The creator of Downton Abbey certainly picked a historical era of major change for his show….post-World War I England. In three short seasons, he has demonstrated the overwhelming changes facing the aristocracy (and actually everyone) as post-war England begins a long journey of equalizing people and opportunity. [My apologies to those who don’t know this TV show; but suggest you watch it – it’s REALLY good]
With Downton Abbey and its colorful characters as a backdrop, let’s explore John Kotter’s first few steps of major change. Let’s call Matthew and Tom change agents and Mary, Cora, Edith and, interestingly, the dowager Countess, the guiding coalition. Obviously Lord Grantham is the primary resister.
1. A Sense of Urgency…”examining market and competitive realities; identifying and discussing crises, potential crises, or major opportunities.”
Matthew, a somewhat reluctant heir, has embraced his responsibilities and been given access to the inner workings of the Downton house and town. He rescued Downton after a major investment went south, by investing an unexpected windfall – one he is honor-bound to protect. As he reviews the books, he sees the inherent difficulties in continuing to run Downton as simply an aristocratic engine, fueled by inherited money. The price of goods and service has skyrocketed and technology is creating new efficiencies that will out-produce the old ways of doing things.
There are crises in the past – three prior generations have sought rescue for Downton. There is a potential crisis in the world and economy after the war, and there is an opportunity to turn Downton into a self-sustaining, revenue producing organization. Matthew, wanting to preserve and grow the inheritance for his offspring, sees the need for change and begins the process of discussing his vision. Discussions with Downton’s solicitor Murray reenforce his observations and validate his vision.
His obvious passion for the change ignites great resistance which threatens to disrupt the relationships of the family.
2. Guiding Coalition…”putting together a group with enough power to lead the change; getting the group to work together like a team.”
While the formal power of Downton lies with Lord Grantham, there are other, less obvious sources of power and Matthew does an excellent job of engaging that support. Clearly his wife Mary has influence over her father that only an elder daughter can claim. The facts bring Cora and Edith to become excited about “what could be”, and even the Dowager Countess sees that change is inevitable. Slowly, Lord Grantham yields to the vision.
Matthew’s passion about his vision is overpowering – a good lesson for anyone wanting to influence change. Thankfully, Tom is able to communicate the realities and opportunities without igniting an equally strong passion for not changing.
Sometimes resisters cannot be influenced. Jarvis was so threatened by the change that he left. That is the best case scenario; to stay and become an obstacle creates untold difficulties for progress.
3. Developing a vision and strategy…”creating a vision to help direct the change effort; developing strategies for achieving that vision.”
Those of us addicted to this series will have to bide our time to see how the vision plays out over time and perhaps I will have enough material to continue aligning Downton’s progress with Kotter’s theory. But enough has been said to let us glimpse that technology and machinery will play a major role, as will converting non-productive property into productive roles.
Back to Today
I enjoy seeing theory come to life, and it has been fun to think through an outstanding television series through the lens of change theory. As you think about major change in your world, perhaps pondering some questions would be worthwhile….
Why is the change happening/necessary. Is there a compelling reason to change? Change is hard, so it helps to have a fire burning behind you….if there is not, why change?
Who/what is the formal power structure surrounding the change?
Who/where might informal sources of power reside?
Is the vision clear? What is the gap between where you are now, and where the vision will take you?
The answers to these questions may help structure and frame change, whether personal or professional.
Those folks thought they were seeing major change after WWI….I wonder what they would think of the speed of change in the 21st century!
Kotter, J. P. (1996). Leading Change. Boston: Harvard Business School Press.