By Ed Powers, COO at Cateway
Sometimes you read a book that immediately goes in the place of reverence on the bookshelf. It sits alongside your collection of favorite works that have spoken to you deeply over the years. These are books most likely to be dog-eared, highlighted, and underlined on multiple pages.
That’s how I’m feeling these days about John Kotter’s The Heart of Change: Real-Life Stories of How People Change Their Organizations, which he co-authored with Dan Cohen in 2002. It’s the sequel to Kotter’s book Leading Change, but building on his eight-step approach with a multitude of stories of organizational transformations done right and wrong. In today’s world of chronic uncertainty, many organizations that survived the initial bloodletting of the Great Recession have been forced to make more dramatic changes to sustain their organizations. Kotter’s research suddenly has renewed relevance.
As an engineer, I’ve never been comfortable with the “touchy feely” stuff. That was always the work of HR who used terms like “change management” as a euphemism for downsizing. My focus was always on the data. If a decision has to be made, it has to be logical rather than emotional—just figure it out and do what has to be done.
Kotter says successful change isn’t a matter of the mind, but of the heart. “People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feelings… The flow of see-feel-change is more powerful than that of analysis-think-change.” He goes on to describe several examples of successful transformations that began by capturing the attention of senior executives in an entirely different way. Rather than telling executives the need for change with PowerPoints and reams of financial analysis, they showed them the situation, stirring an emotional response and a commitment to action. Kotter calls this Step 1: Increase Urgency. Without the right people having a strong personal connection to the problem, significant changes never get off the ground.