5 Steps to Practicing Empathy in the Workplace

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Leading Change" by John P. Kotter. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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Why is it important to celebrate short-term wins when leading change in an organization? How does reaching short-term benchmarks help employee morale?

In his book Leading Change, John Kotter says that short-term wins are important because they allow employees to feel accomplished and give them something to celebrate—even if the project is far from being over. If you only set long-term goals, employees may become discouraged.

Here is John Kotter’s advice for generating short-term wins.

Set Short-Term Benchmarks 

Kotter writes that every multiyear change effort needs to build in short-term wins or intermediate benchmarks and goals—and that those goals need to be publicly celebrated when they’re met. 

He warns that people become disillusioned if they don’t see tangible progress toward long-term goals being acknowledged and celebrated. Tangible progress also helps to blunt the criticism and resistance of change opponents. The foot-draggers will have a harder time making their case and winning others over to their cause if the organization can point to real, measurable progress being made.

(Shortform note: You can break the intermediate goals down further into actionable steps so that employees can see that even these goals are being accomplished piece by piece. Thus, if one of your short-term goals is to add five new people to the sales staff by the end of the quarter, actionable business objectives might include posting the jobs to Indeed, screening candidates, and scheduling interviews by the end of the month. Each of these steps is a visible measure of progress toward the company’s goal.)

Track Progress

Kotter writes that organizing and tracking wins is more often than not the job of managers who deal with the actual day-to-day implementation of the change strategy. In order to meaningfully measure progress, however, managers need good data systems to track and identify midterm benchmarks. You can’t acknowledge and celebrate what you don’t measure.

Track Goals With the OKR System

In Measure What Matters, John Doerr argues that the key to developing useful metrics is to identify your company’s objectives and key results—OKRs. 

Your objective is your ultimate goal, what you and your team exist to achieve. All objectives must be measurable, concrete, and action-oriented.

Your key results are the rungs on the ladder leading to your objective. These are the sub-goals that facilitate the achievement of your ultimate objective. To implement the OKR system, Doerr advises that you need to start by identifying the most important tasks your company needs to accomplish within a set timeframe. Once you’ve identified your company’s objectives, you then direct departments, teams, and individuals to identify their own objectives. Every objective, regardless of whether it’s an individual or department objective, should align with the company’s top objectives.

Keep Your Foot on the Gas

While Kotter stresses the importance of celebrating short-term wins, he warns that this can easily lead to a slide back toward complacency if people aren’t careful.

Remember, saboteurs will always be on the lookout for any opening to derail the process. All too often, the achievement of these intermediate goals provides them with just the opportunity they’re looking for. It’s all too easy for them to point to these partial victories and say, “See, we fixed the problem. There’s no need to press any further. We can pat ourselves on the back and get back to our regular routine now.”

As a change leader, it’s crucial that you don’t let these attitudes pervade your organization. Until the change is ingrained, woven into the organizational culture, and self-sustaining, it remains vulnerable to sabotage and complacency.

(Shortform note: The complacency that sets in with short-term success can be seen in the world of professional sports. One study analyzed all NBA basketball games from 1993 to 2009 and found that teams up by a point at halftime were actually more likely to lose the game than teams down by a point at halftime. This could be an indication of increased motivation and triggered loss aversion by the trailing team, but it could also point to complacency on the part of the leading team.)

John Kotter: Drive Progress With Short-Term Wins

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of John P. Kotter's "Leading Change" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Leading Change summary:

  • Why successful firms are those that can implement long-term change
  • A breakdown of the key steps for leading successful organizational change
  • Why change must be led by a team, not by a visionary individual

Hannah Aster

Hannah graduated summa cum laude with a degree in English and double minors in Professional Writing and Creative Writing. She grew up reading books like Harry Potter and His Dark Materials and has always carried a passion for fiction. However, Hannah transitioned to non-fiction writing when she started her travel website in 2018 and now enjoys sharing travel guides and trying to inspire others to see the world.

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