The Heart of Change

I’m in the process of working my way through John Kotter’s The Heart of Change as my school book of the moment. Kotter has studied large-scale change in organizations over several decades and he’s found the science to support what many of us have found in our daily experience: successful change doesn’t lie in impressively presented facts and figures, but rather in the ability to get people to change their behavior.

Not terribly shocking, but it does seem to go against everything we’re taught to do in our companies. Gather enough data, present compelling numbers and get the boss to approve it, and you’re good to go. That’s the typical approach to change. That’s probably also the reason our change efforts fail more often than they succeed. (Kotter’s research indicates that about 70% of large scale change efforts fail.) And despite what conventional wisdom may tell us about keeping our cool and keeping emotions out of it, Kotter’s research shows the exact opposite. Appealing to people’s hearts is the most effective way to get them to change their behavior. And changing individual behavior is the only real way to effect organizational change. He summarizes this method of change management to: “see, feel, change.” If you can present a compelling visual to people – either an actual visual representation of the challenge or a compelling story – you’ll get them to feel something about what they’ve experienced. And only through those feelings will the desire for change take root. Their feelings spur them to take action, and the desire for change comes from within them, rather than being pushed on them externally.

I’ve got about two-thirds of the book left to go, but much like Kotter’s research demands, he uses powerful stories to drive home his points, and I’m looking forward to experiencing the rest of them. In the meantime, what is your change story demanding to be told? And who needs to feel it with you?

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