John Kotter

American economist (1947-)

John Paul Kotter (born February 25, 1947) is a professor at the Harvard Business School and author, who is regarded as an authority on leadership and change. In particular, he discusses how the best organizations actually "do" change. (Kotter & Cohen, 2002)

John Kotter, 2011


  • Over the past decade, I have watched more than 100 companies try to remake themselves into significantly better competitors. They have included large organizations (Ford) and small ones (Landmark Communications), companies based in the United States (General Motors) and elsewhere (British Airways), corporations that were on their knees (Eastern Airlines), and companies that were earning good money ((Bristol-Myers Squibb). Their efforts have gone under many banners: total quality management, reengineering, right-sizing, restructuring, cultural change, and turnarounds. But, in almost every case, the basic goal has been the same: to make fundamental changes in how business is conducted in order to help cope with a new, more challenging market environment.
    • John P. Kotter, "Leading change: Why transformation efforts fail." in: Harvard Business Review. March-April 1995. p. 59.
  • The most general lesson to be learned from the more successful cases is that the change process goes through a series of phases that, in total, usually require a considerable length of time. Skipping steps creates only the illusion of speed and never produces satisfactory results.
    • John P. Kotter, "Leading change: Why transformation efforts fail." in: Harvard Business Review. March-April 1995. p. 59

Leading Change, 1996


John P. Kotter, Leading Change, 1996; 2013

  • Management makes a system work. It helps you do what you know how to do. Leadership builds systems or transforms old ones. It takes you into territory that is new and less well known, or even completely unknown to you.
    • p. 5 (in 2013 edition)
  • Nothing undermines change more than behavior by important individuals that is inconsistent with the verbal communication.
    • p. 10
  • Whenever smart and well-intentioned people avoid confronting obstacles, they disempower employees and undermine change.
    • p. 10
  • Management is a set of processes that can keep a complicated system of people and technology running smoothly. The most important aspects of management include planning, budgeting, organizing, staffing, controlling, and problem solving. Leadership is a set of processes that creates organizations in the first place or adapts them to significantly changing circumstances. Leadership defines what the future should look like, aligns people with that vision, and inspires them to make it happen despite the obstacles.
    • p. 25; cited in: avid M. Boje, Bernard Burnes, John Hassard (2012), The Routledge Companion to Organizational Change, p. 140
  • In successful transformations, the president, division general manager, or department head plus another five, fifteen, or fifty people with a commitment to improved performance pull together as a team.
    • p. 61; cited in: Joop Remme et al. Leadership, Change and Responsibility. 2013, p. 135

The Heart of Change, (2002)


John Kotter (2002), The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations. Harvard Business School Press edition, ISBN 1578512549 (Most page numbers refer to the 2002 edition)

  • Leading Change describes the eight steps people follow to produce new ways of operating. In The Heart of Change, we dig into the core problem people face in all of these steps, and how to successfully deal with that problem. Our main finding, put simply, is that the central issue is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. All those elements, and others, are important. But the core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people, and behavior change happens in highly successful situations mostly by speaking to people's feelings.
    • p. x: Preface
  • Changing behavior is less a matter of giving people analysis to influence their thoughts than helping them to see a truth to influence their feelings.
    • Introduction to the 2002 edition, p. 2
  • The heart of change is in the emotions.
    • Introduction to the 2002 edition, p. 2
  • Analytical tools have their limitations in a turbulent world. These tools work best when parameters are known, assumptions are minimal, and the future is not fuzzy.
    • Introduction to the 2002 edition, p. 12
  • Motivation is not a thinking word; it’s a feeling word.
    • Introduction to the 2002 edition, p. 13
  • Budgeting is a math exercise, number crunching. Planning is a logical, linear process. Strategizing requires a great deal of information about customers and competitors, along with conceptual skills. Visioning uses a very different part of the brain than budgeting. As the name implies, it involves trying to see possible futures. It inevitably has both a creative and emotional component (e.g., “How do we feel about the options?”). When you use “orthodox planning” to create a vision, frustration and failure are inevitable.
    • Step 3, p. 68
  • No vision issue today is bigger than the question of efficiency versus some combination of innovation and customer service.
    • Step 3, p. 69
  • Never underestimate the power of a good story.
    • Step 3, p. 80
  • Good communication is not just data transfer. You need to show people something that addresses their anxieties, that accepts their anger, that is credible in a very gut-level sense, and that evokes faith in the vision.
    • Step 4, p. 84
  • Great vision communication usually means heartfelt messages are coming from real human beings.
    • Step 4, p. 95
  • Never underestimate the power of the mind to disempower.
    • Step 5, p. 112
  • Without conviction that you can make change happen, you will not act, even if you see the vision. Your feelings will hold you back.
    • Step 5, p. 115
  • The rate of change in the business world is not going to slow down anytime soon. If anything, competition in most industries will probably speed up over the next few decades. Enterprises everywhere will be presented with even more terrible hazards and wonderful opportunities, driven by the globalization of the economy along with related technological and social trends
    • p. 130 (in 2013 edition)
  • Valued achievements connect to people at a deeper level—and a deeper level can change behavior that is generally very difficult to change.
    • Step 6, p. 130
  • In a change effort, culture comes last, not first.
    • Step 8, p. 175
  • A culture truly changes only when a new way of operating has been shown to succeed over some minimum period of time.
    • Step 8, p. 176
  • We see, we feel, we change.
    • Conclusion to the 2002 edition, p. 179
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