Organisational change? Then start a movement!

Written by Marius van Wyk

12 August 2019

Organisational change is most often fraught with complexities and difficulties. It is widely believed that approximately 70% of all change efforts are doomed to fail. Although this failure rate is quoted quite often, there are scholars who don’t believe it is sufficiently backed up by empirical evidence. Be that as it may, organisational change is not an easy enterprise. During one of my previous posts, I talked about the imperatives for change; particularly against the background of a rapidly changing business landscape. Businesses are being challenged with disruption from all angles. Creative destruction, brought about by market dynamics in pursuit of constantly new equilibria, confront business leaders daily. There is an imperative for companies to change and reinvent themselves, more than ever before!

No change/or transformation project, however, should be started without, in what John Kotter (1995) refers to as the creation of a guiding coalition with enough power to lead such a change effort. In fact, organisational change cannot be done by one individual alone. This requires nothing less than the start of a new movement. Please watch these videos which humorously and entertainingly portrays how a movement can be started!

Creating a guiding coalition

There is no individual, regardless of competency level, who would be capable of single-handedly:

  • developing the right vision for organisational change,
  • communicating/sharing this vision to vast numbers of people,
  • eliminating all the key obstacles to change,
  • defining success indicators and generating short term wins,
  • leading and managing dozens of competing change projects, and
  • anchoring new approaches deep in an organisation’s culture.

Assembling the right coalition of people to lead a change initiative is critical to its success; which coalition should have the right composition, the necessary (and significant) level of trust, as well as a shared vision. The importance of teams in the executive decision-making process, especially in a rapidly changing business world, cannot be overestimated. Complex organizations are forced to make decisions more quickly, with less certainty and with greater sacrifice, than ever before. Most often decisions must be made that are clearly beyond the comfort level of CEOs and their executive teams. Under these challenging circumstances, it becomes clear that teams acting in concert would be the only effective entities able to make productive decisions.

Having said that, it is imperative that team members develop a level of trust in one another – which would serve as the glue that makes the team function well. In today’s fast changing business landscape or when a company finds itself on a burning platform, team building must happen quickly. Kotter (1995) sees this to typically occur during an off-site retreat/event with carefully facilitated activities that allows for team members to make connections between both hearts and minds. Now it could be said that we have a movement!

What does an effective “guiding coalition” mean?

Assembling the right team, combining a level of trust – with a shared vision or goal in which the team believes, can result in a guiding coalition with the necessary capacity to make the envisioned change in the face of all the forces of inertia. Kotter (1995) identifies four qualities that an effective guiding coalition, as an entity, should have. These are:

  • Position power: – Enough key players should be on board so that those left out cannot block progress.
  • Expertise: – All relevant points of view should be represented so that informed intelligent decisions can be made.
  • Credibility: – The group should be seen and respected by those in the firm so that the group’s pronouncements will be taken seriously by other employees.
  • Leadership: – The group should have enough proven leaders to be able to drive the change process.


No organisational change can be brought about by one individual on his/her own, no matter how talented or competent such a person may be. We need a team, but more so, we need a guiding coalition to drive this change effort across the entire organisation. In order to do so, this team should be empowered, be credible and act as one. The guiding coalition will be the movement ensuring that the envisioned change does happen. No movement, no change!

Kotter, J. (1995) Leading change: why transformation efforts fail. Harvard Business Review, 73(2):59-65.
Mulholland, B. (2017) 8 Critical change models to evolve and survive. Process Street. Available from: [Accessed on: 15 May 2018]


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