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Saturday, January 25, 2014

Penguins and Change

If you've never heard of it before Our Iceberg Is Melting is a story about responding to change. Written by Dr. John Kotter, it is a tale that helps explain change, the agents of change, and common struggles associated with change. Don't be fooled by the simplicity of this story. Our Iceberg Is Melting brings a very unique perspective and tells a very meaningful story through the lives of penguins.

Being an education professional, I see all around me those who are agents of the status quo and certainly not change. I see people who will nay-say any new idea because it is not "the way we have always done it." As I read the book I identified with many characters and recognize similarities between myself and several key players. I encourage you to read the book as well and pay special attention to the characteristics of each penguin in the story.

The main characters include Buddy, Lewis, the Professor, Alice, No-No, and Fred. I will not ruin the story for you or tell you much of anything about the characters, but trust me when I say you will not look at coworkers the same again. The premise is simple. To affect change in a population try following this eight step approach:

  1. Create a sense of urgency
  2. Build a guiding coalition
  3. Develop a vision and strategy
  4. Communicate the change vision
  5. Empower others for action
  6. Generate short-term wins
  7. Capitalize on gains and produce more change
  8. Establish a culture of change

Do you need change? Have you ever thought about your life, your job, your surroundings and said, "I like things just the way they are." I don't! Born and raised in Louisiana, I hated the oppressive heat and confines of the concrete jungle. I figured out what I needed to do and moved to Alaska. I thought about my career in teaching and decided I wanted to do more, be more impactful, and touch more classrooms. I worked in the private sector seeking "better icebergs" and found them. Never one to settle, I made change a part of my lifestyle and swam out again in search of more "fish" and kept the momentum going.

In my current position I lead with humility, energetically working alongside the team. I push colleagues to act now, not later. If it is worth doing, do it now! Superficial commitment or punching in and punching out is not acceptable. I want to be better and I want them to want to be better. By empowering my team members change is multiplied exponentially. We become greater than the sum of our parts. I believe in what we do. I believe in what we could be. I trust that if given the freedom, they will make good choices. We all deserve to make micro-changes while contributing to the macro-change. How often do each of us have something to share and never get asked?

Without vision and the ability to communicate the need for change there is no purpose. Finding a model to demonstrate the need for change may be the most difficult of the eight stages of change. Sometimes what you are attempting to do (or not do) has never been done before. How do you create a model for something that's never been done? How do you demonstrate a paradigm shift? How do you express the human imagination? Once you have done all this, you must be able to communicate it to others effectively or it will never gain traction. This is the difference between good ideas and revolutionary ones. Making your idea palatable for others requires a bit of salesmanship, but the time is well spent. Creating a coalition among equals, employees, and those in authority is the only way to make a lasting impression on an organization.

You can't expect to succeed immediately, though. Be ready for opposition. Be ready for No-Nos around every corner. They will interrupt you, talk behind your back, set you up for failure, and sabotage your plans. Don't let them get the best of you though. Be a Buddy and win people over with a sincere, concise, and clear message. Don't confuse the issue with those you are trying to win over. If the No-Nos persist, be the Professor and dog them with data. Flood them with statistics, data, and resources supporting your position. Make it impossible to refute your ideas or make them too busy with sifting through the details to mount a campaign against you.

These are just thoughts, of course... I recommend the book highly for all ages, really. It is meaningful on so many levels and teaches through parable. One evening would be plenty of time to finish it. Here is the link if you are interested: Our Iceberg is Melting. Reply with who you identify with in the story or thoughts of your own.

Here are some parting thoughts...

What is your iceberg and is it melting?
What are the cracks that you see?
Are you an Alice or a Fred or do you have people like this in your group?
Do you have a bottle (model to demonstrate the need for change)?
Do you have an elevator speech (simple 30-second message for your cause)?
Do you have enough scouts in your group?
How much control do the No-Nos have?
What concerns you more: catching fish today or planning for tomorrow?