Leaders: Managing Change in Digital Environments

In assignment 1, we were asked to create a one page visual as well as a written synthesis of our readings and consultations with colleagues with regard to digital learning and change. Of particular interest to me were Kotter’s 8-step model as well as the reflective leadership theory outlined by Castelli (2015) (Kotter, n.d.). During communication with my colleagues, I kept the Kotter model and the reflective leadership theory in mind, and how they may apply in practice, as my colleagues described their experiences managing change projects in digital learning environments. First, however, I have summarized Kotter’s model and the reflective leadership theory, followed by a synopsis of my communications with my colleagues, combined with brief reflections based on my personal experience.

Kotter’s 8 step model takes leaders through a series of processes that provides structure to their project. As Al-Haddad and Kotnour note, “His method starts with establishing a sense of urgency by relating the for change to real potential crises, building a team trusted to support change, having a vision and strategy, communicating the vision, implementing the change and planning short term win, consolidation gains and constantly institutionalizing change” (2015, p. 250).

The reflective leadership theory can be summed up as one that: creates a safe environment that promotes trust, values open communications, connects work to organization mission, builds self-esteem and confidence, respects diverse cultures and customs and challenges beliefs and assumptions” (Castelli, 2016, p. 221-226).

While working as the Deputy Director of Learning Teaching and Web Services at the University of Edinburgh, Anne-Marie Scott led a 3-year project to retrofit over 360 lecture rooms with audio/visual recording capabilities. With a significant budget and numerous technical aspects, the initial project scope was certainly ambitious. However, over the duration of the project, unforeseen factors emerged, which added considerable challenges. For example, during an industrial action strike, one of the leaders suggested the recorded lectures could be used to replace “lecturers who were on strike” (Scott, personal communication, February 19, 2020). This resulted in a lack of trust with regard to the use of recorded lectures and threatened the success of the project. The importance of trust is referenced by Castelli, “Sarros et al. (2014), the ability to motivate others is one of the key skills required by leaders. This is accomplished by the leader’s ability to create an open atmosphere that promotes trust […]” (2016, p. 221). To address this contentious issue, Anne-Marie’s project team created a lecture recording policy that stipulated the legal use of recordings which helped to address the lecturers’ concerns and restore trust. From my personal experience, I have learned that unexpected issues and resistance to change should be anticipated and planned for whenever possible.

The issue of trust was an inherent factor in the project that my colleague, Sharon Ambata-Villaneuva led in her role as the Manager of Education and Technology at the University Health Network in Toronto. The project was established to integrate the Privacy and Cyber Security training program for the Toronto Academic Health Science Network (TAHSN). In relation to the issue of trust, Ambata-Villaneuva related that “This entails strategies such as facilitating discussions and navigating the political terrain to overcome the hurdles” (personal communication, February 23, 2020) to achieve project deliverables. It has also been my experience that anticipating the need for transparency to ensure trust is an integral part of the success of a change initiative.

Both of my colleagues stated that they had used Kotter’s 8-step model, but did not apply it in a prescriptive manner. Instead they used the model as a starting point and then adapted it to their needs throughout the project lifecycle, which provided the advantage of structure, as well as adaptability.

As a result of my past experience, combined with my colleagues’ shared stories, and the readings, I believe that various models and theories can be used synergistically to enable leaders to adjust their project plans to ensure the success of their change initiatives while keeping up with the increasing demands of the digital age. After all, as John F. Kennedy was quoted as stating, “Change is the law of life and those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future” (Meliorate, n.d.).


Al-Haddad, S., & Kotnour, T. (2015). Integrating the organizational change literature: a model for successful change. Journal of Organizational Change Management, 28(2), 234-262. Retrieved from https://doi-org.ezproxy.royalroads.ca/10.1108/JOCM-11-2013-0215

Castelli, P. A. (2016). Reflective leadership review: A framework for improving organisational performance. The Journal of Management Development, 35(2), 217-236. 10.1108/JMD-08-2015-0112

Kotter, J. (n.d.) The 8-step process for leading change. Retrieved from https://www.kotterinc.com/8-steps-process-for-leading-change/

Meliorate [website] Retrieved from  https://www.torbenrick.eu/blog/change-management/20-awesome-quotes-on-change-management/

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