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The Heart of Change Review

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The Heart of Change Review


What is organizational change? Organizational change occurs when a company makes a strategic effort to improve the performance of the organization or functions of the organization, such as a group or a practice. The goal of organizational change is to increase the effectiveness of the change effort, while decreasing employee opposition and the cost associated with the change. Change is inevitable in today's business community if an organization wants to remain competitive and to increase profits. With an increase in globalization and advancements in technology, companies are forced to make changes if they want to stay in business. Unfortunately, most change efforts fail due to resistance and lack of support. Most people are afraid of change, and managers have to be very skilled in getting the employees to commit to implementing the changes. Successful change efforts are based on individuals at the organization responding positively to the transformation.

So what can an organization do to bring about successful change? Research suggests that change is more effective when it's driven from within by the upper management team of the organization. Employees are more than likely to buy into the effort if they feel it's being supported by the top brass. If the employees get a sense that upper management is not championing the cause, then they will not support it. In addition, the change effort must also tie in with the culture of the organization. Management must find a way to connect it with the values, beliefs and behaviors of the organization. Otherwise, the effort will fail. Successfully changing an organization is not an easy task for any company. However, a theory has been proposed that states there are steps a company can take to achieve their goal of organizational change.

In The Heart of Change, John Kotter and Dan Cohen describe eight steps that have lead organizations to successful large-scale change. The eight steps are as follows: 1. Increase Urgency, 2. Build the guiding team, 3. Get the vision right, 4. Communicate for buy-in, 5. Empower Action, 6. Create short-term wins, 7. Don't let up and 8. Make change stick. This book offers real-life stories of companies going through large-scale-change efforts. It outlines the pitfalls they faced, the mistakes that were made and the lesson learned through the change process. Kotter and Cohen believe that change happens by making people feel differently through an approach that is referred to as see-feel-change. This method forces action as it shows people the reason for change by affecting their emotions. Furthermore, Kotter and Cohen believe that change fails because organizations rely too much on data gathering and reports to drive change instead of touching people's feelings to encourage positive action. This book offers a play-by-play of the eight step approach Kotter and Cohen believe will change people's behavior, which will enable any organization to overcome the resistance to change and bring about a successful change effort.

In this paper, I will discuss four of the eight steps and show how Kotter and Cohen's ideas relate to some of the theories and concepts in the textbook, Organizational Behavior and Management by John Ivancevich, Robert Konopaske and Michael Matteson.


The first step of Kotter and Cohen's Eight Stages is known as "Sense of Urgency." In this stage, Kotter and Cohen believe that complacency, fear and anger can cause a company not to make necessary changes. They point out that most companies have a false sense of pride or arrogance due to a perceived sense of success. These companies have the business as usual attitude because they have achieved their goals for a period of time and therefore don't want to change, even though they may be faced with more competition and rising cost. Secondly, they believe that fear cripples most organizations from acting as these companies become stagnant and resistant to change. It is the fear of the unknown, which is causing uncertainty about the future that is the catalyst behind this problem. Finally, Kotter and Cohen feel that anger from some of the people in the organization also hurt change efforts due to the fact that these individuals sit around complaining when others start a change effort. Instead of getting involved themselves, they hold back because they feel that change is being forced upon them.

To overcome these obstacles of complacency, fear and anger, Kotter and Cohen suggest creating a sense of urgency that change is needed. This process should help to motivate employees into taking action instead of resisting the change effort. But how can one create a sense of urgency without causing fear and panic? Kotter and Cohen advises organizations to first identify the problems and create scenarios showing what will happen if no action is taken; second examine steps that can be taken and utilized; third have an open and honest dialogue about the situation to get people talking and thinking; finally bring in support, such as visual presentations, customers, to help reinforce the argument. "Go after the emotions with concrete and almost smellable evidence, not just the abstractions so favored by the rational mind. Use evidence you can see, not just words and numbers. Create a dramatic, look-at-this presentation, yet one based on honest facts and coercion." Kotter & Cohen, p. 30-31

Some experts may oppose Kotter and Cohen's ideas of creating a sense of urgency, however there are concepts in the Organizational Behavior and Management Textbook that support their claims. Those concepts are decision making and power. "Decision Making is defined as the process of choosing a particular action that deal with a problem or opportunity." Ivancevich, Konopaske & Matteson, p. 407. When dealing with problems, a decision maker has to determine the significance of the problem and how to go about responding to it. There are three issues of determining problem significance: urgency, impact and growth tendency. These issues are exactly what Kotter and Cohen stress when it comes to creating a sense of urgency. Urgency is the time critical component of problem solving. Impact deals with what effects the problem is going to have on the organization, and growth tendency deals with the potential of the problem becoming larger if not dealt with appropriately. This point is further illustrated in The Heart of Change real life stories "When Alligators are Nipping at Your Heels", "The CEO Portrait Gallery" and "Getting the Bosses' Approval."

The next concept that corresponds with Kotter and Cohen's ideas is Power.



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