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Book Summary: “Our Iceberg is Melting” by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber

I came across "Our Iceberg is Melting. Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions" when looking for a book on organizational change. I was then pleased to see that the forward was written by Spencer Johnson who authored "Who Moved My Cheese" and coauthored "The One Minute Manager," both very popular books.

The authors use a fable about a penguin colony in Antarctica that has lived on the same iceberg for many years. When one curious bird discovers problem signs in the iceberg, few penguins want to listen to him. They are fine the way things are and don’t want to change. The story is analogous to the common situation where people don’t want to face up to difficult problems at home or at work.

 

Once a small group of penguins came to understand that their iceberg actually was melting, they 1) created a sense of urgency in the colony to deal with the difficult prob­lem, 2) put a carefully selected group in charge of guiding the change, 3) found the sensible vision of a better future, 4) communicated that vision so others would understand and accept it, 5) removed as many obstacles to action as was practical, 6) cre­ated some sort of success quickly, 7) never let up until the new way of life was firmly established, and, 8) finally, ensured that the changes would not be overcome by stubborn, hard-to-die traditions.

 

The Eight Step Process of Successful Change

Set the Stage

1.  Create a Sense of Urgency.

Help others see the need for change and the importance of acting immediately.

2.  Pull Together the Guiding Team.

Make sure there is a powerful group guiding the change-one with leadership skills, credibility, communications ability, authority, analytical skills, and a sense of urgency.

Decide What to Do

3.  Develop the Change Vision and Strategy.

Clarify how the future will be different from the past, and how you can make that future a reality.

Make it Happen

4.  Communicate for Understanding and Buy In.

Make sure as many others as possible under­stand and accept the vision and the strategy.

5.  Empower Others to Act.

Remove as many barriers as possible so that those who want to make the vision a reality can do so.

6.  Produce Short-Term Wins.

Create some visible, unambiguous successes as soon as possible.

7.  Don’t Let Up.

Press harder and faster after the first successes. Be relentless with initiating change after change until the vision is a reality.

Make It Stick

8.  Create a New Culture.

Hold on to the new ways of behaving, and make sure they succeed, until they become strong enough to replace old traditions.

 

The Role of Thinking and Feeling

Thinking differently can help change behavior and lead to better results.

  • Collect data, analyze it.
  • Present the information logically to change people’s thinking.
  • Changed thinking, in turn, can change behavior.

Feeling differently can change behavior MORE and lead to even better results.

  • Create surprising, compelling, and, if possible, visual experiences.
  • The experiences change how people feel about a situation.
  • A change in feelings can lead to a significant change in behavior.

 

The story tells an important lesson that when lead­ership, middle management, and "front-line" employees are all on the same page with regards to change, it is amazing what can happen, despite adverse conditions.

Ask yourself whether you are living on the proverbial melting iceberg or an iceberg that could melt. Melting icebergs come in dozens of forms: product lines that are aging, schools that are becoming irrelevant, services that are decreasing in quality, a business strategy that makes increasingly little sense, a new strategy whose implementation is sinking into the ocean. Who in your organization can champion change? Who are the nay-sayers? And what can your role be?