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It’s not enough that management commit themselves to quality and productivity, they must know what it is they must do. Such a responsibility cannot be delegated. —W. Edwards Deming

Lean-Agile Leadership


They do this through leading by example; learning and modeling SAFe’s Lean-Agile mindset, values, principles, and practices; and leading the change to a new way of working.

It is one of the seven core competencies of the Lean Enterprise, each of which is essential to achieving Business Agility. Each core competency is supported by a specific assessment, which enables the enterprise to assess their proficiency. These core competency assessments, along with recommended improvement opportunities, are available from the Measure and Grow article.

Why Lean-Agile Leaders?

An organization’s managers, executives, and other leaders are responsible for the adoption, success, and ongoing improvement of Lean-Agile development and the competencies that lead to business agility. Only they have the authority to change and continuously improve the systems that govern how work is performed. Moreover, only these leaders can create an environment that encourages high-performing Agile teams to flourish and produce value. Leaders, therefore, must internalize and model leaner ways of thinking and operating so that team members will learn from their example, coaching, and encouragement.

Becoming a Lean enterprise is neither simple nor easy. As described below, business agility requires a new approach to leadership. It starts with leaders exemplifying behaviors that will inspire and motivate the organization to pursue a better way of working. They set the example by coaching, empowering, and engaging individuals and teams to reach their highest potential through Lean and Agile principles and practices.

In short, knowledge alone won’t be enough. Lean-Agile leaders must do more than simply support the transformation: they must actively lead the change, participating in and guiding the activities necessary to understand and continuously optimize the flow of value through the enterprise. Lean-Agile leaders:

  • Organize and reorganize around value
  • Identify queues and excess Work in Process (WIP)
  • Continually focus on eliminating waste and delays
  • Eliminate demotivating policies and procedures
  • Inspire and motivate others
  • Create a culture of relentless improvement
  • Provide the space for teams to innovate

By helping leaders develop along three distinct dimensions as illustrated in Figure 1, organizations can establish lean-agile leadership as a core competency:

Figure 1. The dimensions of lean-agile leadership

These dimensions are:

  • Leading by Example – Leaders gain earned authority by modeling the desired behaviors for others to follow, inspiring them to incorporate the leader’s example into their own personal development journey.
  • Mindset and Principles – By embedding the Lean-Agile way of working in their beliefs, decisions, responses, and actions, leaders model the expected norm throughout the organization.
  • Leading Change – Leaders lead (rather than simply support) the transformation by creating the environment, preparing the people, and providing the necessary resources to realize the desired outcomes.

The sections that follow explore each of these dimensions of lean-agile leadership in greater detail.

Leading by Example

Setting an example is not the main means of influencing others, it is the only means.

—Albert Einstein

Through their words and actions, leaders provide the organization with patterns of expected behaviors. The aggregation of those patterns determines the organization’s culture, whether good or bad. The most important and effective technique for driving the cultural change needed to transform into a Lean enterprise is for leaders to internalize and model the behaviors and mindsets of business agility so that others can learn and grow by their example.

Author Simon Sinek underscores the importance of leading by example in his book Leaders Eat Last [1] with the following:

The leaders of companies set the tone and direction for the people. Hypocrites, liars, and self-interested leaders create cultures filled with hypocrites, liars, and self-interested employees. The leaders of companies who tell the truth, in contrast, will create a culture of people who tell the truth. It is not rocket science. We follow the leader.

By modeling the right behaviors, leaders can transform organizational cultures from the pathological (negative, power-oriented) and bureaucratic (negative, rule-oriented) patterns of the past to the generative (positive, performance-oriented) culture that is required for the Lean-Agile mindset to flourish (Figure 2 provides a comparison of the attributes of Westrum’s organizational culture model [2]). These same behaviors also build earned authority —power gained through trust, respect, expertise, or action—which engenders greater engagement and commitment to organizational aims than positional authority. Such leaders inspire others to follow their direction and to incorporate the leader’s example into their own personal development journey.

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As we learn more about the challenges of the digital age and the critical competencies leaders need to guide the organization to greater business agility and better business results, it’s important to understand that the best outcomes will be achieved if leaders model behaviors that foster a  generative  culture.

What, then, are the behaviors that leaders should embrace to set the right example and build a generative culture? While the potential list of attributes could be quite long, the leader behaviors below form a solid foundation for this dimension of leadership.

Authenticity requires leaders to model desired professional and ethical behaviors. Acting with honesty, integrity, and transparency, they are true to themselves and their beliefs.

Emotional intelligence describes how leaders identify and manage their emotions and those of others through self-awareness, self-regulation, motivation, empathy, and social skills.

Life-long learning depicts how leaders engage in ongoing, voluntary, and self-motivated pursuit of knowledge and growth, and they encourage and support the same in others.

Growing others encourages leaders to provide the personal, professional, and technical guidance and resources each employee needs to assume increasing levels of responsibility and decision-making.

Decentralized decision-making moves the authority for decisions to where the information is; prepares teams to make decentralized decisions by investing in their technical competence and by providing organizational clarity with decision guardrails. [3].

