Seven Levers of Change – An Introduction

Seven Levers of Change – An Introduction

Acknowledgement: Seven Levers of Change  – This is an update of a blog post first published by Dr Andrea Shapiro on in March 2012.

For more about the Seven Levers of Change, and how to put them to work to turbo-charge change implementation in your organization, click here.


A representation of the 7 levers of change, also known as the seven levers of change.

7 Levers of Change

Organizations only change when engaged employees recognize (1) why the change is needed and (2) the potential benefits.  Therefore when employees witness commitment from their leaders and have the necessary new tools and skills, they are more likely to engage. In addition, when they also see support and rewards for making the change, this further encourages their involvement in and engagement with the change.

There are seven key areas – seven levers of change – that can contribute to setting employee engagement in motion and giving it momentum. The levers are not meant to be a formula. They represent seven aspects that require attention and planning for successful change management.

The first two levers

The first two levers – personal contact and mass exposure – make sure that everyone who needs to knows about the change gets to know about it. We can all be tempted to rely on announcements, posters, e-mails, social media posts, screen savers, web pages, ‘Town Hall’ meetings and one-size-fits all awareness training. These tools and approaches have their place for conveying general information about a change to employees, but also have limitations.

Information is important, but so is fostering direct contact between advocates of the change and others who are not yet advocates.  This provides employees with opportunities to hear about the change from people who understand and value it. Moreover, these contacts can build trust and enthusiasm, and prevent potential problems. People have opportunities to ask a question, voice a concern, learn first-hand about benefits and hear about potential pitfalls.

Resistance and expertise

The next two levers of change address resistance and expertise. How we should deal with resistance depends upon what is driving it. We need to listen carefully to resisters’ concerns and avoid making assumptions.

Resisters can alert change leaders to looming issues that can be addressed before they develop into full-blown problems.  But sometimes people remain stubbornly resistant beyond the time when most colleagues have bought-into the change and moved on. At that stage, it may be time for the resistors to move on too.

The fourth lever focuses on determining if we have enough of the rights kinds of in-house expertise. If not, we need to consider what to do about the gap. One option is hiring new people from outside the company, with the right kind of expertise. This may sometimes be necessary, but an unintended side effect is the potential to alienate existing employees.

Sometimes we may be able to develop the ‘missing’ expertise internally; on other occasion, recruiting expertise from outsider the business will be necessary. If we recognize the potential side effects of importing expertise, and take steps to mitigate against these effects in advance, we should be able to minimize any negative consequences.

Three more levers

The final three levers of change deal with creating and nurturing an organizational environment that supports the change. These are:

  • investing in infrastructure, such as tools, training and processes;
  • recognizing the role of leaders to set an example by Walking the Talk, and helping them to do so; and
  • recognizing and rewarding commitment to and adoption of the change.

Every change requires investment in some form of infrastructure. It may be new software, or improved business processes and training to help people to adopt them confidently and competently. The budget and attention allocated to the required infrastructure is an investment in making the change successful.

Leaders who enthusiastically support the change, make the case for it and integrate data from the change into their decision-making are signalling that the change is important to the organization.  If such signals are weak or absent, this can have damaging consequences for the change itself.

Recognizing and rewarding employees’ efforts to implement the change is another way to reinforce the message that the organization is serious about making the change work.

Orchestra - levers of change

Where to find out more

For more about the Seven Levers of Change, and how to put them to work to turbo-charge change implementation in your organization, click here.

There is also much more about the seven levers of change in Creating Contagious Commitment by Andrea Shapiro, Ph.D., including many examples of the seven levers at work in organizations.  For example, the book describes a Six Sigma program implemented at Xerox, where the seven levers of change were used as an implementation framework. Heidi Grenek and Norm Fowler describe their experience: “How we were doing on the seven levers of change . . . were good predictors of whether we could expect the behaviors and decisions necessary to make [the Six Sigma program] pervasive and sustainable across the product delivery organizations at Xerox.”

Summing up – the Seven Levers of Change

In summary, the seven levers of change are:

  1. fostering contacts between advocates of the change and others who are not yet advocates
  2. communicating one-size-fits-all messages using mass exposure approaches
  3. hiring expertise from outside the organization if necessary
  4. shifting resistors if and when the time is right
  5. investing in the infrastructure that the change needs in order to succeed
  6. leaders leading by example
  7. recognizing and rewarding commitment to and adoption of the change.

