Stairway to Change

Photo by Ryoji Iwata on Unsplash

Stairways to Heaven, adapting Models

Leveraging Other Models

Many years ago, when I worked in the healthcare industry, my team sought to put together a systematic guide to sustainable organisational change – a quick shout-out to the legendary organisational development and culture team at ACT Health.

One of the indispensable tools was the ever-present and enduring Kotter change model. While it was going on 15 years old back then (time flies!), many visual representations of the model began with the first step at the top, creating the impression of a downhill journey once you started. Whether you interpreted that descent as effortless or a slippery slope, you’d be both right and wrong, depending on your perspective. 

Our adaptation of the Original Kotter Model

We chose to represent our Kotter-inspired model as upward steps, in four distinct phases. It lines up nicely with the idea that most major change initiatives require the “hill, skill and will” to achieve success.

Here’s the original version we did, circa 2008, to suit the context. 

An adapted 2008 version for ACT Health change

Change is not linear; it Swirls

During my time in consulting, Kotter’s model has always been in my mind. I tend to look at classic models for initial inspiration when tackling challenges, and I found this model particularly useful in ICT. The sector moves so rapidly it’s nice to be able to use time-tested frameworks as a foundation. 

During a strategic session with one of my bosses, ACT Government Chief Digital Officer Jon Cumming, I realised it’s neither uphill nor downhill, but kind of both. Jon quite elegantly described it as the ‘swirl’ of change. 

So we put together the image below (thanks to Brant Trim) – still the same 8 steps of Kotter’s model, but represented more descriptively, and perhaps more accurately, as the swirl of change.

Change is a swirl

Embracing Uncertainty, Unpredictability and Vulnerablity

Our views change over the years. I recall a real sense of understanding and control in putting together the Stairway to Heaven version of Kotter’s change model. But experience now tells me that change, innovation and disruption go hand in hand with uncertainty, unpredictability and vulnerability. That need for a sense of control I had many years ago now seems at best overly confident, and at worst, arrogant. Today in 2024, given the changes we’ve seen in the last few years, it almost seems negligent.

Sometimes the things beyond your control produce the best results. In the immortal and enigmatic words of Jimmy Page and Robert Plant (lyrics sourced from):

Key Changes

Kotter Inc’s latest eBook is a worthwhile refresh on this timeless classic for effective change; here’s a key update: 

Image from The 8 Steps For Leading Change E-Book

Evolutioned's Take

Kotter’s model, like the classic song, is reminder that we need to always adapt to our circumstances. Kotter’s latest refresh has adapted, too. We like the changes and agree that every context is nuanced, yet principles and practices can help accelerate progress. 

Kotter also recommends leveraging technology to your advantage, which we have in this post as we will finish off with a summary of the changes to the model, courtesy of Bard, to help accelerate our learning.  


Google Bard, with prompt: Summarise the changes to the Kotter 8 step model from its introduction to the latest version, summarised across type in a table.

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