity Session

To kick off the process, the executive team begins their Strategy Launch Initiative with a Big Opportunity Session. If the intent of the session is to turn ideas into words, with the Urgency Initiative then turning words into excited, motivated, engaged people.

Selecting the Urgency Team

At the conclusion of the Big Opportunity Session, the Leadership Team selects an Urgency Team of influential, motivated people from all ranks and roles within the hierarchy. This team’s sole responsibility is to use the Opportunity Statement to ignite urgency across the organization.

Urgency defined

We define an enterprise as “urgent” when more than 50% of the targeted employee population (division, unit, function, geography, etc.) is exceptionally alert, externally oriented, relentlessly aimed at success, and determined to make progress towards fulfilling the Big Opportunity every day.

Building the Volunteer Army

Over a period of weeks or months, the Urgency Team uses strategies and tactics to rapidly enroll more than 50% of the targeted employee population, a number that can range from hundreds to thousands.

The deliverable

The initiative is complete when Step 1 is complete and the 50% threshold is crossed: the Volunteer Army is signed up and standing ready to participate with head, heart and hands in future strategic initiatives that will fulfill the Big Opportunity.

The timeframe

Depending on how quickly a client can move, their Urgency phase can take as few as three to four weeks or as long as three to five months.

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Strategy Execution

Clients partner with us for Strategy Execution when they:

  • Must transform their company, division or unit on a large scale
  • Are clear on what is at risk if they don’t transform, and what is to be gained if they do
  • Understand that acceleration is as important as execution itself
  • Know they must learn to sustain today’s changes – and take on tomorrow’s
  • Know they must think and act boldly, like pioneers

The full application of all 8 Steps

During a Strategy Execution engagement, which involves the full application of the 8-Step Process, you achieve two main goals: you learn how to apply and repeat the entire process yourselves on a large scale, and you generate business results that you can attribute to wins in large numbers.

The complete process

During a Strategy Execution engagement, our clients achieve two main goals: they learn how to apply and repeat the entire 8-Step Process themselves on a large scale, and they generate business results that they can attribute to wins in large numbers. We assemble lean teams of consultants who will equip you to implement the 8-Step Process for Leading Change yourselves.

Planned and plotted

We carefully plot out the work on the calendar so that you and we know what to do and expect at any given time.

Tools and materials

We use and share toolkits, guides and materials to support the entire implementation – all based on Dr. Kotter’s research of, and our experience with, transformation and strategy execution.

Space and time

Our consultants require neither desk space at your locations nor extended face time with your leadership. We are efficient with space and time because we enable you to use our process to do your own real work.

The deliverable

Your goal is accelerated business results. Your desired end state is a permanent, agile network of innovators that works in close cooperation with your organizational structure.

The timeframe

Depending on how quickly a client can move, we can typically transfer our capability over to you in a period of twelve to twenty-four months.

Wins & Results

The Primary Objective of our Advisory Services: Wins that Lead to Results

The wins achieved by your Volunteer Army generate a significant impact over time.
The wins achieved by your Volunteer Army generate a significant impact over time.

The generation of results that reveal impact is our clients’ primary expectation and top priority, and we have two specific capabilities to serve this purpose.

We can embed a Results Accelerator™ initiative into a Strategy Launch or Strategy Execution engagement in order to drive rapid, tangible results in a 90-day period.

We also have a methodology and proprietary online tool, WinScape™, that you can use to collect, organize and visualize the wins data generated by your specific transformation effort. This gives you the ability to tell the story of impact through data.

The tool enables you to:

Validate your data in terms of its sources and movement

Evaluate real time progress towards your goals

Correlate results with the specific wins that led up to them

Visualize the small and big pictures created by wins in aggregate

Amplify wins that you want to be shared and emulated throughout the organization

Align your entire organization on the story of impact in pictures, words and numbers

The Kotter International
Center for Leaders

We have created the Center for Leaders to fulfill the request we have heard over and over: to teach individuals and teams the driving principles, skills and behaviors described in Dr. Kotter’s library of books. Our vast repository from Dr. Kotter’s four decades of research – and our years of practical application – provide the content for our Center offerings.

Our classroom programs, leadership working sessions and speaking engagements can serve as standalone solutions or readily fit into a larger learning program, change initiative or meeting agenda.

