Change Management Process – Step 2: Build a Guiding Coalition


In my previous post, I discussed the first step of the change management process (CMP), which is to establish a sense of urgency. Creating urgency helps management gain essential reasoning and support for the proposed change initiatives. Urgency also aids management and staff in moving from a state of complacency to sharing the energy and direction for action toward change. 

In this post, I’ll cover the what, why, and how aspects related to the next step of the CMP, which is to build a guiding coalition.

What Is a Guiding Coalition?

Rows of headshots representing a diverse group of people.

According to Dr. John Kotter, Harvard Business School professor and entrepreneur, a guiding coalition is a group of individuals within an organization who are the social leaders of the change initiatives. These individuals bring expertise, energy, and perspective across a variety of areas. Further, peers respect their professionalism. 

Why Build a Guiding Coalition?

The objective of building a guiding coalition is to establish buy-in toward the change initiatives. The idea is that the greater the respect for the team’s diversity (i.e., in terms of skills, experiences, perspectives, etc.), the more respect change agents will have for the actual change. 

A diverse group also helps to establish the following:

The objective is that this coalition can have enough power to shape, implement, and sustain the efforts. Together, they can assist leadership in transforming the organization.

How to Build a Guiding Coalition

Once you understand the role that the guiding coalition plays, you can get to work on building it. Dennis Goin, Executive Engagement Leader of Kotter International, noted two essential factors of creating a guiding coalition: diversity and behavior. 

  1. Diversity

Team members should bring with them a variety of unique characteristics that contribute to the effort. Individual attributes may vary in skills, experiences, perspectives, and network abilities. Research encourages diverse levels of management and non-management to be a part of the team. As such, the diverse background fosters a greater standard of perspective and empathy toward specific issues and initiatives that may arise in the change process. 

  1. Behavior

Behavior is an essential ingredient to coalition success. Research suggests avoiding negative-minded, unfocused, and selfish individuals. The most successful groups have a balance between introverts, extroverts, and unconventional thinkers. 

Margaret Mead, American cultural anthropologist, stated the following: 

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” 

This is also true for managing change in an organization.

Forming the Guiding Coalition

As mentioned previously, having the right mix of skills, expertise, and perspectives is critical for a guiding coalition to be effective. So, leaders must be careful to appoint the right people to the team. 

When forming the guiding coalition, leaders should look for key qualities. To carry authority and build a high level of trust, the group members must represent different levels within the organization’s hierarchy and have a reputation as credible within the team and the rest of the organization. 

Here are points to consider when forming the guiding coalition…

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How to Empower the Guiding Coalition to Make Change

To be effective, leadership has to empower the guiding coalition to make a change on the leadership’s behalf. Once leadership has ensured the right people are chosen for the guiding coalition, senior leaders should continue to engage with the group. The team should report directly to the leaders. 

Without participation and backing from leadership, the coalition will struggle to implement change and counter stakeholder resistance. Leadership involvement will also make sure that decisions are in line with the organization’s goals and are in the organization’s best interests.

Why Don’t Some Organizations Use Guiding Coalitions?

Not all organizations manage change using a guiding coalition. Instead, they handle the change process at the executive level. This decision may be a mistake because although building an effective guiding coalition takes work, a major transformation is unlikely to succeed otherwise. 

Some reasons why an organization may not build a guiding coalition include the following:


Building a guiding coalition to facilitate the change management process is an essential step that can make or break change initiatives. At face level, crafting a team of talented individuals seems relatively straightforward. And in some organizations, it may be. But in others, it could be significantly more complex. 

A successful coalition includes members who…

  1. Share the same objectives
  2. Are committed to the goals of the change initiative 
  3. Are empowered to make decisions on behalf of the organization
  4. Have a high level of trust for one another and are respected within the organization
  5. Represent diversity within the organization, including different functions, expertise, experience, tenure, perspectives, and different levels of the hierarchy
  6. Have information and experience of the organization at all levels
  7. Are effective leaders and managers

Connecting the what, why, and how dots to designing a coalition may aid management in carrying out the next steps in the CMP. So, keep all of this in mind as you build a guiding coalition for your own organization!
Stay tuned for a fun, brief, and straightforward discussion about the next step in the CMP: forming the strategic vision and initiatives.


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Filed Under: Analytics

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.