These behaviors are critical to leading in the digital age where business growth is fueled by an increased shift to instant access to information, entertainment, social and business connections, products, and services, predominantly via mobile and smart devices. This modern context requires mindsets and skills that can be significantly different from the patterns of working and leading that were successful in the past. If leaders fail to adapt to the rapidly changing demands of a digital economy, their organizations will be significantly disadvantaged.

Mindset and Principles

“The basic tenets of Lean challenge many of the aspects of traditional management theory and calls for a mindset that is foreign to most executives .”

— Jacob Stoller, author of The Lean CEO: Leading the Way to World-Class Excellence

Stoller’s quote is a reminder that traditional management practices are insufficient for the changes needed to achieve business agility. Instead, the Lean enterprise depends on what Toyota calls Lean-thinking manager-teachers. These leaders understand Lean thinking and principles and, as part of their everyday work activities, teach them to others. This is integral to who they are and what they do. It informs every aspect of their approach to helping teams throughout the organization work in a Lean and Agile manner as the expected norm.

But what if leaders don’t have that mindset yet? What exactly is a ‘mindset,’ and how can a mindset be changed?

Mindset Awareness and Openness to Change

A mindset is simply the mental lens through which we view the world around us. It is how the human brain simplifies, categorizes, and interprets the vast amounts of information it receives each day. Through a lifetime of structured learning (classes, reading) and unstructured lessons (life events, work experience), we form our mindsets. They reside in the subconscious mind and manifest themselves as deeply held beliefs, attitudes, assumptions, and influences. Consequently, individuals are often unaware of how their mindsets influence how they carry out their responsibilities and interact with others. For example, many leaders develop beliefs through business school training and on-the-job experience that are grounded in legacy waterfall, stage-gate, and siloed ways of working.

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Developing a New Mindset

With an increased awareness of current mindsets and an openness to doing the work required to change them, the question then becomes, “Change them to what?” To lead the organization through the transformation needed to achieve business agility requires a mindset that reflects the core values and principles of Lean, Agile, and SAFe. This is developed by gaining intimate knowledge and application of these values and principles. It is reflected in how leaders routinely reference Lean-Agile principles and practices as part of carrying out their responsibilities, how they coach and mentor these behaviors in others, and how they promote Lean-Agile practices as the default way of working throughout the organization.

Let’s take a closer look at the three key elements that form the foundation of this new mindset: SAFe Core Values, the Lean-Agile Mindset, and SAFe Principles.

SAFe Core Values

The four core values that define SAFe’s essential ideals and beliefs are alignment, transparency, built-in quality, and program execution. Leader behaviors play a critical role in communicating, exhibiting, and emphasizing these values and how they guide the organization in its journey to embracing agility.

Here are some suggestions for reinforcing these values:

Alignment – Communicate the mission by establishing and expressing the portfolio strategy and solution vision. Help organize the value stream and coordinate dependencies. Provide relevant briefings and participate in Program Increment (PI) Planning. Help with backlog visibility, review, and preparation; regularly check for understanding.

Built-in quality – By refusing to accept or ship low-quality work, Lean-Agile leaders demonstrate their commitment to quality. They support investments in capacity planning for maintenance and to reduce technical debt, ensuring that the concerns of the entire organization—including design thinking, UX, architecture, operations, security, and compliance—are part of the regular flow of work .

Transparency – Visualize all relevant work. Take ownership and responsibility for errors and mistakes. Admit missteps while supporting others who acknowledge and learn from theirs. Never punish the messenger. Instead, celebrate learning. Create an environment where the facts are always friendly and transparent.

Program execution – Participate as Business Owners in PI execution and establish business value. Help adjust the scope to ensure demand matches capacity. Celebrate high-quality Program Increments while aggressively removing impediments and demotivators.

Lean-Agile Mindset

SAFe is firmly grounded in four bodies of knowledge: Lean, Agile, systems thinking, and DevOps. In fact, the genesis of SAFe was to develop guidance for enterprises on how to apply the principles and practices of Lean and Agile in the world’s largest organizations. A Lean-Agile Mindset requires leaders to learn, embrace, and model both Lean and Agile in their behaviors and support adoption by the enterprise. Figure 4 illustrates the key concepts of each discipline.

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Lean – Lean is a set of principles and practices for efficient manufacturing and operations that grew out of the Toyota Production System developed in post-WWII Japan. It focuses on problem-solving and continuous improvement to increase quality and eliminate waste. Adapted to product development by Leffingwell [5], Poppendieck [6], and others, the SAFe House of Lean illustrates the goal of delivering value through the pillars of respect for people and culture, flow, innovation, and relentless improvement. Leadership provides the foundation on which everything else stands.

Agile – Agile was born from a collaboration of 17 thought leaders in software development who met in 2001 to seek alternatives to the documentation-driven, heavyweight software development processes that were common at the time. It includes four values (shown in Figure 4) and twelve principles as reflected in the Agile Manifesto. Agile is known for delivering iterative and incremental value in the form of working software by promoting face-to-face interaction frequently between developers, customers, and cross-functional, self-organizing teams. Agile has since been adapted and embraced in many non-software development contexts.

