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Our Iceberg is Melting
by John Kotter and Holger Rathgeber
a book review for PA 131


About the Authors

Dr. John Kotter, the man behind Kotter International is a Harvard Business School professor and author of many books in change management and leadership. In many of his books, examples of how the best companies or organizations adopted to change are explained. As the #1 leadership guru in America, all his 15 books are included in Amazon’s top 1% of sales.

While Holger Rathgeber has no Wikipedia stub, he is a modern global manager for Becton Dickinson, one of the world’s largest medical technology companies. With the technological advances incurring constant change, Becton Dickinson is a good example of organizations that cope well with change.

Contents

Our Iceberg is Melting is a fable about a colony of 268 Emperor Penguins in Antartic near Cape Washington. The group of penguins had a Leadership Council called the Group of Ten which was led by Louis. As the Head Penguin, Louis was wise, patient, and respected by all except NoNo who was the naysayer of the Council. One day, a curious and observant penguin named Fred went to Alice – another member of the council who was practical, aggressive in making things happen, and treats every penguin equally – to report that the iceberg they’ve lived on for centuries is melting. As Fred and Alice urgently(1) the issue before the council members, NoNo was immediately the first to think Fred was crazy.

When Louis formed a team(2) to solve the melting iceberg problem, NoNo was spreading propaganda that added more problems to the team’s dilemma. Including Alice, Fred, and Louis, other team members were the very logical Professor, and the non-intellectual yet very social and boyishly handsome Buddy. Together, they made the perfect team – each with their own strengths and weaknesses.  When the iceberg will melt or crack in the coming winter storm, the colony will die. Fred’s vision(3), inspired by the seagulls, was to live like a nomad and look for another iceberg to live. But the colony was hostile to the idea of moving away from the iceberg which they’ve lived on for centuries. They were also afraid of swimming too far from the iceberg for fear of being eaten by other sea creatures.

Despite NoNo’s terror plots and massive campaign against the idea, the colony slowly began to concede to the team’s suggestion when the team put up posters for constant communication(4). After they sent the first team of scouts to find icebergs that matched their living conditions and came back with positive data, the hype in favor of the nomadic way of living increased. Still, the team is confronted by their cultural problem: the scouts need food after the iceberg expedition, but the penguins traditionally fish to feed only their families – not their friends, neighbors, nor scouts. Luckily, an empowered(5) little penguin named Sally Ann and other youngsters planned a Heroes Day music fest with 2 fishes as ticket per adult penguin. With the accumulated ‘fish tickets’, they were able to feed the scouts. It was a short-term win(6).

After the Heroes Day, a lot of penguins signed up to be scouts and data gathering were on high. It became successful and they moved to the new iceberg before the winter storm. Later on, when they found a better iceberg and suggested another move, the colony didn’t let the recent move make them complacent. After the first change, they pressed on for something better and didn’t let up(7). Later on in the story, they adopted the nomadic way of life and created a new culture(8). The move to another iceberg was successful thanks to the 8-Step Process of Successful Change.

Implication to the Organizational Communication Field

Organizations face a lot of changes and 70% of all change efforts fail because organizations do not approach the change process holistically. According to Kotter, organizations can face 6 different types of changes: 1. Little Changes; 2. Continuous Improvement; 3. Non-incremental Change within Business; 4. Whole New Businesses; 5. Whole New Business Models; and 6. Big Change. All these changes differ in terms of scale, members affected, financial attributes, culture, and more. But they can all smoothly transition through the application of the 8-Step Process: 1. Acting with Urgency; 2. Developing the Guiding Coalition; 3. Developing a Change Vision; 4. Communicating the Vision Buy-in; 5. Empowering Broad-based Action; 6. Generating Short-term Wins; 7. Not Letting Up; and 8. Making Change Stick. This process not only avoids failure for organizations, but also trains the organization to adapt to constant change.

 

See how happy they are with Facebook?

In the Philippines, the most common change problem is transitioning from low-tech to high-tech or traditional to modern. Companies in the Philippines have long proud cultures of business management and a lot of these companies began with the classical view of employees as machines. Organizations with this type of culture fail to see that employees are humans and their measure of productivity depend on the fulfillment of certain needs. Companies need to see that Facebook in the workplace isn’t so bad after all if it allows them to feel socially connected and psychologically better, ergo conditioning the mind to do better at work because they feel good. Companies also need to see that bottom-up communication and feedforwards contribute positively to internal relations unlike the classic top-down communication where employees cannot give their own idea which probably is the fresh perspective that the company is looking for. As future members of these organizations, it should be our initiative to use this fable as a guideline for the dilemmas and NoNos we’ll be facing.

Comments and Recommendations

Priced differently from Php 417.00 to the Php 900-something hardbound edition, this book authored in 2005 is a great piece to add to your collection. Of all the academic books I’ve read, this was by far the best. Because change management strategies were embedded in this fable, the book was a complete page turner that is easily read in less than an hour. The way the ‘morals’ of the story were presented was very comprehensive and perfect for light reading. Even kids who do not dream of venturing into organizational management will endear themselves to the heroic penguins of the story.

I recommend this book to those who are tired from reading boring academic materials but still wanting to learn something new about coping with organizational change. Even non-Organizational Communication students will enjoy this book. At first I was skeptical of purchasing a Php 600.00 worth book thinner than my thumb, but I think I’ll be reading this story in the future to my kids at night.

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