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In his book, Leading Change, John Kotter (1996) identified the eight most common mistakes in the change process:

  1. ALLOWING TOO MUCH COMPLACENCY – According to Kotter, the biggest mistake individuals make when trying to change an organization is to proceed without establishing a sense of urgency.
  2. FAILING TO CREATE A SUFFICIENTLY POWERFUL GUIDING COALITION – A change initiative lacking a powerful guiding coalition is likely to face passive resistance and ultimately fail. A single individual, regardless of how competent or charismatic, will not have all the assets needed to overcome tradition and inertia. Weak committees are even less effective. The guiding coalition should include members of the leadership team as well as a sufficient number of other individuals and strong line leadership.
  3. UNDERESTIMATING THE POWER OF VISION – Vision plays an instrumental role by helping to direct, align, and inspire actions of the individuals within the organization. Without a sensible vision to guide decision making, the change initiative becomes nothing more than a series of projects with little or no coherent direction. Encourage “out of the box” thinking and nurture a “collective” vision.
  4. UNDER COMMUNICATING THE VISION – The importance of frequent communication of the vision is underscored by the fact that change initiatives are likely doomed to failure unless most of the employees are willing to help. Kotter cites three patterns of ineffective communication: Even with a compelling vision, one will not win the hearts and minds of employees by holding a few meetings and sending out a couple emails or memos. Second, communication with employees must include all groups. Communicating with some employee groups while neglecting others will not produce the desired results. The third pattern involves identifying highly visible individuals in the organization. If key individuals act in ways that are not consistent with the new vision, other employees will become more skeptical.
  5. PERMITTING OBSTACLES TO BLOCK THE NEW VISION – Too often, organizations fail to address barriers that block change initiatives. Barriers include organizational structures such as narrow job descriptions that may prove counterproductive to new productivity initiatives, customer service, compensation or appraisal systems that are in conflict with the change initiative. This may cause people to choose self-interests over the new initiative. Further, individuals in administrative positions who refuse to change may place demands on others causing inconsistency. Know that one well-placed blocker can undermine an entire change initiative.
  6. FAILING TO CREATE SHORT-TERM WINS – Most employees will not support complex change initiatives unless they see compelling evidence within six to eighteen months that the new direction is producing expected results. Administrators must identify short-term goals that can be achieved, rewarded, and celebrated. Without short-term wins, resistance to the change initiative is likely to increase.
  7. DECLARING VICTORY TOO SOON – All too often, after a few years of work on the change initiative, leaders prematurely declare success after only the first major performance improvement. Keep in mind that there is a difference between celebrating an early win and declaring a victory. Celebrating an early win can act as a great reinforcement but leaders should steer clear of any comments which would lead people to believe that the job is finished. It takes many years to drive change bone-deep into the culture of an organization.
  8. NEGLECTING TO ANCHOR CHANGES FIRMLY IN THE ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE – As Kotter points out, change sticks only when it becomes “the way we do business around here.” He cites two factors that are important to driving change bone-deep in the organization’s culture. The first is making a conscious effort to show employees that specific behaviors and attitudes have helped to improve performance. The second factor is to ensure that the next generation of administrators understand and support the change initiative.

The common mistakes identified by Kotter should be given thoughtful consideration prior to beginning any change initiative. While some of the common mistakes should be addressed prior to beginning the change initiative, others should be monitored throughout the entire process. For example, the guiding coalition that Kotter refers to would be facilitated through a functional District Leadership Team (DLT) working in concert with the Building Leadership Teams (BLTs). Establishing these teams is one of the first steps in using the Ohio Improvement Process. Information about establishing these teams can be found in the on-line learning resources on the Ohio Leadership Advisory Council website at www.ohioleadership.org.

View the OLAC on-line module: The Why, Who, How, and What of Teams

View the OLAC on-line module: Teacher-based Teams: What Districts Need to Know

When making the case for a change initiative, it is also important for leaders to be clear about what should not change. When leaders are clear about what should not change, gaining consensus around what should be changed is likely to increase. We have also learned that changes resulting from commitments made by individuals from within the organization are likely to be more successful than those mandated by others.