Learn More

Clients come to the Center for Leaders when:

They are seeking leadership development solutions that possess three essential qualities:

  • Proven content that is firmly grounded in the research of the world’s foremost thought leader on the subjects of leadership and change and
  • Learning experiences that catalyze true engagement around real business challenges and
  • Outcomes aligned with their objectives and metrics

We are also able to meet these organizations’ dual needs for the:

  • Cost-effectiveness and reach of off-the-shelf programs they can license and deliver in house and
  • Flexibility of customized sessions for executive teams and of speaking engagements for large audiences and that are designed and facilitated by our expert consultants

Our position on workplace learning

We adhere to the 70-20-10 principle of workplace learning – the belief that 70% of it should be on the job, 20% from coaching, and 10% in the classroom. For some years, our Advisory Services business has helped clients with the 70 and the 20 in service of their strategy execution and large-scale transformation efforts. To us, their astonishing results demonstrate that leadership skills are best developed when performing real work in real time – and with the essential support of coaching.

We also believe in the 10: that sessions designed and furnished for learning – classroom programs, working sessions, etc. – contribute in a particular way to the development of leadership mindsets, behaviors and skills.

Because of our conviction that leadership can also be taught, we have begun to transform our broad selection of published empirical research and experience into interactive learning experiences.


Because of our structure and mission, the Center for Leaders serves the needs of those organizations with in-house capability to develop employees through our train-the-trainer programs. We do not offer open-to-the-public programs and we do not provide individual training or certification for purposes of resale.

Classroom Programs

The primary objective of our programs is skill building in the realm of leadership and change.

The locus and dynamic of each program is your real work – your change challenge, your strategy execution opportunity, your innovation need – addressed through interactivity. Absent are monologues, lectures, and case studies about other companies.

We designed the programs for mid-level leaders and to be adjustable – via facilitation or light tailoring – for senior-level leaders and/or front line managers.

We put a premium on efficiency and focus, and thus developed each face-to-face program within the limits of 4 to 8 hours.

It is our belief that we should transfer our capabilities over to you. Therefore, we offer flexible options for licensing program materials and a train-the-trainer solution. This allows you to extend the learning experiences into your organization via in-house delivery.

Classroom Programs currently available



Change Essentials

Today we expect leaders at all levels to deliver results under conditions of increasing change and uncertainty. However, many feel unprepared and ill equipped to lead change. In this program, you first learn the components of Dr. Kotter’s 8-Step Process that must be in place to ensure successful change.

Second, you explore and practice how to get and keep people on board and supporting change: you learn the definition of true urgency and how to build and maintain it in your own context. The program is based on the New York Times best-selling book, Our Iceberg is Melting.

Audience: This is a 1-day classroom based program designed for mid-level managers and high potentials. Facilitators can also tailor the delivery so that the program is relevant for senior leaders or front line managers.


Buy-in: Advancing Your Idea or Initiative

Getting your ideas accepted is difficult in an organization when natural obstacles exist in the structure or culture. You want to advance an initiative for the betterment of your company but know that you must first lower peoples’ intentional or unintentional resistance to new concepts.

Backing from others is essential. The method in this program is counterintuitive. You learn the advantages of walking into the fray, showing respect for all, and applying well-prepared tactics to build the support – even advocacy – necessary to launch and deliver on your initiative. The basis for this program is the book, Buy-In.

Audience: This is a 1-day classroom based program designed for mid-level managers and high potentials. Facilitators can also tailor the delivery so that the program is relevant for front line managers.


Seizing Leadership Opportunities (in a Management World)

Today’s organizations often define leadership and management in the same terms, despite the fact that they require significantly different behaviors. In the context of rapid change, such confusion contributes to underperformance in both leaders and managers. To drive change, you need clarity and an approach to engaging your head, heart and hands.

This is the objective behind this program’s three essential deliverables: an understanding of the critical differences between leadership and management; specific leadership skills necessary to motivate change; and the ability to identify and take action on a leadership opportunity. Underpinning the program are concepts from Dr. Kotter’s books and articles, including A Force for Change, Leading Change, John P. Kotter on What Leaders Really Do, The Heart of Change and Accelerate.

Audience: This is a 1-day classroom based program designed for mid-level managers and high potentials. Facilitators can also tailor the delivery so that the program is relevant for senior leaders.