The Lean-Agile Mindset article describes how Lean and Agile are at the heart of SAFe and are supported by many of the articles in the Framework that explain how to implement Lean-Agile practices at scale. There are also many great courses, books, websites, and videos that form a rich set of resources that Lean-Agile leaders should explore to deepen their understanding.

SAFe Principles

SAFe is based on ten immutable, underlying principles for applying Lean and Agile at scale. These tenets and economic concepts inspire and inform the roles and practices of SAFe, influencing leader behaviors and decision-making.

The principles are:

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Each is necessary to experience the personal, business, and economic benefits of applying SAFe. Moreover, these principles work together as a system; each informs the others, and the whole is far greater than the sum of them individually. Lean-Agile leaders embrace these principles and routinely demonstrate and apply them as they carry out their organizational responsibilities. Review the SAFe Principles article for a more in-depth discussion of each principle.

Leading Change

Being a Lean-thinking manager-teacher provides leaders with the thought processes and practical tools they’ll need to start building the Lean enterprise and achieving business agility. The benefits of delivering value in the shortest sustainable lead time, creating flow, and producing customer delight—all with happy, engaged employees—are clear. It’s also clear that for many organizations, the new way of working represents a quantum shift in culture and practice from the traditional paradigms of the past. In other words, the transformation to Lean-Agile and DevOps with SAFe inevitably leads to significant organizational change.

Here again, the role of the Lean-Agile leader is critical. Successful organizational change requires leaders who will lead the transformation (rather than simply ‘support’ it) by creating the environment, preparing the people, and providing the necessary resources to realize desired outcomes. In fact, research shows clear correlations between the leader behaviors described in the “Leading by Example” section of this article and the success of organizational change driven by Agile and DevOps initiatives. Other researchers found that these leader behaviors have a greater influence on employees’ commitment to supporting the change than simply following a prescriptive change model [7, 8].

Lean-Agile leaders drive the change process by developing and applying the following skills and techniques:

Change vision occurs when leaders communicate why change is needed and do so in ways that inspire, motivate, and engage people.

Change leadership is the ability to positively influence and motivate others to engage in the organizational change through the leader’s own personal advocacy and drive.

A powerful coalition for change is formed when individuals from multiple levels and across silos are empowered and have the influence necessary to effectively lead the change.

Psychological safety occurs when leaders create an environment for risk-taking that supports change without fear of negative consequences to self-image, status, or career.

Training the new way of working ensures that everyone is trained in the values, principles, and practices of Lean and Agile, including a commitment by leaders to their own training so they can lead by example.

Sound organizational change management (OCM) practices are still important and highly recommended in a SAFe transformation. One of the most respected voices in OCM, Dr. John Kotter, described the eight steps in implementing successful change as [9]:

  • Establish a sense of urgency
  • Create the guiding coalition
  • Develop the vision and strategy for change
  • Communicate the change vision
  • Empower employees for broad-based action
  • Generate short-term wins
  • Consolidate gains and produce more change
  • Anchor new approaches in the culture

Clearly, these steps require the active participation of the leaders driving the change. But even this is not enough. As Heath and Heath note in their book on change [10], leaders “ need to script the critical moves ” that are essential to accomplish the change.

The SAFe Implementation Roadmap

Based on these insights from the field of organizational change management, the SAFe Implementation Roadmap article series guides leaders on this particular journey, as summarized in the Implementation Roadmap article and Figure 6 below.

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The SAFe implementation roadmap is described in a series of 12 articles that align with Kotter’s blueprint. For example, the sense of urgency is often established in the many conversations that lead up to an organization ‘ reaching the tipping point’ and deciding to ‘go SAFe.’ The next recommended action is to train a core group of Lean-Agile change agents and leaders who will form the powerful guiding coalition. The pattern continues throughout the roadmap, which is designed to incorporate the lessons of successful organizational change into the model for a SAFe transformation. This roadmap helps leaders ‘know the way’ as they drive for successful change.

Role of the SAFe Program Consultant

Even with Lean-Agile leaders and sound organizational change strategies in place, observations from many SAFe implementations indicate that a significant cadre of change agents and experienced coaches is also needed. While every leader plays a part in producing the change, SAFe Program Consultants (SPCs) are trained and equipped specially for this task. SPCs’ training, tools, courseware, and intrinsic motivation play a critical role in successfully implementing and sustaining a SAFe transformation.

Implementing SAFe is not just any change; it’s a shift to persistently and relentlessly improving business agility, all based on the fundamentals of Agile and Lean. It requires managers, executives, and other leaders who understand how to lead, sustain, and indeed accelerate the transformation to a new way of working.

Leaders alone have the authority to change and continuously improve the systems that govern how work is performed. Only they can create an environment that encourages high-performing Agile teams to flourish and produce value. Leaders, therefore, must internalize and model leaner ways of thinking and operating so the rest of the organization will learn from their example, coaching, and encouragement.

