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Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions – Book Review – Seung-yon Yu

by on November 9, 2008

Our Iceberg Is Melting: Changing and Succeeding Under Any Conditions. John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber. St. Martin’s Press, 2006. 160pp. $19.95. (ISBN: 0-312-36198-X)

Our Iceberg Is Melting is a book about change management. The author, John Kotter is reflecting on the eight change management steps suggested in his other book “The Heart of Change” into a short fable about a penguin colony.

In the fable, there is a colony of penguins living on an iceberg. The iceberg has been the penguins’ home for a long time, so they have never thought about leaving and making any changes to their life style. However for some reason, the iceberg had started melting and has the potential risk of breaking apart. Thus, the penguin colony is forced to start thinking about changes for their survival. The change is not just an option anymore; it became a matter of ‘to be’ or ‘not to be’. The penguins organized a team to cope with the crisis and made efforts to solve the problem, and in the end they wisely overcame the crisis by establishing a new vision and changing their way of life. This is a success story of change management. Through thisimple fable, the author shows how people typically react to a crisis situation, and how they respond to and eventually control the crisis. The Author leads the readers to think about how to deal with change and how it can lead to success.

When the organization’s crisis becomes a reality to its individual members, people generally are not rational due to overwhelming fears. When a mediocre penguin Fred informed the other penguins of the crisis, many of them didn’t believe him the first time and even sneered at Fred. Similarly, people are used to the comfortable life that current convention brings. Thus, when there are any attempts of making changes which may disturb this comfort, people usually get angry and have negative feelings about the changes due to the fear of losing their stable life. As a normal reaction, they reject the changes opposing previous convention and avoid new opportunities. It is hard to break-down traditions and change people’s attitudes all at once. How can we then change the people’s attitude positively and lead to change? The answer is “change management”.

Change management is not a one-time occasion. It is a continuous process that has several steps. When the organization’s culture becomes generous about changes in the line of the process, we could say the change management actually works in the organization. The author illustrates his eight steps for change through a series of events in the penguin colony.

Create a sense of urgency
Fred, a quiet but observant penguin, detected the potential danger of their iceberg through his careful observation out of curiosity. He felt a need to inform the others, and tried to convince the key players such as Louis and Alice in the penguin colony. Thus, he demonstrated the problem of their iceberg by using a glass bottle filled with water and showed them what is happening. As a result, the penguins became aware of the urgency of the matter. It is important to increase the sense of urgency among organization members as a first step of change management.

Pull together the guiding team
The Head Penguin, Louis, created a strong guiding team to cope with crisis. Each team member has different abilities and characteristics. The difference creates variety, and the variety is the key to create a synergy effect through teamwork. Louis suggested squid hunting in a group to have the team members understand the importance of cooperation. This kind of team building activity helps to build up trust among each team member, and that trust is essential for leading the team to success.

Develop the vision and change strategy
For leading change, developing the vision and strategy is essential. It is like setting a datum point for measurement. Developing strategy is not necessarily to create something out of nothing. A strategy could be benchmarked. The penguins learned about “Nomad” from seagulls, and brought the idea to their strategy to cope with the crisis they confront. Setting the vision and strategy helps to excel to the next step of change management.

Communicate for understanding and buy-in
Based on the vision and strategy, there should be continuous communication among the members in an organization. Transparency of information helps to build a trust about the leader and the guiding team. The colony’s guiding team tried to be open about what they are doing, and they also made slogans to make the other penguins reminded of the importance of everyday changes. These efforts brought up a new innovative thinking like “We are not an iceberg” among penguins, and it broke down long-lasted stereotypes. This change of thinking is very important in terms of the organization’s change because the wall that obstructs change is not a physical one, but mostly psychological one.

Empower others to act
The guiding team devised an idea of “Hero” for the penguins who participate in scouting a new iceberg. They call them the “heroes” who will save the penguin colony. Every penguin supported them to do their job better, and honored them for their work. The scout penguins were proud of their work and became enthusiastic. This shows how empowerment is important to change. Those who are empowered will have initiative to excel and be more responsive to their job.

Produce short-term wins
It is better to set short-term goals rather than a long-term overwhelming goal. Then praise it whenever there is an accomplishment. Praise is a good thing. It positively reinforces the members’ initiative and encourages achieving the bigger goal. In the penguin colony, the “Hero” medals are given to the scout penguins. The power of this positive relationship is enormous. More and more penguins wanted to join the Scouts, and the chance to find a better iceberg increased. The accumulated short-term wins lead to the big win—a bright future of organization. The success also changes the conservative and stubborn penguin NoNo’s attitude in the end.

Don’t let up
We should not stop after just one successful attempt at change. The effort for change should be up and coming in a continuously changing environment. The penguins started their ‘Second wave’ of scouting a new iceberg, right after the penguins celebrated the comeback of the heroes. It is necessary to impose a continuous change until the ultimate goal is finally accomplished. This on-going effort even reduces the antagonistic feeling for change, and then the organization can become more agile to change.

Create a new culture
The steps mentioned previously primarily contribute to creating the organization’s new culture. In the new organizational culture, members will be more open to change and want to take an active role.

To successfully execute the above steps, the leader’s role is very important. This does not mean the leader is the only person who leads changes. Changes in an organization are hardly ever made by one person. When a leader collaborates with other members in the organization that have various strengths and abilities, it can be possible to implement a critical change. In the story, there are penguins that have different characteristics: amazingly curious, creative and level-headed Fred; practical, aggressive, and smart Alice; patient and experienced Head Penguin Louis; intelligent and very logical Professor Jordan; well trusted and friendly Buddy; little but enthusiastic Sally Ann; and Amanda who is passionate and hard working without any complaints. Of course, there is a stiff-necked and conservative bird named”NoNo”. All these characters are similar to characters that we can find in our organizations. The penguins with various characteristics and abilities help each other and ultimately contribute to the colony’s survival and prosperity by leading changes successfully. This implies that for an organization’s change to be successful, members in the organization need to be open to change and the leader needs to create synergy by combining all of the different strengths of the team.

In conclusion, in real organizations it is not easy to locate the change triggers and manage change like in the fable. Crisis situations are even more complex, and changes can be forced upon us. Yet, if the steps for change management are followed as shown through this simple fable, then it can lead to success in an organization. As the penguins thought, the Iceberg is “always there”, the idea of which could be applied to a job, a family, or a loved one. For organizations, the iceberg could be the present’s sound revenues. However, crisis can come at any time, and it could be detrimental to the organization. If we sit back and don’t put any effort in preparing for change, it could mean the end of the organization.

Also, we need to consider what changes are necessary in our actual organization. In a fast changing competitive environment, we cannot sit back anymore. Now is the time to look at the circumstances of our organization and confront the problems that we need to solve. A very stubborn bureaucracy and ineptitude may be blocking communication among organization members. The organization may also be too slow in recognizing the problem and fail to react against the crisis. Or, there may be too many ‘NoNo’s. Whichever the case may be, the good thing is that we also have individuals like Fred, Alice, Professor Jordan, Buddy, and a leader Louis in our organizations. Therefore, if we are alerted to a possible crisis, it is good to first build a team to deal with the changes effectively. Then, communicating the vision and strategy to all organization members, while making small wins, helps to overcome any crisis situation. The only truth about change is, “Everything changes and nothing last forever”.
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