Our Iceberg is Melting – John Kotter & Holger Rathgeber

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From the leading expert of organisational change and leadership comes an endearing fable that undoubtedly will – in fact it already has, since 2019 marks the tenth anniversary of its publication – stand the test of time. John Kotter in tandem with Holger Rathgeber takes his readers on an extraordinary journey involving a colony of threatened penguins.

Fred, a penguin who is intrepid by nature notices that the iceberg which his colony calls ‘home’ is in peril. Caves of water formed deep within the iceberg pose a potential threat of melting.  Being a penguin of little consequence and also being aware of the ridicule which a fellow penguin was subject to earlier on account of elucidating a similar potential threat, Fred finds himself in a confounded state. Finally mustering enough courage he presents his findings to Alice, an aggressive but logical penguin who is also part of the Head Penguin Council.

What follows is a riveting tale of organisational intricacies. Politics, leadership, decision-making, change culture, moving away from entrenched dogmas, mentoring, and managerial skills all coalesce together to form the cornerstone of the measure which the penguins hatch to protect and preserve their legacies.

It is easy for the reader to associate himself with the adorable cast of penguin characters, each of which is emblematic of attributes and traits representing variegated frames of thinking and perception. Louis is the greatly respected Head of the Penguins who while accommodating everyone’s suggestions, is firm on the ultimate decision to be made. Buddy is a genial penguin, who while not an intellectual behemoth by any stretch of imagination is the most loved in his colony on account of his transparency, selflessness and an uncanny ability to make friends – and attract lovers! Sally Ann even though a little penguin demonstrates ingenuity and innovation in making things happen. Jordan is the Professorial penguin who can ramble on and on in a purely technical vein but with facts that are astoundingly clear. Finally there is NoNo a pessimist par excellence who is rooted to the status quo and seeped in stereotypes, unwilling to accept change.

John Kotter using the medium of this unforgettable fable reiterates the need for an organisation and its personnel to commit to what he terms “The Eight-Step Process of Successful Change.” In a nutshell, these eight processes are:

  1. Create a sense of Urgency;
  2. Pull together the guiding team;
  3. Develop the Change Vision and Strategy;
  4. Communicate for Understanding and Buy-In;
  5. Empower Others to Act;
  6. Produce Short-Term Wins;
  7. Don’t Let Up; and
  8. Create a New Culture

If you think that a fable involving a group of Emperor Penguins is the preserve of bed time stories for getting your energetic child to sleep, then please think again. Kotter and Rathgeber’s penguins may change the way you go about your professional business – and for the good!