Effective leadership ultimately provides the foundation responsible for the adoption and success of Lean-Agile development and mastery of the competencies that lead to business agility.

Last update: 27 September 2021


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Article • 12 min read

Kotter's 8-Step Change Model

Implementing change powerfully and successfully.

By the Mind Tools Content Team

"Change is the only constant."– Heraclitus, Greek philosopher

What was true more than 2,000 years ago is just as true today. We live in a world where "business as usual" is change. New initiatives, project-based working, technology improvements, staying ahead of the competition – these things come together to drive ongoing changes to the way we work.

Whether you're considering a small change to one or two processes, or a system wide change to an organization, it's common to feel uneasy and intimidated by the scale of the challenge.

You know that the change needs to happen, but you don't really know how to go about delivering it. Where do you start? Whom do you involve? How do you see it through to the end?

There are many theories about how to "do" change. Many originate with leadership and change management guru, John Kotter. A professor at Harvard Business School and world-renowned change expert, Kotter introduced his eight-step change process in his 1995 book, " Leading Change ."

In this article, video and infographic, we look at his eight steps for leading change, below.

Step 1: Create Urgency

For change to happen, it helps if the whole company really wants it. Develop a sense of urgency around the need for change. This may help you spark the initial motivation to get things moving.

This isn't simply a matter of showing people poor sales statistics or talking about increased competition. Open an honest and convincing dialog about what's happening in the marketplace and with your competition. If many people start talking about the change you propose, the urgency can build and feed on itself.

What you can do:

  • Identify potential threats , and develop scenarios showing what could happen in the future.
  • Examine opportunities that should be, or could be, exploited.
  • Start honest discussions, and give dynamic and convincing reasons to get people talking and thinking.
  • Request support from customers, outside stakeholders and industry people to strengthen your argument.

Kotter suggests that for change to be successful, 75 percent of a company's management needs to "buy into" the change. In other words, you have to work really hard on Step 1, and spend significant time and energy building urgency, before moving onto the next steps. Don't panic and jump in too fast because you don't want to risk further short-term losses – if you act without proper preparation, you could be in for a very bumpy ride.

Step 2: Form a Powerful Coalition

Convince people that change is necessary. This often takes strong leadership and visible support from key people within your organization. Managing change isn't enough – you have to lead it.

You can find effective change leaders throughout your organization – they don't necessarily follow the traditional company hierarchy. To lead change, you need to bring together a coalition, or team, of influential people whose power comes from a variety of sources, including job title, status, expertise, and political importance.

Once formed, your "change coalition" needs to work as a team, continuing to build urgency and momentum around the need for change.

  • Identify the true leaders in your organization, as well as your key stakeholders .
  • Ask for an emotional commitment from these key people.
  • Work on team building within your change coalition.
  • Check your team for weak areas, and ensure that you have a good mix of people from different departments and different levels within your company.

Step 3: Create a Vision for Change

When you first start thinking about change, there will probably be many great ideas and solutions floating around. Link these concepts to an overall vision that people can grasp easily and remember.

A clear vision can help everyone understand why you're asking them to do something. When people see for themselves what you're trying to achieve, then the directives they're given tend to make more sense.

  • Determine the values that are central to the change.
  • Develop a short summary (one or two sentences) that captures what you "see" as the future of your organization.
  • Create a strategy to execute that vision.
  • Ensure that your change coalition can describe the vision in five minutes or less.
  • Practice your "vision speech" often.

For more on creating visions, see our article on Mission Statements and Vision Statements .

Step 4: Communicate the Vision

What you do with your vision after you create it will determine your success. Your message will probably have strong competition from other day-to-day communications within the company, so you need to communicate it frequently and powerfully, and embed it within everything that you do.

Don't just call special meetings to communicate your vision. Instead, talk about it every chance you get. Use the vision daily to make decisions and solve problems. When you keep it fresh on everyone's minds, they'll remember it and respond to it.

It's also important to "walk the talk." What you do is far more important – and believable – than what you say. Demonstrate the kind of behavior that you want from others.

  • Talk often about your change vision.
  • Address peoples' concerns and anxieties, openly and honestly.
  • Apply your vision to all aspects of operations – from training to performance reviews. Tie everything back to the vision.
  • Lead by example .

Step 5: Remove Obstacles

If you follow these steps and reach this point in the change process, you've been talking about your vision and building buy-in from all levels of the organization. Hopefully, your staff wants to get busy and achieve the benefits that you've been promoting.

But is anyone resisting the change? And are there processes or structures that are getting in its way?

Put in place the structure for change, and continually check for barriers to it. Removing obstacles can empower the people you need to execute your vision, and it can help the change move forward.

  • Identify, or hire, change leaders whose main roles are to deliver the change.
  • Look at your organizational structure, job descriptions, and performance and compensation systems to ensure they're in line with your vision.
  • Recognize and reward people for making change happen.
  • Identify people who are resisting the change, and help them see what's needed.
  • Take action to quickly remove barriers (human or otherwise).

