become a successful change leader

The business market is constantly evolving. To stay afloat, organizations must adapt and implement appropriate initiatives.

It sounds simple, doesn’t it? Yet research indicates that an estimated two-thirds of large-scale transformation efforts fail.


Well, it comes down to one thing. Having strong change leadership.

In today’s blog, we’ll dive deeper into the concept of change leadership and how you can become a successful change leader.

What is change leadership?

Change management strategist, Yvonne Ruke Akpoveta, defines change leadership as, “the ability to influence and inspire action in others, and respond with vision and agility during periods of growth, disruption or uncertainty to bring about the needed change.”

A change leader guides their team through change while remaining at the front line to face any consequences and help with unexpected challenges. They place a strong emphasis on communication, long-term goals, and innovation.

Being prepared to survive change and proactively leverage opportunities for change from within the organization is key.

Change Leadership Models

To date, there are several change management models that organizations turn to for inspiration. In today’s blog, we’ll be looking at three approaches that are frequently used.

The Kotter Method

The Kotter Method was created by Harvard Business School professor and leadership expert John Kotter. The idea was first presented in his book “Leading Change,” which was based on years of research on countless leaders and organizations that were attempting to execute change.

From this research, Kotter was able to identify common success factors, which became known as the 8 Steps for Leading Change. Let’s take a look at them.

The 8 Steps in Kotter’s Change Mode

1. Establish a sense of urgency

To achieve ever-lasting change, all those involved should feel a sense of urgency and believe that the change is required to instill growth in the organization.

The goal of this step is to prepare employees for the forthcoming change and to encourage them to participate.

2. Create a guiding coalition

This step focuses on creating a strong team to lead change initiatives and influence stakeholders.

Once you’ve established a team, focus on creating clear objectives while continuing to build momentum and urgency around the need for change.[

3. Form a strategic vision

Build a clear vision and plan effective strategies to help the team achieve it. The vision should align with the organization’s values and the change initiative, optimize data, as well as consider the suggestions of employees.

4. Communicate the change vision

Once you have created the change vision for your organization, you must communicate it in a way that encourages the rest of the company to accept it and respond with support.

To do so, talk often about the change vision, address concerns openly and honestly, and apply your vision to all aspects of operations.

5. Enable action by removing barriers

Concentrate on removing any obstacles that may slow down the organization’s process toward its change vision.

6. Generate short-term wins

Change doesn’t happen overnight, and for some employees, this can be a hard pill to swallow. That’s why it’s imperative that you set short-term goals and celebrate early in the change process. Generating short-term wins will help you maintain momentum and inspire employees to continue supporting the effort.

7. Consolidate gains and produce more change

To keep the change going you must ensure that the teams continuously work hard to achieve the change vision. Maintain momentum by eliminating unnecessary procedures, maximizing the advantages of quick wins, and continuing to share the vision and its benefits.

8. Anchor the changes in the culture

To ensure the changes stick, discuss their importance, improve procedures that no longer fit, and establish new training to assist employees in gaining the skills needed to adapt to the new changes.

Why Kotter’s Change Management Model works

Since its inception decades ago, Kotter’s Change Model has successfully been used to implement organizational change across a wide range of industries.

The main reason Kotter’s 8-step change paradigm continues to be a popular choice among organizations is because of its simplicity. Instead of relying on overly complicated change theories, the method focuses on providing change managers with an easy-to-follow roadmap. Each stage clearly outlines what needs to be done to help change managers stay on track.

The ADKAR Approach

Another popular change leadership model is the ADKAR approach. Developed by Jeff Hiatt, the founder of the change management consulting and research group Prosci, the individual-based approach works to help employees understand and accept change so that organizations can become more efficient.

The 5 building blocks of the ADKAR model

The ADKAR change model includes the following building blocks:

A: Awareness

Employees need to be aware that the change is coming. The less they know, the more resistance they will demonstrate.

D: Desire

Just because employees understand why a change needs to be made, doesn’t mean they will want to make the change. Be aware of employees’ feelings and address any fears or resignations they may have.

K: Knowledge

The more knowledge and training employees receive, the more they’ll understand the change and the benefits it offers.

If the change requires new processes, provide employees with the appropriate training to ensure operations run smoothly.

A: Ability

In this stage, employees must turn their learning into practical application, via training, support, and coaching.

To help fine-tune the process, you can monitor employees as they begin implementing changes and provide constructive feedback.

R: Reinforcement

Finally, the change must be reinforced to ensure employees don’t resort back to their old ways. Providing recognition, rewards and positive feedback are just some of the ways you can keep the changes in place.

Why the ADKAR Approach is successful

The ADKAR approach has gained considerable popularity among many businesses. Year after year, it continues to demonstrate the importance individuals have in establishing successful change within an organization.

Its practicality, straightforwardness, and extensive training and support available are just a few reasons why this approach continues to be used by several industries.

Lewin’s Change Management Model

The next change model we’ll be reviewing is Lewin’s change management model. This change model looks at why change occurs and what must be done to deliver change seamlessly.

Proposed by change leader Kurt Lewin, the approach specifically looks at how people react when facing change in their lives. According to Lewin, change is divided into three steps: unfreezing, changing, and refreezing.

Unfreezing: the Preparation Stage

According to Lewin’s change management model, the first step in achieving transformation is to prepare the organization to accept that changes are needed. This can be achieved by recognizing the need for change and creating this awareness among employees.