Power and Influence

Organizations are becoming global and matrixed at a rapid pace. At the same time, technology continues to advance our ability to communicate. As a result, these combined dynamics have enabled
employees to connect with each other more than ever before. These connections and interdependencies run up, down, and across formal and informal networks far beyond the reach of positional power. The
need for influence skills as the means for getting things done has never been greater.

Dr. John Kotter has studied the effect of power and influence in the business world for 40 years. He shared his findings in his book, Power and Influence: Beyond Formal Authority, and taught them in one of the most popular classes in the history of Harvard Business School. This program converts the research and teachings into a learning experience designed to equip participants with the influence skills that are central to leading today.

Audience: This program is for mid-level managers in any company, government agency or non-profit organization. As with all of our programs, the structure will include opportunities for individual, small group and large group work, with an emphasis on experiential learning and learning from peers.


Winning: Leading Results-Based Teams

A leader’s primary responsibility is to drive results and report them on a periodic basis – monthly, quarterly, annually. By definition, results are lagging indicators: the multitudes of purposeful actions that occur hourly, daily, weekly are the leading indicators of future success. They are the many wins that combine to form the critical few results.

Dr. John Kotter’s 40 years of research shows that the ability to create a process and a culture around the generation of wins – winning – is an essential leadership competency. It is a core component of his 8-Step Process for Leading Change. Dr. Kotter’s pioneering research and our unique approach to driving results through wins differentiate
this program from all other leadership development offerings.

Audience: This program is primarily suited for mid-level managers in any company, government agency, or non-profit organization. The program is also well-suited for intact teams who collaborate on a regular basis, or those embarking on a new initiative. As with all of our programs, the structure will include opportunities for individual, small group and large group work, with an emphasis on experiential learning and learning from peers.


Under consideration for future development

In partnership with select clients, we have an ongoing co-development process in which we create classroom learning experiences from Dr. Kotter’s constantly expanding coffer of intellectual property. Among the books currently under consideration for development into programs are:

  • Managing Your Boss
  • A Sense of Urgency
  • The Heart of Change
  • What Leaders Really Do
  • The New Rules
  • Culture and Performance
  • A Force for Change
  • The Leadership Factor
  • The General Managers
  • Matsushita Leadership

Working Sessions

Senior level teams come to us for Leadership Working Sessions when:

  • Executive-level teams need to work together to create clarity, alignment and a communication plan for their strategy with a collaborative, highly-interactive approach
  • Leaders and leadership teams need to increase their understanding of:
    • The deep empirical research behind large-scale transformation: what works and what does not
    • The 8 Steps as a means and accelerant for driving leadership transformation
    • How to leverage power and influence to gain buy-in
    • How to strike the balance between leadership and management

The sessions fulfill two main objectives: One is to bring into collective focus your organization’s highest priority business issues, including challenges and opportunities. The other is to forge the essential leadership alignment that will serve as the catalyst for accelerating and sustaining your strategic objectives after the meeting is over.

Leadership Working Sessions currently available

Creating Strategic Clarity and Focus

Often, an executive team has formulated their strategy but recognizes that their workforce doesn’t completely grasp the implications of what it means or how to execute it. They sense that reinforcing their own alignment and improving their enterprise-wide communication could address these challenges. We know that alignment and communication are the essential prerequisites to strategy execution and large-scale transformation. Therefore, this session has three objectives: to enable top leadership teams to evaluate their own alignment; to collectively confirm or build certainty and agreement on the strategy; and to develop a tangible plan for communicating it across the organization.

Presenting need: You need your senior leaders to get on the same page before starting a significant transformation or strategy execution effort.

Participant profile: Senior-level executives, with organizational, divisional or functional responsibility for strategy formulation and execution. The buck stops with this team.

Participants per session: Up to 18 participants

Session duration: Depending on objectives and desired outcomes, can range from four hours to a two-day offsite session

Outcome: A leadership team that is aligned to your business strategy and priorities and sees a clear path toward accelerating your progress towards these goals. A deliberate plan for building commitment from your employees to execute against the strategy.

Leadership Transformation and the 8-Step Process for Leading Change

Many organizations find themselves facing a significant business opportunity, with pressure to act quickly in order to seize it. We help these clients understand how they can accelerate the implementation of their key strategic objectives by tapping leaders at all levels in their organization. These sessions introduce Dr. Kotter’s leading research on transformation and the 8-Step methodology that is proven to enable organizations to accelerate their performance and their strategic results and outcomes.

