A “heads up” on the book ‘The Heart of Change’

As the title suggests, this blog is more of a “heads up”, rather than a review of this book by John Kotter and Dan Cohen.

The current economic crisis has seen many leaders turning to sustainability plans, turnaround strategies and downsizing.

It’s been my contention for a long time that sustainability plans do not change organisations – people change organisations. So it came as no surprise to find myself agreeing with much of what the authors say in this book.

In a nutshell, Kotter and Cohen contend that:

  1. organisations change when their people change; and
  2. people change for emotional reasons.

They noticed that, in difficult times, leaders tend to appeal to the head, i.e. by reasoning in the form of reports, spreadsheets, budgets, plans or mission statements. They argue that these rational tactics do not create a sense of urgency, in a way that appealing to emotions can. For them,

“Only deep feelings motivate people to change familiar behaviour, and only individual behavioural changes can drive organisation change”.

It is precisely at a time of crisis that organisations need to unleash its greatest asset, ie, it’s people. At the end of the day, it is only through human enterprise, innovation, creativity, commitment and hard work that get organisations out of difficult times. This is why, alongside systems, structural, and procedural changes, it is important to integrate financially based change strategies with an intentional employee engagement initiative. This moves us away from the “either-or’ position (eg, profits or people; survival today or building for tomorrow) to a more holistic “both-and” position.

Kotter articulates the truism that emotions can hinder or create change. Unfortunately, many emotions that undermine change (ie, anger, pessimism, cynicism, panic, exhaustion, insecurity and anxiety) occur as a result of cost saving measures and redundancies.

In this context, it is vitally important that organisations are intentional about encouraging/engendering emotions that generate change, eg, faith, trust, optimism, urgency, reality-based pride, passion, excitement, hope and enthusiasm.

How do you do this?  Well, this is what I believe, with a passion… Bring people together. Start by listening. Share the issues, the challenges and dilemmas openly. The opportunity to hear the voice of the whole system they are a part of, brings out the best in people – in my experience this is when dialogue becomes more collaborative, visioning becomes more creative and owned. Energy and emotions are unleashed in the form participation, collaboration and action.

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