Change must be internally marketed, and we must be fully committed to spending whatever time is necessary to obtain buy-in and ownership from the employees and community.

Now that we are familiar with some of the common mistakes that are made when implementing a change initiative, let’s turn our attention to why employees resist change. They do so for many different reasons. From their point of view, employees seldom resist change for irrational reasons. On the contrary, they resist change for reasons that make sense to them. Remember, “where you stand depends on where you sit.”

Common reasons why employees resist change include the following:

  • Communication does not meet their needs - When leaders do not clearly spell out the what, why, and how of change, and also fail to communicate expectations for future performance, employees are likely to resist change. Employees are more likely to support change if the leader communicates a compelling reason for the change initiative. In the absence of two-way communication between those in leadership roles and employees, the grapevine will fill the communication gap and the change effort is more vulnerable to being sabotaged or undermined.
  • Fear of failure exists - When long-standing practices are altered and changes in practice are implemented, employees may begin to doubt their ability to perform at expected levels. Employees worry that they cannot adapt to new work requirements. Reassurances need to be established that professional development (PD) will be a major component of the change initiative.
  • They feel change is being forced upon them – Employees do not resist change as much as they resist being changed.
  • There is a perceived negative outcome – It is natural for employees to resist change when they perceive the change to be harmful to their existing position or situation.
  • Peer pressure to do so is high – Employees will resist change to protect their colleagues and managers will resist change to protect their administrative unit.
  • A climate of distrust exists – For a climate of trust to exist, employees must feel that the intentions and behaviors of those leading the change initiative are well intended. Even a thoughtful, well-planned change initiative is doomed to failure if a climate of distrust exists.

Without some basis for conversations, attitudes and behaviors can often be difficult to put on the table. Use the following activity to engage staff in a conversation about change. Consider also involving parents/community members in the activity.

ACTIVITY #4:

Your Child’s Ideal District/School: Ask the group to design their ideal district/school – one that they’d want their own child, or a child close to them, to attend. What beliefs or values should guide the practice of the district/school personnel? How should decisions be made about how best to prepare all children for success?

Two tools – both described in the THE SUPERINTENDENT’S ROLE OVERVIEW section of this site – are excellent resources for beginning these often-difficult conversations.

  1. The Ohio Decision Framework tool: the major tool used at stage 1 of the OIP, is designed to assist DLTs and BLTs in making informed decisions about where to spend their time, energy, and resources.
  2. The District Self-Assessment Guide: an assessment tool developed through Moving Your Numbers, is intended to be used by district and building leadership teams to gauge the district’s degree of implementation in and scale of actions associated with the following areas of effective practice: effective using data well, focusing your goals, selecting and implementing shared instructional practices, implementing deeply, monitoring and providing feedback and support, and sustaining a culture of inquiry and learning.

Using these tools will create opportunities for rich conversations about attitudes and behaviors, which in turn, will influence actions and decisions about where to spend time, energy, and resources. Detailed information about how to identify critical needs through the Ohio Decision Framework tool is accessible through the Ohio Leadership Advisory Council website at www.ohioleadership.org. The District Self-Assessment Guide can be accessed through the Moving

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Download the Superintendent's Assessment Tool from MovingYourNumbers.org

This District Self-Assessment Guide is intended for use by district leadership teams and school-level leadership teams in gauging the district's degree of implementation and scale of actions associated with effective practices identified by Moving Your Numbers.

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Supporting Partners

  • University of Dayton, a supporting partner of the Ohio Doing What Works program
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  • State Support Team 3, a supporting partner of the Ohio Doing What Works program
  • Ohio Department of Education, a supporting partner of the Ohio Doing What Works program
  • Buckeye Association of School Administrators, a supporting partner of the Ohio Doing What Works program
  • Ohio Leadership Advisory Council, a supporting partner of the Ohio Doing What Works program

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