Presenting need: You need a cadre of leaders to understand the realities and practicalities of large-scale transformation – from the dual perspectives of research and application – as a prerequisite to becoming transformation leaders themselves.

Participant profile: Senior leaders with responsibility for executing strategy or driving horizontal and vertical change throughout their organization

Participants per session: Up to 50 participants

Session duration: 90 minutes to a one-day immersion workshop, depending on objectives and desired outcomes

Outcome: Your leaders will have an understanding of how transformations succeed and fail, how organizations have applied the 8-Step Process for Leading Change, and the kinds of business results that can be expected from deploying the Process.

Leading through Power and Influence

Organizations are becoming increasingly complex, global/virtual and matrixed. Command-and-control management – cascaded through a traditional hierarchical structure – is no longer a sufficient way to lead an organization. Leaders must learn how to influence and get buy-in and commitment – up, down and across the organization – in order to drive change and deliver business results at an increasing pace. These sessions explore the concepts and success strategies for gaining buy-in.

Presenting need: When your organization is known more for its silos than its bridges, but cross-boundary collaboration is critical.

Participant profile: Leaders of intact groups, cross-functional and new teams will benefit from this session

Participants per session: Up to 50 participants

Session duration: Two to four hours, depending on objectives and desired outcomes

Outcome: Your leaders will be armed with new capabilities that assist them in removing barriers to accelerate progress, both within your own organization and externally with partners and clients.

Leadership and Management

Most contemporary organizations have a heavy focus on recruiting and growing excellent managers who can run day-to-day operations. Good managers, however, are often insufficiently equipped with the leadership skills that make great business operators – the skills that enable them to shift and/or execute their strategies with vision, speed and agility. An organization must balance both management and leadership capabilities in order to succeed in today’s rapidly changing global economy. It is critical to leverage the leadership potential at all levels in the organization to achieve a true competitive advantage. These sessions take a deep dive into the importance of building both managers and leaders in an organization.

Presenting need: When a chronic execution problem is a symptom of persistent, pervasive confusion in the ranks of employees with direct reports over when to manage and when to lead.

Participant profile: Senior leaders who would benefit from a deeper understanding of how management and leadership differ as a means of improving their daily performance. Intact groups as well as cross-functional and new teams will benefit from this session

Participants per session: Numbers are flexible

Session duration: 90 minutes to 4 hours, depending on objectives and desired outcomes

Outcome: Your business leaders will have the ability to recognize the difference between leadership and management, when each is needed, and the value of having strengths in both. They will be able to assess their strengths in both areas, and this often results in partnering with organizational support functions to develop a plan for building their capabilities accordingly.

Speaking Engagements

Clients come to us for Speaking Engagements when they:

  • Want their leaders and employees to learn about leadership, large-scale transformation and strategy execution from the foremost experts in the field
  • Want both the latest research and deep, direct experience with organizations that have transformed themselves successfully
  • Are convening a large group of leaders in one location
  • Are willing to commit at least 1-2 hours to the subject

What we speak about

In our speaking engagements, we incorporate Dr. Kotter’s research, concepts and methodology from various best-selling books, including Leading Change, What Leaders Really Do, A Sense of Urgency, Our Iceberg Is Melting and others.

Currently, many of our speaking engagements focus on Dr. Kotter’s latest book, Accelerate (XLR8) and the Harvard Business Review article that preceded it. In this study, he proposes a groundbreaking organizational structure comprised of a “dual operating system” that results from the successful implementation of the 8-Step Process. This new model is an organization that balances a conventional hierarchy with a dynamic innovation network made up of volunteers. The balance is a combination of reliability and efficiency with speed and agility. Such a system enables organizations to transform themselves continuously, and thus keep pace with a faster moving world.

How we speak

Our approach to speaking is different from that of a typical keynote speech. We focus not only on the event itself, but on the flow of activity that occurs before, during and after it. As a result, the event serves as a stepping stone towards long-term organizational transformation.

Our preparation begins with phone interviews of key executives in order to discover important information exclusive to the client’s company. We prefer not to lecture, so we deliver presentations that are highly interactive and engage the audience with visuals, video clips and other media to relate how companies fail and succeed with transformation. We invite discussion throughout.

In all cases, when we speak to an audience, we speak with only one goal: to motivate future action that gets results.