Implementing a major change in any group, organization or family is challenging.

In their book, Our Iceberg is Melting, Harvard professor John Kotter and businessman Holger Rathgeber describe the change process through a fictitious but engaging story about an Emperor Penguin colony and how they were spared from disaster, despite internal resistance and major obstacles.

Like any story of challenge and change, there are skeptics, those who look to sabotage the plan, those who don’t want to change even if the change might improve things, and those who will support the plan immediately. By discussing the challenges of a life changing event in the colony, the authors demonstrate the need to define the problem or desired change, make a plan, implement the plan and sustain the change.

The following are the book’s major points and suggested methods to use when facing a significant change involving three or more people:

1) Define the Problem
Create a sense of urgency. Help others see the need for change and the importance of acting immediately. Define the problem and the likely consequences of doing nothing. We all resist when we don’t understand something or don’t see the need to change. Get the ball rolling by clearly defining the problem.

Pull together the ‘Guiding Team’. Make sure there is a powerful group guiding the change – one with the leadership skills, credibility, communications ability, authority, analytical skills, and an ability to move quickly. Your existing leadership may or may not have all the skills to effectively lead the desired change. Ensure you have the right set of skills and talents assembled, not just those with the right titles. The book demonstrates the value in bringing new people into leadership positions when they possess a needed skill not otherwise held by the existing team.

2) Make A Plan
Develop a vision and strategy for the change. Project how the future will be different from the present or past, and how you can make that future a reality. If you have a vision of what the event or group could look like after the change, share that with all involved. Helping people see the expected outcome will accelerate their commitment to the process and ease the anxiety associated with the change (the unknown). People who understand the vision and expect the change are less likely to oppose it.

3) Implement the Plan
Communicate for understanding and buy-in. If possible, talk with each member of the organization to determine their enthusiasm or reluctance. Ensure those who are normally vocal or negative are consulted first. Addressing their questions and concerns early will help to avoid them sabotaging the change.

Empower others to act. Invite all members of the team to help implement the change. Give everyone a role, including keeping an eye out for problems along the way and reporting them to the Guiding Team. Address the barriers you identified while speaking with each team member. If the vision is clear and top leadership is passionate about the change, most others will help to bring the vision to reality.

Plan short-term wins. Create visible and clear successes as soon as possible. Create momentum so the group can see progress toward the goal. Keep the group informed of the progress and celebrate each achieved milestone.

Don’t let up. Press hard and fast for an early success. Be relentless in initiating your plan until the vision becomes reality.

4) Sustain the Change
To make it stick, value and reward those that embrace the agreed upon change. Agree out loud with the group to work for (not against) the change. Review and quickly address any problems that may arise. Continue to bring focus to the change until it becomes strong enough to stand on its own and replace old traditions.

I highly recommend Kotter and Rathgeber’s, Our Iceberg is Melting for any business, organization, school or family anticipating a significant change. Discuss the book, or at least the major points mentioned above to give the desired change the best chance of success.