Change Management Process – Step 6: Generate Short-Term Wins


When Henry Ford said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is a success,” he could have been talking about how generating short-term wins is essential to change management.

Creating the vision, initiatives, and teams for change are essential elements. However, development is limited without progress in each phase of the change management process. The ability to remain focused, active, and accountable for change initiatives is not only a long-term destination but also a combination of lots of short-term wins. 

According to Dr. John Kotter, Harvard Business School Professor and Entrepreneur, generating short-term wins is essential to keeping change initiatives on track. 

This blog aims to identify and discuss strategies that can aid in doing just that.

So far, we have discussed 5 of the 8 steps of Dr. John Kotter’s change management process (CMP)

Now we will direct our attention to the sixth step and discuss how to achieve small successes along the way.

What Is a Short-Term Win? 

Dr. John Kotter describes a short-term success as a milestone or event that the entire team would agree is “huge” and contributes to the fruition of the change vision. Although this is Step 6, identifying short-term wins can start simultaneously with Step 1. Short-term wins can progress throughout each change management process phase.

How Are Short-Term Wins Identified? 

A hand points with a pen to Step 6: Create Short Term Wins on a chart showing all 8 steps of the change management process.

Dr. Kotter encourages change managers to hold sessions to identify short-term wins to pursue. Departments and their leaders should analyze what those actions or events would look like in the organization. The sessions should connect the “dots” of change initiatives. 

The XYZ milestones should have a collective “aha” moment for participants. Dr. Kotter describes the “aha” moment as the identification of a short-term win. This shows everyone that accomplishing X, Y, or Z milestone aligns with the change vision and that the initiatives are working. 

Achieving those milestones profoundly impacts the overall outcomes if the change vision initiatives are on track and the team can agree to accomplish XYZ. 

Identification Is Critical

Identifying key milestones, actions, and benchmarks is essential for determining and generating short-term wins. 

Determining the key initiatives’ what, why, and how that get the team closer to achieving the long-term change vision helps identify the short-term wins. In turn, knowing the short-term wins can help management determine the key performance metrics that align with them.

Short-term wins should have 3 characteristics in common:

How to Plan Short-Term Wins

The guiding team should plan for short-term wins that serve as 3-to-6-month targets that maintain a sense of urgency. They should also provide evidence that the process is successful in achieving the long-term change initiative:

  1. Find opportunities within the strategic vision and initiatives for generating short-term wins. 
  2. Create achievable short-term goals and plan how to reach them. 
  3. Engage stakeholders to implement them. 
  4. Monitor progress and revise the strategy for short-term wins as needed.
  5. Recognize and reward stakeholders as they accomplish short-term goals.

How to Celebrate Short-Term Wins

A project manager checks a box representing another short-term win.

When short-term wins are on track or have met the benchmark(s), communicating these achievements to change agents is paramount. The delivery of communication can vary. Due to the vastness of change initiatives, change agents may not realize how much of an impact their daily efforts have on achieving the change vision.

This is where communication plays a significant role… 

Many communication methods can be used. However, the objective is relatively consistent—identification, recognition, and reward. 

The platforms used to carry that message may include emails, phone calls, meetings, one-on-one communication, office parties, etc. The key is to get the message out there and known without causing too much disruption.

What Leadership Conditions Are Needed for Short-Term Wins to Work

Short-term wins won’t happen on their own. Here are some critical conditions needed to plan and achieve short-term wins successfully.

  1. Making planning a priority: Having a clear vision and setting aside time to plan properly to achieve short-term wins by creating a sense of urgency is critical. 
  2. Buying into the process: Believe you can achieve significant change and produce short-term results at the same time. 
  3. Having excellent management: Generating short-term wins requires administrators to be committed to planning, organizing, and controlling the results.
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Why Generating Short-Term Wins Is Beneficial to the Change Initiative

Implementing major change within an organization takes time and requires steadfast commitment from all stakeholders. Short-term wins are necessary for maintaining the momentum needed to reach the long-term change vision for the following reasons. 

1. Motivates Staff and Builds Momentum for the Final Stages

Generating short-term wins helps bolster confidence in the process and encourages investors, executives, and managers to continue to back the change vision. Without their support, the change initiatives could not continue. 

Celebrating those wins also increases buy-in toward change initiatives across the entire organization. Tangible results motivate staff (and the volunteer army enlisted) to continue the struggle by showing them that their sacrifices are paying off. This also encourages others to actively participate, helping to strengthen the organization and build support for the change, which is critical for building motivation and momentum for the next step.

In addition, achieving goals rewards the change agents and boosts morale with positive feedback during a tough transition. 

Change management is a long hard slog, and the successes deserve recognition. Rewarding those responsible for successfully generating short-term wins shows that the leadership is behind them and helps maintain morale during a long, challenging process. Celebrating the successes helps change managers to regroup and provide the motivation they need for the next stages in the change process. 

It also allows companies to publicly reward and recognize those who have made significant contributions toward the short-term goal and, therefore, the initiative as a whole.

2. Generating Short-Term Goals Creates and Maintains a Sense of Urgency

When goals are over the horizon, it is hard to make them a priority. There is always a temptation to put them on the back burner and deal with other looming deadlines first. Having foreseeable deadlines helps keep the sense of urgency needed to reach-longer term projects. So, generating short-term wins provides the pressure required to reach relatable targets for change initiatives that could take months or years to achieve. 

3. Allows Managers to Review and Improve the Vision

Having milestones allows change managers to measure progress toward the goals. This is an opportunity for change agents to identify any problems, review performance data created by generating short-term gains, and adjust the vision if necessary.

4. Helps Silence Critics

Generating short-term wins helps minimize negativity and reduces resistance among critics. Completed milestones provide evidence to critics that the initiatives are successful and produce positive results for the organization. When there is proof that the initiative is on track and achieving its goals, it is harder for naysayers to derail the process by making unfounded accusations that the initiatives are failing. 

In turn, this helps keep discussions within the organization positive and the buy-in process on track. 

Final Thoughts 

There are many reasons generating short-term wins is essential for change management…

Celebrating short-term wins helps motivate momentum to continue the change initiative, decreases resistance among critics of the change, and rewards positive behavior. 

Decreasing resistance among critics toward change is extremely helpful in minimizing negativity and increasing buy-in toward change initiatives. The additional acceptance and positivity toward initiatives and the change vision are significant for removing barriers, increasing the urgency for moving forward, and supporting the overall change efforts. 

Acknowledging short-term wins rewards the efforts made to achieve the milestone(s). This reinforces positive behavior that directly influences initiatives and the organization. The positive reinforcement and recognition encourage continued behavior and set the stage for sustained efforts during the following change initiative phases. 

Keep an eye out for our next post in this series, where we’ll talk about sustaining acceleration in change management.


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Filed Under: Leadership

About Katie Carpen, PhD, Thought Leader

Katie has 14+ years of experience in higher education, consulting, recruitment, and mortgage finance industries. Her areas of specialty include change management, conflict management, corporate social responsibility, emotional intelligence, leadership, organizational culture, strategy, and work-life-balance. Katie has served as a relationship manager, associate dean, consultant, subject matter expert, and coach. She is currently active in higher education, coaching, and various causes. She enjoys fostering critical, creative, and strategic thinking by applying concepts across a variety of domains.