Step 6: Create Short-Term Wins

Nothing motivates more than success. Give your company a taste of victory early in the change process. Within a short time frame (this could be a month or a year, depending on the type of change), you'll want to have some " quick wins " that your staff can see. Without this, critics and negative thinkers might hurt your progress.

Create short-term targets – not just one long-term goal. You want each smaller target to be achievable, with little room for failure. Your change team may have to work very hard to come up with these targets, but each "win" that you produce can further motivate the entire staff.

  • Look for sure-fire projects that you can implement without help from any strong critics of the change.
  • Don't choose early targets that are expensive. You want to be able to justify the investment in each project.
  • Thoroughly analyze the potential pros and cons of your targets. If you don't succeed with an early goal, it can hurt your entire change initiative.
  • Reward the people who help you meet the targets.

Step 7: Build on the Change

Kotter argues that many change projects fail because victory is declared too early. Real change runs deep. Quick wins are only the beginning of what needs to be done to achieve long-term change.

Launching one new product using a new system is great. But if you can launch 10 products, that means the new system is working. To reach that 10th success, you need to keep looking for improvements.

Each success provides an opportunity to build on what went right and identify what you can improve.

  • After every win, analyze what went right, and what needs improving.
  • Set goals to continue building on the momentum you've achieved.
  • Learn about kaizen , the idea of continuous improvement.
  • Keep ideas fresh by bringing in new change agents and leaders for your change coalition.

Step 8: Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture

Finally, to make any change stick, it should become part of the core of your organization. Your corporate culture often determines what gets done, so the values behind your vision must show in day-to-day work.

Make continuous efforts to ensure that the change is seen in every aspect of your organization. This will help give that change a solid place in your organization's culture.

It's also important that your company's leaders continue to support the change. This includes existing staff and new leaders who are brought in. If you lose the support of these people, you might end up back where you started.

  • Talk about progress every chance you get. Tell success stories about the change process, and repeat other stories that you hear.
  • Include the change ideals and values when hiring and training new staff.
  • Publicly recognize key members of your original change coalition, and make sure the rest of the staff – new and old – remembers their contributions.
  • Create plans to replace key leaders of change as they move on. This will help ensure that their legacy is not lost or forgotten.

Reprinted by permission of Harvard Business Review . From " Leading Change " by John P. Kotter. Copyright © 2012 by the Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation; all rights reserved.

This is just one of the articles on change management on Mind Tools. Also see our articles on Change Management , Lewin's Change Model , using the Change Curve , the Burke-Litwin Change Model and Overcoming Cultural Barriers to Change .

Kotter's 8-Step Model Infographic

See Kotter’s model represented in our infographic :

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You have to work hard to change an organization successfully. When you plan carefully and build the proper foundation, implementing change can be much easier, and you'll improve the chances of success. If you're too impatient, and if you expect too many results too soon, your plans for change are more likely to fail.

Create a sense of urgency, recruit powerful change leaders, build a vision and effectively communicate it, remove obstacles, create quick wins, and build on your momentum. If you do these things, you can help make the change part of your organizational culture. That's when you can declare a true victory. then sit back and enjoy the change that you envisioned so long ago.

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Leading Change Means Changing How You Lead

Adapting your leadership approach is necessary for achieving the change your organization requires.

  • Leading Change
  • Executing Strategy

The Strategy of Change

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One of the toughest challenges facing leaders is that the job requirements can change dramatically and unpredictably, as the past two years have amply demonstrated. Of necessity, leaders had to divide their attention between responding to the pandemic and managing a remote workforce and have been even further stretched by issues such as social justice, supply chain disruption, climate change, hybrid work arrangements, and geopolitical instability.

It would be easy to conclude — as many commentators have — that the key requirements of leadership are flexibility and empathy. While these qualities are certainly beneficial, especially at this specific, stressful moment, the enduring requirement of leadership is to be contextually effective . Effective leaders are those who adjust their leadership approach to suit the context and challenges they face.

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History is replete with examples of individuals who displayed extraordinary leadership under certain circumstances but were unable or unwilling to subsequently change their leadership approach. In business, it is frequently observed that a founder is rarely the leader best suited to run the business once it achieves a certain scale because it requires a different style of leadership and skills. Alphabet’s success is in part a testament to the self-awareness of Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who recognized the need to step away from the CEO role. Facebook’s current travails, in comparison, are partially caused by Mark Zuckerberg’s failure to acknowledge this necessity.

Three Imperatives for Leading Effective Change

In our work with leaders, we encourage them to think of contextual effectiveness as comprising three main tasks:

Drawing the map: The late publisher Arnold Glasgow observed that great leaders recognize an issue before it becomes an emergency. They consistently map the changing dynamics of the company’s environment and create a clear, prioritized vision for where the business should be headed.

Establishing the mindset: The second task of leadership is to ensure that the executive team has more than just a cognitive understanding of the map. The leader’s mindset drives a shared conviction about the necessity of change and an enthusiasm for the improvements that successful change will bring about. This enthusiasm is vital because achieving change is harder than maintaining the status quo.

