Succeed Large scale change with Dual Operating System

If you are expecting tips and tricks for dual-boot solutions, certainly this is not the right place!

In this post, I would like to share my notes on the interview with John Kotter “Succeed Large-Scale change” in HBR France Oct-Nov 2019.

Today the most important phenomenon with organizations is the number of ongoing organizational transformations programs being deployed. Today the context in which those organizations are living is changing at high speed, the only way for these organizations to survive and thrive is to adapt. This is a natural instinct for a human being.

Today the principal success factor for an organization is to succeed in the execution of frequent large scale changes (in the previous era, those large scale changes would occur every five to ten years). John Kotter bemoans the fact that some 70% of major organizational change initiatives fail.

The Kotter model is two-fold:

On the first hand focusing on the development and deployment of large scale changes with 8 steps: 

  • Step One: Create Urgency. …
  • Step Two: Build a Powerful Coalition. …
  • Step Three: Form a Vision for Change. …
  • Step Four: Enlist a volunteer army. …
  • Step Five: Enable action by removing obstacles. …
  • Step Six: Generate Short-Term Wins. …
  • Step Seven: Sustain acceleration. …
  • Step Eight: Institute the change i.e. Anchor the Changes in Corporate Culture.

The second part of Kotter’s model recognizes two types of tasks in an organization: the first task focuses on the execution and consists of ensuring trains are operational and on-time, the second task is more strategic-oriented and focuses on creating the future. Hence Kotter introduces the concept of the ‘Dual Operating System’ where he places the informal Organisational Network right up there side by side with the formal Hierarchy and Business Processes.

Kotter’s claim is that to successfully achieve an organizational transformation we must now appreciate the power of the informal network to resist change, and therefore, it is appropriate to acknowledge the important role it plays in transformational change. In fact, it should not be a competition, but a confluence of the formal and informal, if successful transformation is to be achieved.

The benefits of a Dual Operating System could be seen in the prism of two dimensions: Ability to Execute and the Ability to Innovate. From an agile perspective we can see it from two other comparative dimensions: cohesion (think silos) and diversity (think cross-functional).

In general, we can accept that for radical innovation, e.g. a response to a fintech and digital disruptions, we need diversity. To get things done efficiently, we need cohesive networks, where we know what each other is doing in some detail.

The challenging quadrant on the top right is where we try to balance diversity and cohesion. But here is where we get maximum performance. This is where there is a sufficient critical mass of diverse thought to combat the ‘group think’ around ‘Business As Usual’ (BAU) operations alone. This balance is what we need to exploit fintech and digital disruptions, as opposed to being run over by them.

The interview covers the creation of opportunities by the leaders and gave a brief overview of management vs leadership. Those parts will be covered in my next focused article on leadership.

The kotter model was an eye-opener for myself. It is a tool to succeed in large scale change deployment. I am currently reading the XLR8 book to deepen my understanding of Kotter’s model. I am researching for structures, practices, and philosophies for working holistically as a network. It seems that “Reinventing Organizations” would be the best choice for getting in-depth coverage for those topics! Stay tuned for the following posts!


Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.