On icebergs

Icebergs? Yes, icebergs.

I have just finished reading “Our iceberg is melting: changing and succeeding under any conditions”. The book is a story (fable) about a colony of Emperor penguins (one of my favourite animals) who live on a particular iceberg in Antarctica. The story is about how the penguins respond to the claim that their iceberg is melting and that the iceberg is in danger of breaking apart.

The story is based on the eight steps of successful change management by John Kotter. These steps are: create a sense of urgency; establish an effective team to guide change; establish a vision of change and what the end result will look like; communicate clearly and obtain buy-in; empower people; create short-term wins to demonstrate success and counter the doubters; continue the change process; and make it stick by creating a new culture.

The fable re-articulates Kotter’s eight steps in a very simple story and in a very obvious way. There is no sense of discovery here! I recommend that serious readers of change management read John Kotter’s Leading Change.

It was clear from the penguin story that the “facts” were insufficient to create a sense of urgency in order for action to take place. What was effective was in creating a picture of what was likely to happen (the repercussions) if the facts came to pass and nothing was done. The picture helped to create an emotional response that the factual information supported to reinforce the message.

Well, creating a visual image to stoke up the emotions has been the bread and butter of newspapers, movies, and political spin-doctors for decades. Images can be manipulative (the children overboard affair was a classic case) just as much as they can be positive.

The important message, however, is not the image and the emotional response alone. The evidence, or the agrument, has to have sufficient merit too. In all cases, the context will be critical to the success of the story and what the responses will be toward it.

In recent exchanges on the actKM discussion forum, the contention that knowledge management has been unsuccessful at change management has arisen. Once again, success or failure will notably be affected by context.

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