Communicating the message: If the map credibly identifies the needed change, and the mindset creates the appetite for change, the message is the key tool for activating that change among the broader population of employees. The leader’s message serves as the rallying cry that aligns the energies of the organization around a particular goal and the attitudes and behaviors required to achieve it.

Defining the map, mindset, and message are the core tasks of leading change, but the objective of each task will vary according to the type of change that the leader is seeking to achieve. Change takes three distinct forms, as we have described in previous articles :

  • Enhancing the magnitude of the company’s current strategy.
  • Reimagining the activities for pursuing that strategy.
  • Shifting direction altogether.

Below, we illustrate how the objective of the “map, mindset, and message” tasks varies according to the type of change that the leader is trying to achieve . Our research indicates that enhancing magnitude (doubling down) is the right decision for the 20% of companies or business lines that perform strongly on both fit to purpose and relative advantage; shifting direction (pivoting) is required for only those 15% of companies that perform poorly on both dimensions. For nearly two-thirds of companies, the change imperative is to reimagine the activities they use to pursue their strategy rather than reimagining the strategy itself.

Enhance Magnitude

When a business is performing well on fit to purpose and relative advantage, the leader needs to recognize the twin dangers of complacency (believing that there’s no need for change) and hubris (overconfidence in the quality of one’s leadership). Contextually effective leaders combat complacency by continually striving for change, and they combat hubris by recognizing that their own opinion is less significant than the opinions of key stakeholders.

The mapping task in this change context is to pursue excellence and reinforce the current drivers of uniqueness, utility, and value as perceived by customers and other key stakeholders. The required mindset is that of rising to a challenge — framed either as a competitive threat or an innate commitment to excellence. Finally, the task of messaging is to maintain a focus on the ultimate priorities of the business rather than on concerns that are fleeting or disconnected from the company’s core strategy.

Apple’s leadership has consistently executed an enhance magnitude change focus over the past two decades. It has deliberately chosen to use itself as its competitive frame of reference, creating a constant challenge to enhance its already leading position through targeted and continuously deepening innovation and the integration of hardware, software, and services — all without relying on large-scale acquisitions. (Apple’s largest acquisition ever was the $3 billion it paid for Beats in 2014.) The result has been the delivery of distinctive and consistent value to an expanding and engaged customer base.

Reimagine Activity

When the goal of change is reimagining activity , the leader’s mapping task is to innovate new routes to the current destination. The accompanying mindset is one of focused experimentation and targeted risk-taking. Rather than radically reinventing existing processes, the reimagination agenda instead often looks to digitization, machine learning, and artificial intelligence to create more efficient methods to perform them. In this context, the task of messaging is to emphasize the benefits that customers and other stakeholders will continue to enjoy if the methods for delivering these benefits are improved. (This is the objective that many companies are currently trying to achieve through AI.)

Netflix’s leaders have navigated this path with particular expertise over the past 20 years. They have remained focused on a goal of convenient, personalized, immersive entertainment delivered without advertising, even as the technologies for achieving this goal have changed dramatically. By keeping employees focused on innovating on the means to the end rather than on the end itself, Netflix’s leadership has maintained a sense of stability even as the business has undergone significant transformations: in its mode of distribution, from mailed DVDs to streaming; in its core business, from a content distributor to both a creator and distributor of content; and in its implementation of a “glocal” (both global and local) model of content development.

Shift Direction

When a company performs poorly on both fit to purpose and relative advantage, a shift of direction is required. In this context, the mapping task is to explain why a pivot is needed and how the purpose of the business must be redefined.

While it can be effective for leaders to ratchet up the pressure under the other two change scenarios, this approach is less effective in the context of shifting direction. Pressure in this context drives up anxiety levels, which hinders effective problem-solving and may even reinforce existing behaviors. Instead, the leader’s mindset task is to build belief among employees, customers, and partners in the new destination for the business, and an environment that’s receptive to fresh ideas. Reflecting this, the messaging task is to promote a sense of possibility.

The turnaround in Lego’s fortunes led by Jørgen Vig Knudstorp is a master class in how to maintain a supportive environment even while making dramatic changes to the business — halving the number of bricks made from 13,000 to 6,500, exiting the theme park business, and expanding into video games and movies — and how the business engaged with its customers. Lego went from revenues of 800 million euros ($1 billion) and near bankruptcy in 2004 to revenues of just under 6 billion euros in 2020.

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Much of the writing on leadership takes the form of lists defining its required attributes or universal norms. But these ideals change over time and reflect the environment in which they were created. This evolution explains how competitiveness (epitomized in Jack Welch’s famous 1980s-era directive to be first or second in every industry in which you compete) gave way to creativity (most famously associated with Apple’s exhortation to “think different”) only to be superseded by disruption (popularized by Zuckerberg’s mantra to “move fast and break things”) and hyperscaling (celebrated in the 10x mantra of the venture capital community) — which in turn have been replaced by the current celebration of empathy.

