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Our Iceberg Is Melting: A Story About Organizational Change

MSL 589 - Change Agent: A New Leader for Change
Instructor: Wanda Martin-Terry
Jackie McBain
March 8, 2015
Benedictine University

Our Iceberg is Melting: A Story About Organizational Change


Change is necessary in order for organizations to succeed in todays competitive business
environment. Firms are faced with turbulent markets, demanding shareholders and discerning
customers, and may look for strategies to help meet such challenges. Leaders who want to get
ahead in todays marketplace must learn to respond to the growing number of changes in how
they structure their companies, conduct business and relate to not only customer but employees.
Tools such as case studies, scholarly papers and books can offer insights into successful business
methods to help facilitate change. It is hoped that the insights gained from analysis of Our
Iceberg Is Melting will provide the knowledge leaders need to be successful change agents
within their organization.

Our Iceberg is Melting: A Story About Organizational Change


Stories are an avenue to teach lessons and communicate messages effectively. They can
be used in the business world as a tool to help managers communicate more effectively, motivate
to take action and perhaps engage organizational change. Metaphors used in storytelling can help
tap into the mind of individuals at a deep level and provide act as a way to deliver important
ideas and key messages. Together, stories and metaphor can enhance communication,
particularly about organizational change and its management. This paper will offer an
interpretation of the story and metaphors in the book, Our Iceberg is Melting (Kotter and
Rathgeber, 2005) as it pertains to real life business. In addition the paper will offer insight into
how the story further prepares the reader for Kotters subsequent book, The Heart of Change.
Our Iceberg is Melting is a fable in which a colony of emperor penguins serve as a
metaphor of the dynamics of business organizations. On the surface, the story outlines the
contented life of a colony of penguins living on an iceberg. It also shows the dynamics of the
colony and the behaviors of its members when the need for change is presented. But Kotters
book is more than a lighthearted tale of penguins; it is a story that educated readers on his eightstep model to managing organizational change (Appendix A). It helps to strengthen the
assumption that business is not a stable entity, and that it needs to change in order to adapt to the
dynamics of the world today. The story aligns the following factors of change that are often seen
in organizations (Appelbaum, Habashy, Malo, Shafiq, 2012).
1. Urgency, a solution to the iceberg breaking is quickly needed.
2. Change team, different characters contribute their unique skills to the change progress.
3. Vision and strategy, becoming nomads.
4. Communication, meeting and posters.

Our Iceberg is Melting: A Story About Organizational Change


5. Empowerment, assigning penguin chicks responsibility.

6. Short-term wins, the scouts go out and return unharmed with stories of alternative homes.
7. Persistence, constant moves from iceberg to iceberg.
8. New culture, adopting a nomadic lifestyle.
The fable also highlights characters in the book that are representative of human-like
behaviors seen in the business environment. For example, Fred is unusually curious and
observant and had a briefcase stuffed full with observations, ideas, and conclusions (Kotter
and Rathgerber, 2005) and could represent employees that can identify critical issues and see
opportunities at an early stage. Metaphors like this help to highlight the importance of such
players in an organization. Like Fred, key individuals that can raise awareness of issues before
they get out of control and provide proof of the existence of issues and the solutions for solving
In addition we see characters in the story such as the Alice and the leadership council
displaying characteristics such as level-headed, practical, respected, liked and trusted. These
behaviors may be viewed as key to achieving organizational success. On the other hand, NoNo
and the disbelievers show characteristics of stubbornness and close-mindedness, suggesting that
resistance to change can negatively affect an organization and greatly impact its survival. We
also see characters displaying emotions, many of which Kotter believes can either enhance or
undermine change (Kotter & Cohen, 2002). For example, emotions as hope, excitement,
enthusiasm and optimism can help facilitate change, while emotions such as anger, false pride,
pessimism and arrogance can pose as obstacles for change.

Our Iceberg is Melting: A Story About Organizational Change


Our Iceberg Is Melting prepares the reader to understand that change often has to come
from aligning efforts and shared goals. But more importantly we see how the root of change is
based on how leaders engage in emotional and compelling ways. It sets the stage to Kotters
subsequent book, The Heart of Change which offers examples of how to connect with peoples
emotions as a means to spark behavior change and actions that lead to success. By illustrating
real stories of people in organizations, readers get a first-hand view of how connecting with
individuals promotes motivation, action and results.
Our Iceberg is Melting offers a systematic top-down approach to organizational change
management that leaders can follow to help implement change. It paints an image of the qualities
that Kotter sees organizations are supposed to have and can be used as a checklist for the things
leaders need to think about during the change process. But readers should also acknowledge that
this model may not work as well in every situation. For example, this approach may not be
successful where people expect a more participative approach (Reynolds, n.d.). Although it can
work well as a check-list, it is not necessarily the only answer for change management. Leaders
should consider the model and approach as it pertains to individual situations and use it as a tool
for potentially opening up new ways of thinking to create change.

Our Iceberg is Melting: A Story About Organizational Change


Appendix A: The eight-step model (Kotter and Rathgeber, pp. 130-131)



1. Create a Sense of urgency

Help others to see the need for change and the

importance of acting immediately.

2. Pull together the guiding team

Make sure there is a powerful group guiding the

change, one with leadership skills, credibility,
communication ability, authority, analytical skills and a
sense of urgency.

3. Develop the change vision and strategy

Clarify how the future will be different from the past,

and how you can make that future a reality.

4. Communicate for understanding and buy-in

Make sure as many others as possible understand and

accept vision and the strategy.

5. Empower others to act

Remove as many barriers as possible so that those who

want to make the vision a reality can do so.

6. Product short-term wins

Create some visible, unambiguous successes as soon as

possible to build confidence in the plan.

7. Dont let up

Press harder and faster after the first successes. Be

relentless with initiating change after change until the
vision is reality.

8. Create a new culture

Hold on to new ways of behaving, and make sure they

succeed, until they become strong enough to replace old

Our Iceberg is Melting: A Story About Organizational Change


Appelbaum, S., Habashy, S. Malo, J, Shafiq, H. (2012). Back to the future: revisiting Kotters
1996 change model, Journal of Management Development, Vol. 31 Iss: 8 pp. 764-782.
Kotter J., Cohen, D. (2002). The Heart of Change. Real-Life Stories of How People Change
Their Organizations. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Publishing.
Kotter, J., & Rathgeber, H. (2005). Our Iceberg is Melting. New York, NY: St. Martin's Press
Reynolds, L. (n.d.). Organizational change: Which model should I use?
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