on 13 October 2006
I've just finished reading this short book. It explains Kotter's Eight Step Process for Change that he first described in more conventional form in Leading Change and then Heart of Change. It tells the story of a colony of penguins who eventually commit to abandoning the iceberg they have inhabited for generations.
Whilst it won;t make the Man Booker shortlist next year, I found the fable subtle, realistic and rich enough to keep me reading, and it didn't take long to read the 147 pages of large type, several of which were devoted to some very attractive colour illustrations of points in the story. The story illustrations of Kotter's model were good, and the penguin characters had some familiarity, particularly NoNo the influential saboteur, who did all he could to oppose the change.
This is designed as a more accessible format for the type of manager who would rather freeze on an ice floe than read a research-based management book such as Kotter's original Leading Change. The authors researched how some of the key messages of Kotter's work could be better communicated through story-telling and enhanced by good pictures.
And I think the authors have pulled it off. I can see this book going down well in certain team contexts or change management training courses. Well worth checking out, and it won't take much time to read.
on 13 February 2009
After reading this book you will want to explore Kotters other work:
* Leading Change and
* The Heart of Change.
These give you the depth and breadth that is obviously missing here. I have found other books that I thought had the edge, over Kotters work these include:
*Strategic Organization Change - Pub 2005. It is based around a comprehensive organization model and linked change processes, that leads you to what I think is a more realistic view of how to proceed, that is easier to digest than some aspects of Kotters work which has been around for a while now. (see my other reviews)
*Tool kit for Organizational change, by Thomas Cawsey - Pub 2007. This is the product of 10 years work, the result is a very useful, readable and pragmatic guide to organizational change.(see my other reviews)
Stan Felstead - Interchange Resources - UK.
In 1995, John Kotter had an idea. He identified eight reasons why transformational change within organisations can fail. These were then inverted to create eight steps to implement transformational change. They are:
* Establish a Sense of Urgency
* Create the Guiding Coalition
* Develop a Vision and Strategy
* Communicate the Change Vision
* Empower Employees for Broad-Based Action
* Generate Short-Term Wins
* Consolidate Gains and Producing More Change
* Anchor New Approaches in the Culture
These eight steps were grounded in real life examples and, in my own experience, are very sensible steps. I am a Kotter fan.
But for the past 20 years, John Kotter has been dining out on this single idea. I have seen his original model published twice in the Harvard Business Review; Kotter has expanded the idea into a best-selling book (Leading Change, 1996); and has set up the Kotter International to sell the concept to businesses which have, presumably, not read the HBR articles or bought his book.
Ten years after having the big idea, Kotter wrote a fable to illustrate the eight steps with the help of some penguins. It's a cutesy story written in large letters padded out with lots of white space (like snow) and cutesy pictures of penguins. There are humorous asides to the reader, offering a reminder that this is all about business theory and that penguins don't really carry briefcases and attend business meetings.
It is well done, and Kotter offers a good portrayal of the various forms of opposition and resistance that can build up, and how best to overcome it. Kotter seems unsure that readers will spot the brilliance of the fable, so he spells it out at the end in words of one syllable. He then explains that organisations seeking to undergo transformational change should buy copies of the book and distribute them widely amongst those who will be leading the change. He suggests that discussing the penguins around the table will help to diffuse potentially confrontational situations, and take the personality issues out of play.
Perhaps the penguins can be more than a pretty illustration of the eight steps. Perhaps they can, in and of themselves, become tools to be deployed to facilitate change. I have my doubts and cannot quite envisage commencing a change project by handing out a pile of penguin books and asking senior managers to read them. I suspect they would be more comfortable with reprints of the original Harvard Business Review article - but maybe my lack of imagination is what is stopping me from being a hero penguin.
A little like 'Who Moved my Cheese, but this time with penguins instead of mice.
This is an easily read fable about a colony of penguins who come to the realisation that their iceberg is at risk of disintegration. The various penguins featured here represent roles played by people during times of change - Nono, the change resister, Alice the action orientated and sometimes impatient manager, the professor who analyses and theorises, and so on.
The eight steps to leading change, covered in Kotter's book 'Leading Change' are covered in this enjoyable and thought provoking short book of under 150 pages. The illustrations made me smile and I can see how this book could be used as an effective training tool.
