XLR8 Accelerate by John P Kotter

John P. Kotter offers an insight into a dual system in which we see on the one hand an effective hierarchy that enables growth and, secondly, an open network structure which timely corrects the organization. He gives this dual system the the necessary tools via five principles and eight accelerators to make it practical in both large and small organizations.

From book jacket flaps

Is it even possible to stay ahead of today’s dizzying pace of change?

Its a familiar scene in organizations today: a competitive threat or a big opportunity emerges. You quickly create a strategic initiative in response and appoint your best people to make change happen. And it does–but not fast or effectively enough. Value gets lost, and things drift back to the default status.

Why is this scenario so frequently repeated — not only at big companies like Borders and RIM, where leaders saw change coming — but in organizations like yours?

In this groundbreaking new book, leadership expert and bestselling author John P. Kotter provides a fascinating answer–and a powerful new framework for winning in a world of constant turbulence and disruption.

Kotter explains how traditional organizational hierarchies evolved to meet the daily demands of running an enterprise. For most companies, the hierarchy is the singular operating system at the heart of the firm. But the reality is, this system simply is not built for an environment where change has become the norm.

Koter advocates a new system–a second, more agile, network-like structure that operates in concert with the hierarchy to create what the calls a “dual operating system.” This network is dynamic and free of bureaucratic layers. Its core is a guiding coalition that represents each level in the hierarchy. And its drivers are a “volunteer army” of people energized by the coalition’s vision and strategy. The dual system allows companies to capitalize on today’s rapid-fire strategic challenges–and still make their numbers.

The book vividly illustrates the five core principles underlying the new network system and the eight Accelerators that drive it. Perhaps most crucially, the book reveals how the best companies focus and align their people’s energy and urgency around what Kotter calls the Big Opportunity.

If you’re a pioneer, a leader who knows that bold change is necessary to survive and thrive in an ever-changing world, this book will help you accelerate into a better, more profitable future.

John P. Kotter is a Konosuke Matsushita Professor of Leadership, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School, and is widely regarded as the world’s foremost authority on leadership and change. In recent years Koter and his firm, Kotter International, have helped numerous organizations, both public and private, build dual operating systems to drive growth and accelerate strategy. He predicts such systems are the key to sustained success in the twenty-first century–for shareholders, customers, employees, and organizations across all industries and sectors.

Chapter 1 – Limits of Hierarchy in a Faster-Moving World

The first chapter reviews limitations of the hierarchical structure to accelerate change and innovation. Kotter describes most successful organizations follow a very similar life cycle. Starting with a network-like structure–comparative to a growing solar system with the sun, planets, moons and satellites. The founder in the center, and around him/her all kinds of initiatives which are risk-taking and searching for opportunities in line with a vision that people buy into. Over time,, we see the organization develop into a more hierarchical structure including the associated management processes such as planning, budget, function and job descriptions, staffing, measurement and problem solving. These management processes have a delaying effect, and block the development of innovative products/services. The network organization disappears and only the rigid hierarchical organization remains.

Chapter 2 – Seizing Opportunities with a Dual Operating System

Chapter two introduces the dual operating system in order to generate opportunities. The basic structure is a hierarchy on the one hand and on the other the network organization. Successful organizations are able to prevent the erosion of the network and have the hierarchical as well as the network organization operate in symbiosis at the same time.

Kotter offers that a well-functioning dual operating system, is guided by five basic principles:

  1. Many people driving important change, and from everywhere, not just the usual few appointees;
  2. A “get-to” mindset, not a “have-to” one;
  3. Action that is head and heart-driven, not just head driven;
  4. Much more leadership, not just more management;
  5. An inseparable partnership between the hierarchy and the network, not just an enhanced hierarchy.

The processes within the network are similar to the activities of start-ups and have much in common with Kotter’s “Eight step process for leading change”. However, management should launch a dynamic atmosphere in which the network and hierarchy remain integrated and using basic processes aka accelerators to perform faster and faster.

The eight accelerators are:

  1. Create a sense of urgency around a big opportunity
  2. Build and evolve a guided coalition of volunteers
  3. Form a change vision and strategic initiatives
  4. Enlist a volunteer army
  5. Enable action by removing barriers
  6. Generate (and celebrate) short-term wins
  7. Sustain acceleration
  8. Institute change

Chapter 3 – The Stakes: A Cautionary Tale

The third chapter describes a case study of an organization that have to act, otherwise they lose their position in the market. We learn the use of existing methods may work fine as long as the pace is not too high and the future is reasonably predictable. Should the pace increase and predictability decrease, it becomes a different story. The organization will then have to operate with speed and agility of a start-up company. This agility and velocity is today’s norm.

Chapter 4 – Leadership and Evolution

Chapter four sets leadership and management together. Management is not Leadership. The management / leadership matrix depicts four quadrants from doomed, to chaotic, to well run, but bureaucratic, to well run and innovative. In a classical evolved organization, the hierarchical system often ask for management skills (in view of stability, reliability and efficiency) and the network system will need much more leadership skills (with attention to cohesive vision, passion, agility and speed). In the dual operating system some people have to sit in both systems, and this requires that people have both management as well as leadership skills.

Chapter 5 – The Five Principles and Eight Accelerators in Action

Chapter five describes a case within a B2B technology firm. Details of the five principles and eight accelerators are depicted and the results have been achieved. The chapter concludes with dramatic results experienced within other companies using the dual operating model.

Chapter 6 – Relentlessly Developing and Role Modeling Urgency

Chapter six admits change is not easy. Only by creating a force powerful enough through a sense of urgency with large numbers of people across the organization. Celebrate short-term victories and look outward and open minded to create positive energy.

Chapter 7 – The Big Opportunity

In chapter seven Kotter shares that great urgency that drives people in a dozen different directions achieves nothing. The change vision is often seen as something of senior management to be realized by employees. Tap into the minds and hearts of the employees–The Big Opportunity begets a change vision, which begets strategic initiatives. “The big opportunity” (a window to a successful future, which is realistic, emotionally compelling and memorable).

Chapter 8 – Getting started: Q&A

Chapter eight provides some frequently asked questions and answers that can help with your journey towards a dual operating system.

Chapter 9 – The (Inevitable) Future of Strategy

In this chapter, Kotter argues that strategy in today’s organization needs to be viewed as a dynamic force, not one directed by a strategic planning department and put into a yearly planning cycle. It is a force that constantly seeks opportunities, identifies initiatives to capitalize on them, and complets those initiatives swiftly and efficiently. This imparts a strategic fitness to the organization–the more it exercises its strategy skills, the more adept it becomes at dealing with a hyper-competitive environment and the more those skills become a part of its DNA or culture.


XLR8 offers a compelling vision for sustainable organizations in the modern era. With my tenure at several multinational and mature organizations, the heavy hierarchical model is clearly a hindrance. As the narrative describes, good companies can succeed regardless of the model. But, it sure isn’t easy! Let’s–as managers and leaders–get out of our own way and take some tips from Kotter to let smart, creative and engaged networks lead the way to innovation and change.

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