This list of seven levers should not be seen as a checklist or a formula. The levers represent a framework of interacting actions that leaders can use to think about and stress-test any change implementation plan. None of them alone is a “silver bullet” – absolutely not! – but used properly, the levers can reinforce each other to enhance their overall effect. There are many specific examples of actions that fit into each lever, and the specifics will inevitably between organizations and changes. For every change, each of the seven levers needs to be carefully evaluated and applied as needed. Working in combination, the seven levers can help to make any change program more effective and more sustainable.

If you would like to discuss how we can help you, please do get in touch.  Also, it would be fantastic if you would follow our Company Page on LinkedIn

Is resistance to change over-rated?

I recently received a recommendation to look at some material describing multiple “strategies for overcoming resistance to change”. It reminded me of the research that has underpinned the development of the Tipping Point Change Management Simulation, which suggested that there’s a common tendency to overstate the amount of genuine, proactive resistance that changes encounter, and the role that such resistance plays in slowing changes down or stopping them in their tracks.

Of course, being aware of and tuning-in to whatever resistance is occurring would be a very sensible step for any change leader to take. If people are resisting, they have reasons for doing so. If they’re willing to articulate those reasons, we have a potentially valuable source of constructive feedback that could help us to improve the change itself and/or the way it is being communicated and implemented.

But when we struggle to make changes happen in the way we’ve planned, blaming this on the resistors may be a bit too much of an easy, convenient explanation. In Creating Contagious Commitment*, Andrea Shapiro reminds us that “It is easy to underestimate the power of apathy and to overestimate the effect of resistance”, suggesting that “most change initiatives fail not from resistance or insufficient funds, but because people simply stop paying attention to them. That is, initiatives fail from apathy; they are ignored to death.”

Have you ever responded to a change that was being promoted in your workplace by, in effect, ignoring it? I’ll admit that I have! My work life was already very busy, I saw the change in question as an unwanted additional burden, I didn’t want to engage with it, so I didn’t. Ignoring it was a lot easier than fighting it.

On reflection, I think that ignoring the proposed change, being apathetic towards it, was actually quite a rational attitude for me to adopt at that time. Especially given the history that I had experienced in that particular organisational setting – a history of a number of earlier change initiatives that had initially received strong support from senior managers but had quite quickly run out of steam.

It seems to me that, for people who don’t feel particularly enthusiastic about a proposed change, being apathetic towards it may often be more rational than expending the time and energy that would be involved in actively resisting it.

What are your thoughts and experiences?

Tipping Point Change Management Simulation

Don’t forget the people!

The Tipping Point Change Management Simulation—A Powerful Action Learning Tool for Change Leaders

By David Yarrow, Ph.D. and Andrea Shapiro, Ph.D.

Tipping Point Change Management Simulation

The Tipping Point Change Management Simulation – what it is, how it is used, how it has been developed.

What are your experiences of change in organizations?  Have you ever felt frustrated because colleagues won’t adopt ideas that are sensible and obviously beneficial? Have you watched needed change initiatives falter due to lack of tools or other support?

The sad fact is that many attempts to implement change are unsuccessful.  In fact, according to research, a lot more change initiatives fail than succeed. Why is this so? Surely, after decades of research, practice, education, and training, we could expect organizations, and those leading them, to be achieving higher success rates when it comes to implementing changes in the workplace.

There are plenty of models and methodologies around. Some offer helpful ideas, but real-world experience suggests that either they don’t entirely work, or don’t translate well from theory on the screen to practice on the ground.  Many change plans stress technology, budgets, milestones, logistics, performance measures, schedules, and critical path, all of which is important. All too often, they ignore people.

Changes Work When People Adopt Them

Yes, people! When it comes to change, we can’t afford to overlook the people.

Some changes are largely about technology—new equipment, automation, or software. Other changes are largely about logistics—added buildings, new locations, improved workflows, process redesign, offshoring, or onshoring. Still others are largely about structure and budgets—reorganizations, expansion plans, downsizing, or mergers.

All change initiatives are about people—people who are affected by the initiative, who can influence it, or who need to work in new ways for the change to deliver its intended benefits.  Organizations only change when the people working in them change their minds and their behaviors.  Many a needed, planned, and trumpeted change have sunk on the rocks of a workforce who didn’t understand it, didn’t care about it, didn’t entirely agree with it, or didn’t have the tools to implement it.

