Bookshelf: The Heart of Change; Crucial Conversations

HR Magazine, November 2002

The Heart of Change
By John P. Kotter and Dan S. Cohen
Harvard Business Press, 2002
190 pages
List Price: $20
ISBN: 1-57851-254-9

Many companies in transition make the mistake of appealing to workers’ heads instead of their hearts, say John Kotter and Dan Cohen in The Heart of Change. “People change what they do less because they are given analysis that shifts their thinking than because they are shown a truth that influences their feeling,” write Kotter, a faculty member at the Harvard Business School, and Cohen, a principal with Deloitte Consulting.

Organizations often rely on the “analyze-think-change” approach to introduce change, the authors write. This model emphasizes changing behavior by bombarding employees with statistics and analysis. While this may provide the rationale behind change, it fails to motivate employees to make the effort meaningful change requires, according to the authors.

A better approach is the “see-feel-change” model. This emphasizes getting workers to understand problems and evoking a “visceral response that reduces emotions that block change and enhances those that support it,” they write.

Based on case studies of hundreds of organizations, The Heart of Change outlines steps companies can adopt when integrating change.

  • Increase urgency. Workers must feel there’s a compelling reason to undertake change right away. Achieve this by creating dramatic presentations with compelling arguments that are easy for workers to understand. “Provide evidence from outside the organization that change is required,” Kotter and Cohen say.

  • Build a guiding team. Enlist the right people to marshal the arduous change process. The team’s credibility can be enhanced if it includes individuals at all levels and with different skills, they say.
  • Get the vision right. Make complex issues seem simple, the authors say. Create goals “that are so clear that they can be articulated in one minute or written up on one page.”

  • Communicate for buy-in. Keep communication simple and heartfelt. “Get as many people as possible acting to make the vision a reality,” Kotter and Cohen write.
  • Empower action. Give workers the information they need to understand the change. Create a performance management system that rewards those who adapt to the new way of doing business

  • Create short-term wins. Early on, focus on tasks that allow you to quickly achieve “unambiguous, visible and meaningful achievements,” say Kotter and Cohen. These small victories can build momentum for bigger change.
  • Keep introducing change until the vision is achieved.

  • Make change stick. “Create a supporting structure that provides roots for the new ways of operating,” write Kotter and Cohen. Promote people who act in accordance with the new norms. Be sure new employees understand the organization’s priorities.

Such an approach, say the authors, can build a dynamic workplace, able to tackle a variety of challenges.

Crucial Conversations
By Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny,
Ron McMillan and Al Switzler

McGraw-Hill, 2002
256 pages
List Price: $14.95
ISBN: 0-07-140194-6

What are crucial conversations? They are those tough, everyday interactions in which the stakes are high, a difference of opinion exists and emotions run strong. In their book Crucial Conversations, leadership consultants Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan and Al Switzler say that, if you conduct such interactions successfully, you can “kick-start your career, strengthen your relationships and improve your health.”

First, say the authors, recognize that a crucial conversation is a dialogue. To succeed, it must be “a free flow of relevant information.” When participants hold back (because they are afraid of the consequences, want to spare someone’s feelings or don’t want to escalate a conflict) a true dialogue can’t take place.

How can you conduct an open dialogue? The authors suggest the following:

  • Stay focused. Be sure you clearly understand what you want—and don’t want—the outcome of the conversation to be. “Remember,” they write, “the only person you can directly control is yourself.”

  • Learn to look. Recognize when the discussion shifts from an everyday interaction to crucial conversation. Avoid the two extreme styles of interaction—what the authors call “silence or violence.” That’s when participants either withdraw from the conversation or verbally attack other participants.

  • Keep the conversation “safe.” Participants must have mutual purpose and respect. If participants are clearly at cross-purposes, it’s important to find common ground.

  • Stay committed to the dialogue. Even if you’re angry, scared or hurt, focus on how to move toward what you really want.
  • Explore others’ perspectives. Ask questions and mirror responses.

“The skills required to master high-stakes interactions are ... moderately easy to learn,” the authors write, but it takes practice. Crucial Conversations includes examples and exercises to help readers recognize and conduct effective conversations. When these techniques are mastered, say the authors, “What starts as a doomed discussion can end up with a healthy resolution.”

This book can be purchased through the SHRMStore online. Members receive a discount off the list price. Visit SHRMStore and search for item number 48.23018.

Mike Frost is a freelance writer based in Alexandria, Va.

Inclusion of a book does not imply endorsement by SHRM or HR Magazine.

Job Finder

Find an HR Job Near You
Post a Job


The SHRM Member Discounts program provides member-only access to discounts on products and services you can apply to your life and career, and share with your company.



Find the Right Vendor for Your HR Needs

SHRM’s HR Vendor Directory contains over 10,000 companies

Search & Connect