Back to the future: revisiting Kotter's 1996 change model

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Authors: S.H. Appelbaum, S. Habashy, J.L. Malo, H. Shafiq

Publication Year: 2012


Journal: Journal of Management Developement

Volume: 31

Issue: 8

Categories: Organizational Change, Change, Gestalt Switch


The purpose of this paper is to gather current (2011) arguments and counterarguments in support of the classic change management model proposed by John P. Kotter in his 1996 book Leading Change. His work was based on his personal business and research experience, and did not reference any outside sources that has questioned its value. A current perspective on a limited tested model aims to be a focus of this paper. Design/methodology/approach – The literature on change management was reviewed for each of the eight steps defined in Kotter’s model, to review how much support each of these steps had, individually and collectively, in 15 years of literature. Findings – The review found support for most of the steps, although no formal studies were found covering the entire spectrum and structure of the model. Kotter’s change management model appears to derive its popularity more from its direct and usable format than from any scientific consensus on the results. However the model has several limitations, that are identified, impacting upon its universal acceptance and popularity. Research limitations/implications – Further studies should examine the validity of Kotter’s model as a whole. More importantly, change management research should form a greater link with stakeholders in order to translate current research into a format usable by practitioners. Practical implications – No evidence was found against Kotter’s change management model and it remains a recommendable reference. This paper attempts to “test” the “how-to-do-change management” with empirical and practitioner literature that was not evident in the original text. The model would be most useful as an implementation planning tool, but complementary tools should also be used during the implementation process to adapt to contextual factors or obstacles. Originality/value – Based upon a thorough review, this is the first formal review of Kotter’s change management model, 15 years after its introduction.