Book Report

Accelerate by John P. Kotter, Harvard Business Review ISBN: 978-1-62527-174-7


          Harvard Business School Professor of Leadership, and world-renowned change agent, John P. Kotter, gives us an overview of the current climate in organizational change and leadership strategy. Kotter demonstrates through money markets and other market indicators how the rate of change is increasing exponentially, along with the rate of technology and growth (4). Kotter conveys that organizational history is entrenched in a system that moves away from networking and establishes permanency in hierarchy, failing to maintain the ability to adapt to necessary change. Additionally, organizations lack great leadership talent-with only a few at the top-and tend to use middle-management to develop strategy and move the organization forward. Supporting our learning in class, in his book, Accelerate, Kotter tells us this is neither wise nor effective and shows us through a dual operating system of hierarchy and networking, how a group of change agents can move an organization from stagnancy to growth.

In the first chapter of the book, Kotter gives us some of the key idea killers and reason that projects fail. As with our class experiences demonstrating resistance to change, one of the key reasons he says, is that people are resistant to change for the reasons of fear. As Leith Sharp also explained, fear of failure, job loss, risk of losing social capital, and personal relationships. Another key component he gives is when there is insufficient buy-in from the organizational leaders, and as we learned in our on campus residency, it is key to engage the key stakeholders early-on to ensure their full commitment and comprehension of the benefits, going forward. Kotter insists, “The C-suite or executive committee must launch it, explicitly bless it, support it, and ensure that it and the hierarchy stay aligned (22).

The problem, Kotter says, is really in our perception in that people tend to blame “people”, such as the managers for not being willing to take risk or make change, when in reality the problem is systemic in nature and a product of design. Post WWII, companies were built to be reproducible, says Kotter, to repeat simple processes and produce mass quantities of product. The system, built to minimize risk and keep workers in their productive boxes, generating maximum revenue, is not conducive to rapid and fundamental change (173-178). As we learned in our course concepts, Kotter shows us how to implement a dual-operating system, by adding a dynamic, energetic, adaptive networking system within the organization that works throughout and alongside the hierarchal organization. Similar to what we have learned in this course with “the dance” necessary to work between two structures, he shows us how these two systems working congruently and contemporaneously, making for a successful platform for wide-scale organizational change. Something, that Kotter says, is rarely seen as successful in today’s corporate structures, admitting that industries are at a crux with millions being spent on failed change strategies and that very few have been able to develop a clear-cut method. Kotter conveys that we need today is a “powerful new element” to address rapid change and that this dual system will “supercharge” organizations toward success (11).

Kotter’s dual operating system is comprised by a “diagonal slice” of employees throughout the organization, capitalizing on key areas of the business and freeing information from the structured silos. It is governed by important guiding principles, including: utilizing many people to catalyze change, having a get-to-it mindset, and creating action with head and heart (22). Equally as important, Kotter gives us eight “accelerators” that he insists are catalysts to change. These include building urgency around a “big opportunity”, building a guiding coalition, forming a change-vision, enlisting a volunteer army, removing barriers, generating and celebrating wins, sustaining acceleration, and instituting formal change (33).

Kotter gives us insight to what makes a good leader and emphatically states that good management does not equal good leadership. He says, that management is put in place to govern, plan, budget, problem solve, and minimize risk, among other things, and are set to “produce reliable, efficient, and predictable results” (59). But, leadership however, is to establish direction, align and motivate people, inspire, and mobilize (61). Further, Kotter gives us a strategy to implement change within our organization with tips, for example, how to model urgency (109), and how to create a “Big Opportunity Statement” to launch the initiative (139). In this regard, his advice is to make it short, rational, compelling, positive, authentic, clear, and aligned…and gives detailed information on what that means.

Finally, Kotter gives us specific case examples on how some individuals and organizations have implemented his change strategies and achieved long-lasting success. Overall, this book is an inspirational and optimistic read and reiterates our course principals, providing a written roadmap to organizational change with the insight as to how and why each component of the strategy, with appropriate effort and implementation, can work.


Favorite Quotes:

*“Organizations everywhere are struggling to keep up with the accelerating pace of change-let alone get ahead of it” (1).

*“Very few jobs in traditional hierarchical organizations provide the information and experience needed to help people become leaders.”(14).

*“Leadership is about setting a direction. It’s about creating a vision, empowering and inspiring people to want to achieve the vision, and enabling them to do so with energy and speed through an effective strategy” (60).

*“Almost all highly performing organizations have in their futures the possibility of continuing to prosper greatly despite moving into a world where the rules have changed” (132).

*”Today, strategy is being viewed…more as a dynamic force…that constantly seeks opportunities, identifies initiatives to capitalize on them, and completes those initiatives swiftly and efficiently (178).”


Favorite Chapters:

Chapter 1: Explains the current state of organization and limitations of organizational hierarchy.

Chapter 4: Leadership, what it is and what it’s not. How corporations confuse the two, very different, roles.

Chapter 6: Modeling Urgency. Provides examples on how to create a sense of urgency, without alienating people.

Chapter 9: The Inevitable Future of Change. The history and future of change, including today’s strategy: two phases, creating and implantation, and the downfall of the annual plan.



Works Cited

Kotter, John P. Accelerate. Harvard Business Review Press. Boston. 2014