Which of these leadership ideals is actually ideal in practice? The point is, of course, that the task of leadership is deeply contextual: The attitudes and behaviors that are effective in one environment will not deliver the same outcomes under different circumstances. The form of change sought — enhancing magnitude, reimagining activity, or shifting direction — shapes how contextually effective leaders define and pursue the tasks of map, mindset, and message. As a Chinese proverb powerfully expresses, “The wise adapt themselves to circumstances, as water shapes itself to the pitcher that contains it.”

About the Authors

B. Tom Hunsaker is on the strategy and leadership faculty at Arizona State University’s Thunderbird School of Global Management. Jonathan Knowles is the founder of the advisory firm Type 2 Consulting.

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Kotter International Inc

Our Foundation

The 8 steps for leading change.

Kotter’s award-winning methodology is the proven approach to producing lasting change.

The Framework

Over four decades, Dr. Kotter observed countless leaders and organizations as they were trying to transform or execute their strategies. He identified and extracted the common success factors and documented them as the 8 Steps for Leading Change.

Since the introduction of the 8 Steps, Dr. Kotter expanded his focus from research to impact with the founding of Kotter. Together with the firm, he evolved the linear 8 Step from Leading Change to the 8 Accelerators outlined in his 2014 book,  Accelerate  and the firm’s 2021 book,  CHANGE . 

01. Create A Sense of Urgency

Inspire people to act – with passion and purpose – to achieve a bold, aspirational opportunity. Build momentum that excites people to pursue a compelling (and clear) vision of the future… together.

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02. Build A Guiding Coalition

A volunteer network needs a coalition of committed people – born of its own ranks – to guide it, coordinate it, and communicate its activities.

“After being a member of our first Guiding Coalition I was selected to co-lead our second Guiding Coalition. Our work with Kotter gave me the opportunity to explore my own passions in the workplace. As a millennial, it is really important because I’m not sure what type of career I’m going to have, and working with Kotter has exposed me to all different parts of the organization that I wouldn’t have worked with otherwise.”

Ben White /  United Way of Greater Kansas City

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03. Form A Strategic Vision

Clarify how the future will be different from the past and get buy-in for how you can make that future a reality through initiatives linked directly to the vision.

04. Enlist A Volunteer Army

Large-scale change can only occur when massive numbers of people rally around a common opportunity. At an individual level, they must  want to  actively contribute. Collectively, they must be unified in the pursuit of achieving the goal together.

“It’s not a project. It’s a movement. It’s a journey. Join us and leave your mark.” Gert Bosscher /  Bunge

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05. Enable Action By Removing Barriers

Remove the obstacles that slow things down or create roadblocks to progress. Clear the way for people to innovate, work more nimbly across silos, and generate impact quickly.

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06. Generate Short-Term Wins

Wins are the molecules of results. They must be recognized, collected, and communicated – early and often – to track progress and energize volunteers to persist.

07. Sustain Acceleration

Press harder after the first successes. Your increasing credibility can improve systems, structures and policies. Be relentless with initiating change after change until the vision is a reality.

“The way that you can guarantee success in a difficult change… is to not skip any of the steps or the learnings.”

John Ham / COTY

08. Institute Change

Articulate the connections between new behaviors and organizational success, making sure they continue until they become strong enough to replace old habits. Evaluate systems and processes to ensure management practices reinforce the new behaviors, mindsets, and ways of working you invested in.

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Inside Iowa: School safety and inflation

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa (KCRG) - Gray TV is speaking to Iowans about the problems and obstacles their communities face and the potential solutions to those problems.

In our first episode, school districts, families, and politicians debate whether staff with guns will make public schools safer. We talk with an Iowa Republican legislator (Rep. Phil Thompson of Jefferson) who explains why he thinks arming school staff will provide more immediate protection for students, but also why he thinks mandatory training has to be part of the plan.

Iowa Political Director Dave Price also speaks with two Iowa small business owners (Sydney Rieckhoff, owner of Almost Famous Popcorn Company headquartered out of Cedar Rapids & Steve Wilke-Shapiro, owner of Sequal Architecture out of Des Moines) on why they say inflation is still a problem for their day-to-day, but why they also feel more optimistic about what’s ahead this year.

You can watch the full new episode LIVE at 7:00 pm CST in the video player above or the YouTube link below:

Copyright 2024 KCRG. All rights reserved.

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10 most-recommended high-yield savings accounts of February 2024 (psst: you can get paid up to a 5.5% APY)

M arketWatch Picks highlights items we think you’ll find useful; the MarketWatch News staff is not involved in creating this content. We might earn a commission from links in this content. Learn more

It’s February 2024 and interest rates for high-yield savings accounts across dozens of banks and credit unions are still levels not seen in decades. In an effort to attract new customers at the start of the year, many of the top-earning accounts promise annual percentage yields (APYs) in excess of 5% (see some of the the highest-paying savings accounts here).   

That said, many of the best available rates come with exclusive membership requirements and balance restrictions. That’s why we analyzed reviews from some of the leading financial sites in America — including Forbes, CNBC Select, CNN Underscored, Bankrate and more — to determine the most recommended offerings right now. Our ranking, which we bring to you each month, will include high-yield savings accounts with the best return on your money and the least amount of hoops you need to jump through to open and keep the account.

