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Running my way to change: Cotter's 8 step model and the Nike Night Run

1 October 2013
Keren Harel

How many times have we said to ourselves "from tomorrow on, I'll quit smoking, I'll start eating healthy, I'll use the gym membership card I purchased…" and how many times did this 'tomorrow' never come?

How hard is it to change? How frightening is it to bid our familiar habits farewell in favor of an unknown future? And even after we've decided to change, and have even slightly grown used to the new situation-how hard is to persist and how easy is it to return to our old familiar habits?

I've always had a dream, the type of dream that from where I was positioned in life could remain only a dream- running the Tel-Aviv Nike Night-Run. Half a year ago, I decided to turn my dream into an actual goal, but in order to do that I was forced to make a substantial change in my life. This preparatory journey was (and remains) a long one, filled with challenges and difficulties (both physical and mental) and was nevertheless one of the greatest, most fulfilling things I've ever done. Looking back at the long way I've done and the road ahead (there are 4 more weeks to go) and comparatively examining organizations I've worked with, I understand that we are actually not so different from organizations, and they are not so different than us.

The organizations we work in have a hard time changing as well. We might think that all it takes is one managerial decision in order to perform an organizational change, yet this is plainly not so.


The organization is not the sum of the individuals that comprise it. An organization is an entity of its own and as such has a DNA, a beating heart, values, a culture, and character just like us, the people that comprise it. This is possibly the reason why not many organizations have successfully assimilated KM culture, which requires sharing, transparency, responsibility and mutuality- in short, many things that are unnatural for an organization.

Much has been written about change management as a process of integrating changes into the organization. In this article I have chosen to focus on the 8 step model, developed by John Kotter (who is regarded as a guru in the field of change management). I wish to demonstrate how the model is implemented in my personal training journey on the road to the Nike Night Run and how it can serve us in the field of Knowledge Management (with some changes and adaptations to the model).


Step 1: create a sense of urgency for the subject

Kotter analyzed the reasons for failures and shortcomings in change management and reached the conclusion that most organizations 'get stuck' during the first step. What makes us move towards action? A sense of urgency, realizing we have reached rock bottom, that the matter 'hurts' us badly and there is no possible way to continue without performing a change.

In regard to Organizational Knowledge Management, we usually tend to emphasize the benefit Knowledge management can provide the organization yet do not create a sense of 'pain' that Knowledge Management can heal. Therefore, Knowledge Management is still perceived as something important yet not vital. KM is something nice to have…

In my case, I didn't really feel a sense of urgency; my doctor did not reprimand me for living unhealthy, I did not feel threatened and was actually already training regularly. What I did feel was a sense of readiness for a challenge, which in my opinion is just as important as a sense of urgency since even when a change is urgent it should be performed gradually and according to the level of readiness.

How do we get the organization feel 'reprimanded by the doctor' and start running? Send the organization to the doctor, who will surely find something. In an age of rapidly advancing technology and accessible knowledge, organizations are more exposed to customers abandoning, to increasing competition and knowledge leaking from the organization.

In many organizations, there is substantial gap between Knowledge Management that concerns the organization's clients (technological advancement, efficiency etc) and in-house Knowledge Management (manual processes, older systems, double outcome due to lack of cooperation etc). The problem is that as long as these organizations are profitable, they don't care for not being more profitable and are not keen on in-house changes. In my opinion, in the near future the gap between the two aspects of KM will bring the organization to a painful situation. Then the gap may become easier to bridge.


Step 2: construct an operation team

Well, running is not a team sport (although there are running teams) and it does really require an operation team. Nevertheless, I gathered partners on my journey-friends, running colleagues, fitness trainers, family and whoever could and wished to help me proceed towards completing the 10 KM. Some are with me from the beginning, some have already left and some have joined in mid-run…I have always known this is something I can't do alone. Actually, why do anything alone if you can do it together?

Regarding Knowledge Management, I prefer referring to "operation teams" as "partners" since Knowledge Management is a way of life rather than a single action. Who are our partners in the organization? Friends, management, colleagues from other organizations, consultants and suppliers and really anybody who at some point can contribute to the promotion of Knowledge Management.


Step 3: formulate a vision and change strategy

The vision is the picture we see in our imagination when we think of the moment we will reach our destination. For me it is the picture in which I cross the finish line. It is the picture that constantly reminds me why I embarked on this journey and where I want to go, and it is the picture that gets me focused during the hard parts. The strategy is the overall operation plan how to get to reach the vision (in my case, the training program during the last months). In my opinion, organizations are missing this step. Everyone has a vision of Knowledge management, yet somehow every organization's vision sounds the same and it all seems like a jumble of words in an initiation presentation. Many times in the heat of action we forget why we started this journey and where we want to get and it happens especially in complex projects when the finish line is so far. The vision is our lighthouse and the strategy is the path the leads the way to it. We must remember both.


