Common Mistakes in Implementing the 7-Stage Change Model and How to Avoid Them

Tianyu WANG
6 min readJan 9, 2024

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For companies, changes are inevitable and they require a lot of time and effort to make them happen. There are many successful stories about how changes helped a company and the great solutions developed through the journey. However, there are also many more failures around us. Many of us witness the failure of changes, confusion and fear. As a leader, how would you implement a change for your organization? One of the most popular and widely used frameworks for managing change is the 7-stage change model proposed by Kotter (1996). This model provides a systematic and comprehensive approach for implementing changes in organizations.

However, this model is not without its challenges and pitfalls. In this essay, I will discuss the common mistakes that people make in implementing the 7-stage change model, and how to avoid them.

Let’s step back and answer one question, what is change? Change is the process of altering a major aspect of an organization, such as its culture, technology, or processes. Change can be triggered by various factors, such as customers, markets, technology, competition, or regulation. Change can also be different in scale and scope, such as adaptive changes that are small and incremental, or transformational changes that are large and radical. Change affects the organization and its people in many ways, so it needs to be managed well with the right tools, techniques, and mindsets.

The goal of organizational change is to realize great solutions that can enhance the performance, productivity, and well-being of the organization and its people.

However, before implementing any solution, it is important to go through the first three stages of the change model: UNDERSTAND, ENLIST, and ENVISAGE. These stages help people to understand the problem and its root causes, enlist the support and commitment of the key stakeholders, and envisage the desired future state and the strategy to achieve it. These stages are essential for creating a strong case for change and a shared vision and strategy that can guide the subsequent actions.

If we look at the right side of the change model, we can see that the organization focus becomes more prominent in the following four stages: MOTIVATE, COMMUNICATE, ACT and CONSOLIDATE. These stages are crucial for ensuring that the change effort is implemented effectively and sustained over time. MOTIVATE involves creating a positive and supportive environment for the change effort, by addressing the emotional and psychological needs of the people involved. It explains the WHY. COMMUNICATE is to communicate the vision, strategy, and progress of the change effort clearly and consistently throughout the organization. ACT, this stage involves executing the change plan and delivering the desired outcomes. This might include managing the resources, tasks, and risks involved in the change process, as well as monitoring and evaluating the results and impacts of the change. CONSOLIDATE will reinforce and embed the change into the organization’s culture and systems. This might include rewarding and celebrating the achievements and successes of the change effort, as well as reviewing and learning from the challenges and failures.

Okay, we are clear about the model itself, let’s talk about common mistakes. In this section, I will discuss six common mistakes that people make in implementing the 7-stage change model, and how to avoid them.

Mistake 1: Communication comes before aligning key stakeholders

Top management might communicate a blurry situation to all employees without a clear plan. They emphasized on the transparency but forgot to align the key stakeholders first. This can lead to misunderstanding of the organization and people might imagine what will happen next. Without passing the first stages, this communication can’t create positive ambience and no motivations for sure. To avoid this mistake, it is important to go through the first three stages of the model: UNDERSTAND, ENLIST, and ENVISAGE, before communicating the change to the whole organization.

Mistake 2: Missing the motivation stage

Motivation is important for the entire organization to be emotionally engaged with the plan. But some organizations tend to design a change and go for it. If people are not motivated for the change, how would we ensure it will be implemented successfully? The motivation phase is critical to explain the WHY to everyone, without it, we can’t move forward. To avoid this mistake, it is essential to create a positive and supportive environment for the change effort, by addressing the emotional and psychological needs of the people involved, in the MOTIVATE stage of the model.

Mistake 3: Drive a big change without a core team

If you look at the early stages, there is one called ENLIST. It’s for identifying and creating the core team. But many changes happened without this team setup. Obviously, without the core, it’s hard to ask departments to make the changes. So what is a core team? A team consisting of key stakeholders from all impacted departments. Once identifying the problem and scope of the change, we will be able to choose the representatives from those groups. Imagining your organization wants to change the product development strategy, you probably need to include people from product, engineering, sales, marketing and human resources. If you only put product and engineering stakeholders into the team, the solution won’t include the input from other departments. Whereas, a product development strategy can definitely affect your marketing, revenues and people at some points. To avoid this mistake, it is vital to identify and engage the key stakeholders and potential resistors, and form a core team that can lead and support the change effort, in the ENLIST stage of the model.

Mistake 4: Drive a big change with too many stakeholders

Opposite to #3, some organizations prefer to open the door and let all employees to define the solution together. It’s good to be inclusive but so hard to implement with a big group of individuals. Noises can come earlier than the real discussions and we can receive hundreds of inputs without an agreement. Feedback is not equal to suggestion, we can open sessions for 50 people to provide feedback but not letting all of them think about the solution. Again, the core team should be responsible for ENVISAGE, building the first version of vision and strategy. To avoid this mistake, it is important to balance the participation and the efficiency of the change process, by involving the right people at the right time, and using appropriate methods and tools to collect and analyze the feedback and suggestions, in the ENVISAGE stage of the model.

Mistake 5: Jumping into the organization focus too quickly

Some managers prefer implementing the solution without a short break. If employees don’t have enough time to digest the information, the quick action can create more disruptions. COMMUNICATE stage is not one communication, we need to ensure everyone understands the change and where do we want to go. Repetition and iteration are necessary for the organization to acknowledge the information. Acting too quickly will create burden afterwards. To avoid this mistake, it is crucial to communicate the vision, strategy, and progress of the change effort clearly and consistently throughout the organization, using different channels and methods, in the COMMUNICATE stage of the model, before moving to the ACT stage.

Mistake 6: Acting but no consolidation

I witnessed some changes were implemented but had no consolidation at all. What were the lessons learned? Who should be appraised? Did we recognize all contributors? How we lead the next change? Many questions were not answered but the change was considered as closed. We tend to omit the importance of CONSOLIDATE stage, which is important for the organization to reward people and recognize improvement. To avoid this mistake, it is essential to reinforce and embed the change into the organization’s culture and systems, by rewarding and celebrating the achievements and successes of the change effort, as well as reviewing and learning from the challenges and failures, in the CONSOLIDATE stage of the model.

Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future. — John F. Kennedy

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Tianyu WANG
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I am dedicated to empowering my teams, fostering efficiency and collaboration, and yielding more successful stories.