Leading Change (Step 2) – Create the Guiding Coalition

Video: Leading Change Step 2 – Create the Guiding Coalition

In  my previous blog post on leading change, I discussed the first step of John Kotter’s eight-step model. This first step requires senior leaders to create a sense of urgency in the organization to gain the cooperation of affected stakeholders including employees and lower level managers.  Once senior leaders  have created a sense of urgency in the organization, the next step is for senior leaders to create a guiding coalition (change oversight team).  This is the second step of the leading change model:

Chart_John Kotter Model Leading Change
Chart Source:  John P. Kotter, Leading Change, Harvard Business School Press

Senior leadership empowers this coalition with enough organizational power to lead the change effort and keep it on target through its various stages. The success of a change effort largely depends on the quality of the guiding coalition and the attention senior leadership gives to its composition. The importance of this step is minimized at times and this often leads to failed organizational change efforts.

There are several common mistakes that senior leaders make. First, senior leaders often fail to stay actively engaged with their guiding coalition after they form it.  This is a mistake as ongoing senior leadership participation with the guiding coalition is essential to the success of a change effort. Without this ongoing participation, the guiding coalition is unable to counter the inevitable resistance to change that will occur from various organizational stakeholders.

Second, senior leaders can doom the coalition’s effectiveness by appointing the wrong people to the team. Coalition members must be skilled at what they do, be credible to others in the organization, and ideally be influential (so they can influence others to accept change). The coalition members must also trust each other and egos and backbiting must be closely managed.  If the guiding coalition cannot work together, the change effort is doomed to failure!

The coalition composition must also have strong line-leadership membership. To encourage organizational buy-in, senior leaders must resist the temptation to “stack” the coalition membership with high-level staff positions. Finally, the team must be composed of leaders and managers.   It must have vision and process capabilities.  An effective guiding coalition has the right mix of individuals at different levels of the organization with the following characteristics:

John Kotter Change Model, Guiding Coalition© Business Consulting Solutions LLC

Third, senior leaders must ensure that the guiding coalition starts off on the right foundation.  Appointing smart and credible people is the beginning of this activity.  Senior leaders must also structure the coalition appropriately so it can be effective.  This begins with letting the team work outside of the normal hierarchy with a direct reporting line to senior leadership for the change effort.  This is necessary to ensure that decisions are made for the good of the overall organization.  Finally, allowing the coalition to participate in off-site team building activities is an effective means for coordinating team efforts and keeping the group focused.

If senior leadership has performed the various activities of this step correctly, it will increase the likelihood of the coalition’s success.  Senior leadership must stay engaged with the coalition throughout the change effort.  It must appoint the right individuals to the coalition  and it must structure the coalition appropriately.  With an effective guiding coalition in place, senior leadership can then move to the third step of the leading change model, Developing a Vision and Strategy.

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