Leading Change in Your Cooperative

Organizations, particularly agricultural cooperatives, are facing changes from all directions. As legacy cooperatives retire managers and directors, and potential succession prospects take the reins, changing times are knocking on the door requiring greater leadership skill. Now more than ever, powerful macroeconomic forces are pushing businesses to reduce costs, improve quality of products and services, find new opportunities for growth, and increase productivity to avert catastrophic change. Change is inevitable and how leaders address this change will define what the outcome will be. Will they succeed in adapting or fail by ignoring it?

To overcome organizational change, it is incumbent upon leaders to develop a plan thoughtfully and carefully with realistic expectations. Failure to do so may lead to frustrated employees, wasted resources and disappointing results. Whenever people are forced to adjust to a new paradigm, the organization runs the risk of chaos. Therefore, leaders should roll out improvement plans in a committed and orderly fashion that avoids several errors. 

According to John Kotter, leadership expert and Harvard Business School Professor, there are eight errors organizations commonly make in trying to transform their businesses effectively to meet imminent change. What many leaders overlook is the fact that change can be good. Change can transform us, and force organizations to reassess their purpose by reengineering, strategizing, and reorganizing. Although it is common for cooperative members and employees to experience a certain amount of pain with organizational change, good leadership can temper feelings of uncertainty and rescue the organization from a downward spiral into uplifting renewal.

 Identifying eight common errors help leaders understand where leading and managing change can go awry. Each mistake obstructs a path forward and slows the process of positive change. Common errors in leading change are:

  1. Allowing too much complacency – lacks urgency and fails to achieve objectives.
  2. Failure to create a strong guiding coalition – top to bottom “Buy-in” is required.
  3. Underestimating the power of vision – vital role in helping direct, align and inspire actions.
  4. Under communicating the vision – It must be credible communication and a lot of it!
  5. Permitting obstacles to block the vision – proclaiming failure is not an option.
  6. Failing to create short-term wins – real transformation takes time. Be patient, celebrate baby steps.
  7. Declaring victory too soon – Changes need to sink into the organization’s culture. New and innovative approaches are fragile, so reinforce them frequently. Communicate the milestones but keep eyes on the end goal.
  8. Neglecting to anchor the change into the organization’s culture – Until new behaviors are rooted in the organization’s shared values, they are always subject to falling back to old ways. Anchoring means building the change into the next generation of management and leadership.

None of these leadership mistakes would be that costly in a slower moving and less competitive and complicated world. Handling changes quickly is not imperative in a relatively stable economy or controlled environment. But the problem for most organizations today is that stability is no longer the norm. And most experts agree that over the next few decades the business environment will be more volatile than most of us want to believe or deal with. Change is inevitable, but errors in leading change are not. With awareness and skill, leaders can guide their organizations by instituting mitigation efforts designed to embrace the change and meet it head on. Agricultural cooperatives have met the needs of many over the years by offering consistent and reliable services. But if they are to survive change, leadership must drive the process forward in a socially and economically healthy way. Leading change means that “change” will not deter progress. And when it raises its ugly head, change will not dismantle a business model that does so good for so many. 


Kotter, J.P. (2012). Leading Change. Harvard Business Review Press. Boston: MA

Friend, Diane. “Leading Change in Your Cooperative.Southern Ag Today 3(47.5). November 24, 2023. Permalink