Well worth reading - especially if you are already familiar with Kotter's eight steps
Although fables have been written and shared for many centuries dating back at least to Aesop (said to have lived as a slave in Samos around 550 B.C.), it has been only in recent years that the business narrative in the form of a fable has become popular, notably with the publication of Who Moved My Cheese? By Spencer Johnson who wrote the Foreword to this volume, co-authored by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber. I was amused when noting its subtitle, "Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions," having seen the Luc Jacquet's documentary film March of the Penguins, co-produced by Bonne Pioche and the National Geographic Society, in which the Emperor Penguins and those who filmed them endured (and most of the penguins survived) temperatures around the French scientific base of Dumont d'Urville in Antarctica that fell to -80° Fahrenheit. How many human enterprises could function under such conditions?
Kotter and Rathgeber offer a fable in which the central character, an Emperor Penguin named Fred, struggles without much success to convince his colony's Leadership Council that his research statistics indicate "the shrinking of the size of their home, the canals, the caves filled with water, the number of fissures, causing by [their iceberg's] melting." If they do not relocate to another iceberg soon....
What happens next is best revealed by Kotter and Rathgeber within their narrative. They are brilliant storytellers who first introduce their lead characters, and create a situation, then identify conflicts that build tension as the plot develops, until its conclusion (sort of). As with George Orwell in Animal Farm, their primary purpose, however, is not to entertain but to instruct. As they explain, "Our goal in writing Our Iceberg Is Melting was to draw upon the incredible power of good stories to influence behavior over time - making individuals and their groups more competent in handling change and producing better results."
Specifically, to use their story to illustrate "The Eight Step Process of Successful Change" that Kotter introduced in his book Leading Change (1996). In a sequel to it, The Heart of Change (2002), he and Dan Cohen examine "the core problem people face in all of those steps, and how to successfully deal with the problem." And the central issue is never strategy, structure, culture, or systems. "All these elements, and others, are important. But the core of the matter is always about changing the behavior of people, and behavior change happens in highly successful situations mostly by speaking to people's feelings." (Those who do that effectively have what Daniel Goleman characterizes as "emotional intelligence.") Kotter and Cohen structure this book around the eight steps "because that is how people experience the process. There is a flow in a successful change effort, and the chapters follow that flow."
Fred follows "The Eight Step Process of Successful Change" (without identifying it as such, of course) and achieves at least some temporary success but Kotter and Rathgeber leave no doubt in their reader's mind that change is a never-ending process rather than an ultimate destination. Precisely the same barriers that Fred encounters are certain to reappear when the Leadership Council is called upon to consider other proposed changes when the colony seems threatened. In many (if not most) organizations today, their decision-makers are facing one or more meltdowns of various kinds (sales, profits, ROI, attrition of valued employees, client and/or market share, etc.). What Kotter and Rathgeber recommend in their business fable is, effect, a framework by which to understand and then respond effectively to whatever challenges may appear, challenges that require changes of what is done and (especially) how it is done, so that these organizations can succeed "under any conditions."
I presume to offer a specific suggestion when concluding this brief commentary: Purchase a copy of this book for each of several key people and then bring together to discuss it in ways and to the extent that Fred and his colony are relevant to the given enterprise...but don't stop there. Take full advantage of this opportunity to formulate, together, a plan by which to institutionalize "The Eight Step Process of Successful Change." To repeat, beneficial change is an on-going, never-ending process and has one requirement more important than any other: adapt or perish.
on 18 April 2011
This is a book to turn the hearts of the reluctant, those who can't see the need to change. But don't get it for them, get it for your team.
If you share this cute penguin fable with you team, you will enable conversations which can flow into the kinds of change management projects which will work both for the team and your whole organisation. Amongst other things, I learnt new ideas for getting on message despite differences in the team, and thus being better able to win over those you need to persuade to change. It isn't a book heavy in change management theory. It's not a 'how-to'. It simply describes a generalised eight step process to change - you must identify how each of the steps works out in your situation. That's why it's a book to share, discuss over a beer, and brainstorm your way out of stagnation to something more productive.