How to Get Better Results from Action Planning

Creating transformative change within an organization can be a business leader’s most important and most difficult job. At People Element, we’ve recently started using Kotter’s 8-step change management process, and we’re seeing tremendous results.

Once you identify a problem, the first question is ‘now what do I do?” says Megan Younkin, Consulting Director at People Element. “Going through the Kotter steps gives you a clear understanding of what you need to do to take action. It’s a more structured way to get the information you need to know what to do first.

John Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School, debuted his 8-step process for transformative change in a 1995 Harvard Business Review article. He based his recommendations on studying change management in hundreds of large companies.

The 8 Kotter Steps:

  • Establishing A Sense Of Urgency
  • Forming A Powerful Guiding Coalition
  • Creating A Vision
  • Communicating The Vision
  • Empowering Others To Act On The Vision
  • Planning For And Creating Short-Term Wins
  • Consolidating Improvements And Producing More Change
  • Institutionalizing New Approaches

The Kotter method emphasizes communication, solid planning, and employee engagement. Companies with engaged employees have five times the shareholder returns than companies that don’t.

People Element works with clients to adopt the Kotter method at their organization. Our consultants meet with key stakeholders to develop an action plan. Our experience helps clients create a successful one.

We provide clients with recommendations for action based upon best practices we’ve learned from successful, high-performing organizations and from our industry expertise,” says Younkin.

Another key benefit of hiring a consultant—perspective. “If you’ve been at a company for a long time, it’s hard to get out of your own way of doing things,” says Younkin. “We have the outside perspective to ask the right questions to guide you toward developing the right steps.

Measurable Results and Accountability

Action planning using the Kotter method doesn’t just establish a plan. It also creates success measures and benchmarks so clients know if they are on the right track. The most standard measure is employee turnover, but other metrics we’ve used include sales quotas, absenteeism, and levels of employee engagement.

These success measures are built right into the plan, so People Element is a source of accountability for the clients. “A lot of the accountability is just checking up,” says Younkin. “We know what the milestones are; we know when things are supposed to happen.

These check-ins serve as both a debriefing about the action item, and as an opportunity to work through any struggles.

Monitoring Action

Clients can also input their action plans into our People Element platform where their timeline and goals can easily be monitored. “It’s a really good way to have transparency,” says Younkin. “If you’re a leader, you want to know what actions people are taking. If you’re an employee, you know that your boss can see that you are working on an action plan.

The action planning site also includes the creation of SMART goals, which we’re finding to be incredibly simple once the Kotter method has been implemented. Creating SMART goals requires answering these questions:

Is it:

  • Specific?
  • Measurable?
  • Attainable?
  • Realistic?
  • Time-based?

Says Younkin: “By the time we get done going through the 8 Kotter steps, we already have the answers to those questions.

Real-World Action Planning

Younkin recently helped a client take action very quickly, thanks to the Kotter method. Two of the client’s major issues were employees not feeling like their opinions mattered, and lack of communication from leadership.

To address these issues, the client decided to hold town hall meetings at each of their company locations—something they’d done in the past, but had since stopped. With this action item in mind, Younkin walked the client through all 8 steps, identifying why the town hall meetings were important, who was going to take charge, how the success of the project would be measured, etc.

By the time we were done, we had a very clear plan,” says Younkin.

The first client meeting took place in September—by November, the client had conducted their first town hall meeting. Moving forward, Younkin is monitoring future surveys for indication that the town hall meetings have helped engagement through helping employees feel heard and receiving sufficient communication from leadership.

If your organization needs change but isn’t sure where to start, calling in a professional with action planning experience should be your first move. Going through the Kotter method will give you a plan with built-in measurable results, accountability, and monitoring.

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