Methodology for choosing the best high-yield savings accounts

Every month, our team scours the internet for high-yield savings accounts recommendations to bring you the very best of the best. We read reviews from The Ascent/The Motley Fool , Bankrate , Business Insider , CNBC Select , CNN Underscored , Forbes Advisor , NerdWallet , SmartAsset and Wallethub . We then ranked these accounts based on the total number of recommendations. Winners are determined by the number of times they appear on any of these lists. Simply put, banks that appear on the most “best savings account” lists score the highest. 

Frequently asked questions (FAQs):

What is a high-yield savings account.

With the proliferation of internet-only banks in the late 1990s, heightened competition to offer the best rates resulted in the phenomena now known as the high-yield savings account. High-yield savings accounts are similar to traditional savings accounts, but they typically offer customers interest rates that are many times higher than the national average. While the typical savings account earns an average annual percent yield (APY) of 0.47%, according to FDIC data through Jan. 16, high-yield savings accounts currently earn 5% APY or more.

How much can I earn on a high-yield savings account?

Some high-yield savings accounts are now paying 5% or more, though most don’t pay that much. What might a high-yield savings account actually earn you? Let’s say your savings account earns 2.00% APY. Savers can earn as much as $2,000 per year on $100,000.

How does a high-yield savings account stack up to other similar investment options?

Certificates of deposit

Interest rates for certificates of deposit, or CDs, have reached as high as a 6.5% APY. While CDs typically have fixed rates, and typically change depending on measures taken by the Federal Reserve, account holders can lock in these rates when they are high to reap the rewards.

Although CDs often come with a higher APY than most high-yield savings accounts, these investment options are set for a certain period of time and tend to come with penalties if withdrawals are made ahead of their respective maturity dates. High-yield savings accounts are generally a more liquid alternative to CDs, since you can make steady deposits and access the money as needed.

Money-market accounts

Money-market accounts generally come with larger minimum balances than typical savings or high-yield accounts. Rates are also slightly higher than a high-yield savings account and are subject to change over time.

One key difference is these accounts have historically been limited to six withdrawals and transfers per statement cycle. However, the rules have been suspended under the Fed’s revision of Reg. D as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Some banks, though, have kept these terms in place, while others have made some adjustments. Another key difference from a high-yield savings account is that money-market accounts allow customers the ability to write checks. 

Index funds

When it comes to holding cash for a short-term period or a near-term horizon, high-yield savings accounts offer relatively set and predictable returns based on their interest rates. If you’re planning on holding your money for a longer-term period, like say for five years or more, you may want to also consider investing your money in an index fund.

These are essentially baskets of securities designed to follow a benchmark index, such as the S&P 500 or Nasdaq 100, and can deliver sizable long-term gains. While funds like the SPDR S&P 500 ETF Trust, or SPY , posted an annual gain of 26.19% last year, the index tracker had a loss of 18.17% in 2022, according to Morningstar . That said, the fund has delivered a 5-year gain of 14.89% and 10-year annualized return of 12.76%, as of Feb. 7.

Are high-yield savings accounts safe?

As long as you open an account that is FDIC- or NCUA-insured then your money is typically protected up to $250,000. The government agency known as the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, or the FDIC, insures up to $250,000 per depositor, per insured bank, for each account ownership category, so there is little to no risk of capital loss. The NCUA, or the National Credit Union Administration, is an independent federal agency created by Congress in 1971 to insure deposits at federally insured credit unions and members who own credit unions.

In some cases, such as robo advisers for instance, these accounts may offer an even higher rate of protection. Just be sure to read the fine print to ensure your money is safe.

How do I choose the best high-interest savings account?

Choosing a high-yield savings account really depends on what you’re looking for as a saver. Some key factors you may want to consider include interest rates, fees, location and accessibility of your money. The annual percentage yield (APY), which determines how much interest your money will earn while stored in a high-yield savings account can differ depending on the bank you choose to store it with. See some of the highest paying savings accounts you can get here.

Look too at account minimums, deposit requirements and associated fees. There are often bonuses involved if you set up tools like direct deposit or meet various other requirements. Another important factor you may want to consider is whether you want an online-only bank or one that has brick-and-mortar locations.

How often do high-yield savings rates change?

One factor you should be aware of before opening a high-yield savings account is that interest rates are variable. That means they are subject to change depending on any adjustments made to the federal funds rate, which is set by the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), the government agency responsible for setting monetary policy for the Federal Reserve.

10 most-recommended high-yield savings accounts of February 2024 (psst: you can get paid up to a 5.5% APY)


  1. Kotter's 8 steps for leading change

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  5. How to lead through change effectively

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  6. A Guide to Leading Change Management

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    A professor at Harvard Business School and world-renowned change expert, Kotter introduced his eight-step change process in his 1995 book, "Leading Change." In this article, video and infographic, we look at his eight steps for leading change, below. Step 1: Create Urgency. For change to happen, it helps if the whole company really wants it.

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  18. Inside Iowa: School safety and inflation

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