Step 4: communicate the change and its necessity; acquire people's agreement

Have you ever wondered why people are willing to expose themselves on television and social networks and attempt to change their lives in front of a camera (a diet, a makeover, a psychological treatment etc)? I suppose it has something to do with their need to create a commitment to the process and the need to create a supportive environment. I too communicated my participation in the Nike Night Run way before registration opened, long before the run's date was scheduled. Actually, it was long before I was able to run two whole minutes. But talking about it helped a lot. It served as a constant reminder of the vision>the goal>the strategy, and as bonus I got good advice and met new partners on my way.

Nevertheless, when communicating the change we must remember two things:

  1. There will always be those that doubt us, those who try to prove to us that it "simply won't happen".

  2. It is important to avoid overselling and false promises. Sometimes, in the heat of selling our dream we might find ourselves promising things we might have a hard time fulfilling.

Step 5: empower others to act

In my opinion, the saying "empower others other to act" is less relevant to the KM world, since an essential part of it is learning by sharing-not necessarily empowering. Organizational knowledge is not held by the organizational knowledge manager. It is held by all workers in the organization and thus Knowledge Management is not the knowledge manager's sole responsibility. It is the knowledge manager's responsibility to outline a strategy and construct the organization's methodology and Knowledge Management tools and 'pass them on'.

In our context, a fair substitution for Cotter's fifth step would be: teach others to manage their knowledge themselves in order to create shared responsibility for the organizational Knowledge Management.

Regarding the run: life is not a theoretical model.


Step 6: create initial successes

 For someone who could hardly run an entire minute (this is a fact, I'm not exaggerating for emphasis) every additional second of running is a success. For me every workout is an achievement and each achievement of this sort make me wait expectantly for the next workout. The small successes generate motivation to achieve more successes. It is important to identify them and better yet-predefine them. In organizational context, they give the organization a 'taste' of what can happen if a change is made (and are sometimes a justification for additional funding).

Nevertheless, despite these initial successes' advantage- enjoy them moderately. Sometimes, enjoying them can cause us to feel euphoria so much that we already fell like we've reached our goal. This makes proceeding towards the real goal more difficult.


Step 7:don't give up- manage opposition for change

Easier said than done. Sounds great in theory, but how can you keep on running when your knees hurt or your lungs are all out of air? In organizational context, how do you keep on developing a new idea when you receive a shower of opposition and criticism?

The truth is I do not have a learned answer. Here we need perseverance-give the obstacles their place and find a way to deal with them (which is what Cotter meant when he suggested to manage opposition) and keep on going. In breaking points (which are more than a few) I always go back to the vision, to the point I want to reach. It focuses me and helps me persevere and not give up.


Step 8:create a new culture of which the implemented change is an integral part

This last sentence is the core of change assimilation and it sounds great…in theory. What is the real problem we have with changes? We all have a hard time persisting. Although I was told I would get used to getting up early, even after months of early morning training I still didn't get used to waking up at 4:45.

So, how do you do it?

Unfortunately, I don't have a learned answer to offer here, neither. I myself am still trying to crack that secret. What's for sure is that no matter what we do, change requires investing resources and there are no shortcuts. From my experience, vision and strategy, partners and communicating the change are the basis for creating new habits. What do I mean?

I have a goal to reach: 29.10.13 20:00 the Tel-Aviv Rabin Square. A 10 KM route (=vision and goal directing me and helping me wake up at 4:45). In order to reach this goal. I built together with my trainer and running mate (=partners) a training plan for several months (=strategy). Talking about the race (=communicating the change) and feedback from my surroundings generated (and still generate) motivation and commitment to the process.   

All the above lead to my weekly training sessions (=new habits) becoming my first priority. They now serve as anchors around which the other activities are centered. How do we translate this to organizational life? Everything we do must of course suit the nature of the organization. Select examples of organizational anchors include:


  • Integrating Knowledge Management solutions/systems into the work processes and operative systems.

  • Integrating Knowledge Management into the yearly worker evaluation (an evaluation of sharing, documentation etc).

  • Creating round tables, learning groups, expert groups etc. in order to increase sharing.

  • Creating collective innovation centers for creating new knowledge.


Summary: Kotter's 8 step model for change management and my version

  1. Create a sense of urgency for the issue:

My version: Create a sense of urgency for the issue and adapt the change process to the organization's readiness

  1. Construct an operation team:

My version: Choose partners

  1. Formulate a vision and change strategy:

My version: Formulate a vision and change strategy and define milestones in which you will examine the strategy and its commitment to the vision

  1. Communicate your change and its necessity; gain people's agreement:

My version: Share your ideas with others, including their rationale. Be open to other ideas, be aware of skeptics and beware of false promises

  1. Empower others to act:

My version: Teach others to manage their own knowledge in order to create shared responsibility for the organizational Knowledge Management.

  1. Create initial successes:

My version: Create initial successes. Remember that initial success is only a milestone, and beware of euphoria.

  1. Don't give up-manage opposition:

My version: Remember your vision and don't give up-manage opposition

  1. Create a new culture of which the implemented change is an integral part:

My version: Create an 'organizational language' and gradually integrate new habits and work processes in your organizational "lifestyle”


And that's all it takes. Go ahead, try it!

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