A key part of the unfreezing stage is creating a compelling narrative that explains why the organization’s current operations cannot continue.

Changing: the Implementation Phase

The second phase is where the changes begin to take place.

During this stage, you will need to eliminate any resistance that exists by clearly communicating how your idea holds practical value for your organization.

It’s also important to celebrate milestones and victories along the way to highlight the progress that has been made. Doing so publicly is especially beneficial as it can sway any employees that may still be on the fence.


During this stage, the changes made are accepted and “refrozen” as the new norm. To ensure the changes made are solidified, acknowledgement and positive feedback on individual efforts must be provided.

Why Lewin’s Model Inspires Change

Lewin’s approach to change management is highly valued. The model works great for large-scale projects and focuses on people as the source of change. It also works to ensure that those involved in making the changes feel like they are a part of what makes their company successful.

McKinsey’s 7-S Change Management Model

The final change management model we will be looking at is McKinsey’s 7-S approach. The framework was developed in the 1980s by McKinsey consultants James L. Heskett, John P. Kotter, and Leonard A. Schlesinger.

They found that when successful companies developed an issue, they’re able to quickly diagnose and tackle the root of the problem by using seven parts of the organization: structure, strategy, staff, style, systems, shared values, and skills. Let’s spend some time going over each one in more detail.


An effective strategy serves as the foundation for an organization’s change management plan. Without a clear one, it’s practically impossible to convince employees or stakeholders that changes are necessary. If you can clearly define what your business stands for and how you foresee it expanding, people will be more inclined to understand why changes are necessary.


The structure of your organization refers to the different types of departments, divisions, and roles that exist within your company. It also includes how these different departments interact with one another.

Structure is important when facilitating change because it helps defines roles, like level of authority and what certain individuals are responsible for.


The organizational system relates to workflows responsible for getting the job done on a daily basis.

When contemplating changes, it may be necessary to consider the different types of management systems in place as each has an impact on the functionality of the organization as a whole.


Next up is style. This represents the style of leadership and decision-making that currently exists within an organization. When approaching style, assess whether there is a need for any changes within departments and workplace culture.


Staff is you guessed it, all about the people within an organization. To assess if a change is needed ask questions like:

  • Are all positions held by the right people?
  • Are there any problems regarding employees? (Example: burnout, low morale)
  • What is the level of diversity?
  • What is the current workforce strategy?

Answers to the above question will identify which areas you may need to lend your focus.


The next S is related to the skills of employees. It calls on change leaders to assess what current employees are bringing to the table and what competencies they have or need to acquire.

Part of this assessment requires businesses to ensure employees are keeping up to date with the latest industry knowledge and skills.

Shared Values

The final component of McKinsey’s approach to change is shared values. This is all about the culture of the business. It includes how employees interact with one another and the values they share.

The shared values of your employees should align with the mission and vision of your company. If there is a large amount of contrast, you might want to consider reassessing what the company values are.

Benefits of McKinsey’s 7-S Model

The McKinsey 7-S Model is an effective framework for change management because it helps both individual employees and upper-level executives understand the various components of change that affect the organization. This allows individuals to better understand their roles in the process of organizational change and how much their contribution actually matters.

6 ways to be a Successful Change Leader

Now that you know a bit more about change leadership and its various models, here are some tips to make it a part of your management style:

Look at the Bigger Picture

Change leaders have the ability to visualize long-term organizational goals while aligning their efforts to achieve them. They constantly identify new opportunities for innovation and strive to arrange the resources and tools needed to drive transformation.

This is not to say that weekly or even daily goals aren’t important. They are. But successful change leadership requires individuals to look beyond their organization’s current situation and place a stronger emphasis on where they want their business to go and what needs to happen to achieve those goals.

Stand by your Vision

The process of change is filled with ups and downs. While some people may appreciate your ideas, others may react with resistance. As a leader, it’s your responsibility to convince others to invest their time and energy in your venture. Therefore, it’s important for change leaders to have confidence and determination while standing by their vision.

Be a Great Communicator

To bring about change, a leader must exemplify strong communication skills.

Successful change leaders should specifically communicate why the change is required and how it will impact the company’s short and long-term goals.

Create a Plan

Having a detailed strategic plan helps kickstart the initiative while outlining objectives and milestones. It also helps employees connect with the vision and understand their roles in making it successful.

Practice Dedication

Change doesn’t happen overnight so it’s no surprise that successful change leadership takes a certain level of dedication.

Change leaders understand that even the most minor transformations trigger pushback and disruptions across the organization. To succeed, they must be dedicated to their vision and identify the type of efforts that are required to support the suggested changes.

Prioritize Collaboration

Change is not a one-man operation. It requires team effort and collaboration.

In fact, a study completed at Harvard Business School found that when we’re involved in the construction process, we tend to value the end result more than if we had not participated. Thus, to increase the success rate of your change strategy it is imperative that you involve people in the process.

Embrace Change as a Way of Life

As a business that has been around for over 50 years, SWS Warning Lights knows a thing or two about change.

Since we opened our small shop in 1969, we’ve had to make an assortment of modifications to survive in this ever-changing industry. And it’s paid off! Today, we’ve grown to become a leading amber warning lights supplier to the North American construction and heavy-vehicle markets. Contact us today to experience why SWS Warning Lights is North America’s go-to source for amber warning lights.

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