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MisterHobgoblin

Our Iceberg Is Melting

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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.
 
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