A Kotter-Esque View on the Pandemic

Whitepaper by Leif Sørensen & Ida Bjørnsbo

In this paper, we simply investigated if we encounter any difference in how the games are being played before vs. after COVID-19. We set out to investigate how implementing changes have changed, from before to during COVID-19. We examined our most played CRM game and dove into the 579 choices made before the pandemic vs. 579 choices made during.

Kotter's Eight Step Change Model

In 1996 John Kotter published his Eight Step Change Model, and despite it being written nearly a quarter of a century ago, it is still regarded as the leading methodology for implementing change management in an organization or team. That is why Actee Change is mostly build up around his methodology.

Kotter’s model is however not all that we are going to discuss in the whitepaper below, we will focus on the data collected in our most played Change Game. We have collected the data of 579 choices made before vs. after the breakout of COVID-19 and discuss how the choices made differ between these two times and make a hypothesis as to why.

Read along and join the discussion!


Some of the Actee change simulations/games are heavily based on the theoretical insights on change management by John Kotter.

Kotter has developed an eight-step model for the workplace implementation of change that embodies general challenges and potential solutions to change processes. The steps represent a checklist for leaders who are planning his or her change process. The steps provide a source of inspiration and intervention for when the change process comes to a halt or for when employees are not yet ready for the change. Below are the 8 steps:

1. Sense of urgency

2. Driving coalition

3. Develop a vision

4. Communicate the vision

5. Empower others

6. Short term gains

7. Consolidate gains

8. Anchor in culture

(Kotter, J.P., 2012. Leading change. Harvard business press.)

So why are we writing about Kotter’s theory?

Well, we have been collecting data through our platform and tools and are ready to share some COVID results with you. We set out to investigate how implementing changes have changed, from before to during COVID-19. We examined our most played CRM game and dove into the 579 choices made before the pandemic vs. 579 choices made during.

We focus purely on choices made in the first chapter of a three-chapter game. This means we measure only the beginning of the game. At a later stage, we might investigate further on the same distribution in the other chapters.

In this paper, we simply investigated if we encounter any difference in how the games are being played before vs. after COVID-19.

Each choice in our games is marked with a framework (a theory, values, or alike). This influence the algorithm behind a current game. At the end of a game the player gets to see decisions patterns and if the game designer (anyone can make personal games) has created a personal profile the profile compares to others playing the same game.  

In this whitepaper, we focus on a game using Kotter’s 8 steps as indicators to track the adaptation, and there are some interesting insights to discover, and more importantly, keep in mind as you move forward. We have analyzed the findings and below are some of our assumption based on the choices made in a game. We know of course that a game is not to be measured with real-life changes, but we find it interesting that the exact same choices spread differently before and after COVID.

We also believe COVID-19 affects the mindset and thoughts when playing a game, and this will be reflected in the choices made by participants playing. The reason for such a change in the distribution can be manyfold, elements like the facilitator, the introduction of the theories, the focus, the time spend on the game etc. will of cause influence how you play a game. But inside each of the typical parameters influencing a learning situation, I believe COVID will play a part in how we make moves both in a game as how we make decisions in real life.   

Look at the graph below to orientate yourself before reading my rationale on each of the elements.


The focus of this paper will only be on the five steps where we see significant changes before and after COVID-19.

In the second step of Kotter called – Driving Coalition - we see some distinction between the two bars. Kotter argues it is important to combining a perfect change team to drive the change. In the games before COVID, it was a relatively prioritized choice in-game. It is also a choice player are meant to make in chapter one since we are at the beginning of a changed situation. But COVID-19 has debunked that step as one that is of less importance - in the same game but, in the COVID period.



I would argue that we are in the middle of a crisis and crises calls for action. I also guess we as humans attend to skip the human side of change in times of crisis. We want to jump into action. But you might see other reasons and explanations?      


Moving on to step three - Developing Vision –– has through the crisis skyrocketed in comparison to pre-COVID times.

I believe that through these foggy times where the future has been anything but stable, creating a tangible goal for how to navigate forwards, has been a necessity to keep employees encouraged. Creating a vision is the tool that is used to get all hands on deck and the maximum support from the organization. The bigger the change the more related the vision must be, so it is interesting to see, that when a forced change emerges, and nobody has a perfect vision lined up, and everybody’s sight into the future is blinded – there is still so much focus on SURVIVAL!


In the game, the increase of making the choice is demonstrating understanding for the need for a strong and powerful yet simple to understand the vision. 

I also guess we add a bit of ourselves into the games we play and the change in choices potentially reflect a need the players/participants have for knowing the vision. 

I guess this has been left behind and forgotten by management. Or maybe we all understand the strong and powerful vision of survival?


The fourth step – Communicate Vision – is including all platforms continuously.  In the game, we see a change in choices made relatively like the previous step. Developing a vision.

Communication in real life had to be done a little differently as most of the population have been working from home during COVID. I assume that trying to handle a situation as big and brutal as COVID is difficult enough in itself but having to deal with it together from afar has needed some serious adaptations. Still, the importance of communicating the end goal out to the whole organization has increased with Corona. Again, I am guessing here since we made the analysis based on the choices made in a game.

Maybe Corona has put into perspective how difficult communicating correctly really is, that misunderstandings and unclarities etc. happen, and they happen much more often than we expect, and even more so when it is not happening face-to-face. Either way, the increased focus on communications have been necessary and is hopefully here to stay. There will always be human errors because we are just that, human, but now at least we might be one step closer to eliminating communication-based errors.


Let us jump to step six – Short Term Gains – the present choice has fallen from 23% before the storm to 17% after COVID.

I was perplexed by this decrease in focus on creating short-term wins, as the constant negative spiral that is COVID demands a much higher level of motivation and encouragement for us to keep going. There could be multiple reasons behind this; maybe there is no such thing as a short-term win if the vision is just plainly: “To make it out of Corona afloat” and we are still here. Or maybe because there is a correlation between time under Corona and a falling revenue stream – it is difficult to create wins if all you have is loss.

But nevertheless, creating clarity on short term goals does create a sense of achievement and moving forward in hazy times like COVID-19. But this choice is tremendously under prioritized in the games after COVID. The decrease can be explained due to players understanding that this choice is not relevant for the first phase. Personally, I believe the reason for the decrease is because players are not fully present in their heads on a personal level…

The final change indicator we will investigate together – Anchor in Culture – is how to sustain and develop the change into the organization's culture. As you can see, the anchor in culture was higher before Corona, perhaps because there are assumptions that the incorporated COVID changes will not be valid on the other side of the pandemic. That these times should not define the company’s core? As seen between the corona waves – people cannot wait to get back to normal – but the reality being there is not going to be a ‘back to normal, and these changes are here to stay, whether we want them or not.

Or just simply because people playing after COVD understand more about how to handle changes and knows that anchor in culture is related to chapter three?

Do you have another hypothesis as to why we are seeing these changes? Let us know, we are always excited to enter a discussion!

As a finishing note, did you know that you can extract data from your sessions in Actee? It is super easy, and the simplistic overview it can generate will help you better understand and compare data and easily create important insights. 

Check Out The Data Module Here