In last week’s article, Harvard Business School Professor John Kotter offered the main reasons why he thought change initiatives so often fail or come up short. (If you missed it, you can find that here: https://www.clomedia.com/executive-briefings/2008/March/2113/index.php.) This week, we’ll go over his recommendations for ensuring successful change in organizations.
Having written extensively on this issue in many of his previous books, Kotter was presented with a unique opportunity a few years ago when he was contacted by Holger Rathgeber, who had recently developed an exercise on change for executives at medical technology company Becton Dickinson. In the scenario Rathgeber devised, which was based on principles in Kotter’s Leading Change and Heart of Change books, participants acted out roles as penguins on a melting iceberg.
“One of them figured out that the iceberg they’re living on is melting and could break apart, and the rest of them don’t believe him at all,” Kotter said. “I loved it as soon as he told me about it. Since he was a trainer, I tried to see if I could do anything to help him develop it as training material. Then I woke up one day and said, ‘Wait a minute: That’s not my area of expertise. What I know is books, and this could be a great book.’”
The result was Our Iceberg Is Melting, which took Rathgeber’s exercise and transformed it into an easily understood allegory. The medium itself is a tool for effecting change, Kotter said.
“In my world, we hit the brain 95 percent of the time and the heart 5 percent of the time, and evidence shows that isn’t the best way to change behavior,” he explained. “Add to that the fact that everybody’s overworked, and no one really has enough time to do anything. That led me to stories and fables. So, let’s use story. Let’s keep it short. Let’s keep it both intellectual and emotional in tone, but so anyone up and down the hierarchy — and busy people — could use it.”
In the book, Kotter outlined an eight-step process for successful change:
1. Create a sense of urgency.
2. Pull together the guiding team.
3. Develop the change vision and strategy.
4. Communicate for understanding and buy-in.
5. Empower others to act.
6. Produce short-term wins.
7. Don’t let up.
8. Create a new culture.
Kotter said he hears positive feedback on this system whenever he presents at any industry event.
“I made a speech a few days ago, and a guy comes up to me and says, ‘I’ve used your eight-step formula,’ and goes on to talk about how his business completely turned around. You hear enough of that, and you know something useful is happening. You can see how it gets the urgency up, gets people to pull the right teams together, gets the strategy and vision straight, empowers folks who want to run with it, gets short-term wins and drills it into the culture.”
It is precisely this capacity for dealing with change at the emotional level — in a way that gets people enthusiastic about a subject they often disdain or fear — that has persuaded Kotter to endorse some of the corporate training programs that have sprung up around Our Iceberg Is Melting.
“The only reason I allowed someone to do a training program on something I’ve done for the first time is that I’m convinced that we’re onto some fundamentals about how you can produce change. If you can get enough people in a company — not just one or two — to understand the change and have a shared language to talk about it, it can make a real difference.”
Still thirsting for more knowledge about change? Then don’t miss out on Chief Learning Officer Magazine’s Spring 2008 Symposium, “Orchestrating Change: Leading Organizations With Learning.” For more information, go to www.clomedia.com/events/symposiums.