Helping Leaders Help People Make Change

In our experience, many leaders of change are fully competent in the “harder” side of change management—some would describe these as “project management” skills. But they lack a deep understanding of how change affects people—what it means to them, and how they are likely to respond. Without this understanding, leaders cannot help employees recognize, adopt, and support new ideas and initiatives—especially ideas that do not initially fill them with enthusiasm.

Responding to this widespread issue, we sought the best ways to help change leaders develop the much-needed knowledge, skills, and approaches to support their colleagues to cope with change and to thrive on the benefits of a new initiative. Focusing on this issue in depth, for several years, we concluded that:

  • People who are leading change, or are going to be leading change, have knowledge and experience to draw about managing the “people side” of change. However, often they lack opportunities to organize their ideas, to frame clear views of what works and what doesn’t, or to test these theories out before having to place them in practice.
  • The “harder” skills of change management can be learned readily through conventional training approaches, and many such opportunities are available. The “softer” skills don’t lend themselves as well to traditional training.
  • Change leaders need a safe space to surface, share, and challenge their beliefs and assumptions about influencing people’s reactions to change. They gain new insights by hearing theory, interacting with peers, and testing their ideas.
  • Experienced adults learn best when they are engaged. Action learning with gamification enables them to apply their knowledge to discover and then articulate key points for themselves. Teamwork allows them to learn from, and with, others in a supportive environment.

The Tipping Point Change Management Simulation—Action Learning for Change Leaders

The Tipping Point Change Management Simulation uses the conclusions above. With a set of supporting materials, the simulation is the basis for an effective learning opportunity for change leaders.

  • The Tipping Point Change Management Simulation was developed around the expertise, research, and insights of recognized, published authorities on change and change management.
  • The simulation brings published principles to life with empirical data and feedback from key players through case study research.
  • Systems dynamics modeling harnesses the insights and data to create an action learning computer game. This gamification strengthens opportunities for participants to learn from one another and fully develop their ideas.

The Tipping Point Change Management Simulation and learning materials continue to evolve, using experience, feedback and change management knowledge. Together, the simulation and the learning materials are known as the Change, Dialogue and Action Workshop (sometimes simply the Tipping Point Workshop). Change leaders, organizational development practitioners, training and consultancy providers, and others have used the workshop to dramatically improve the success rate of change initiatives in their own or their client’s organizations

Let’s leave the last word to Wojciech Ryba, Change Director Supply Chain Transformation, GSK. He has used the Tipping Point workshop and has seen its effect in his work. “The Tipping Point model is clearly a great and very practical way to lead complex and cross-functional organizational change programs (such as Supply Chain Transformations). With an end goal in mind and the right focus on the people side of change, the mental model gained through using the Tipping Point simulation really helps to guide day to day activities and ensure the program stays on track to deliver and sustain the desired outcome.”

David Yarrow, Ph.D., is the director of Time for Change. (

David is a Tipping Point Master Trainer with over a decade of experience training facilitators in the Change, Dialogue, and Action Workshop.

Andrea Shapiro, Ph.D., is the principal of Strategy Perspective. (

Andrea is the developer of the Tipping Point Simulation.

If you would like to discuss the Tipping Point Change Management Simulation, and/or how we can help you, please do get in touch.  Also, it would be fantastic if you would follow our Company Page on LinkedIn


change management training north east, time for change, david yarrow

Change Management North East

Change Management North East

Time For Change – Change Management North East. I have been working on change management in the North East of England, in one guise or another, since the 1980s.  So what has changed in that time?

Change Management North East – then and now

change management north east, time for change, david yarrowWell, a lot has changed in our everyday lives and our work lives. Without wishing to sound like Old Father Time, we’re talking about an era when the closest thing to an instant message was a memo typed on A4 paper and carried around the building by an Internal Postman, and when the top-paid footballers were earning £1,000 per week.


The region’s traditional industries of mining, shipbuilding and heavy engineering still employed thousands, though those numbers were declining rapidly, and concepts like ‘lean thinking’ and ‘social media’ had not yet entered the business vocabulary.

The changing face of Change Management North East?

How has Change Management North East changed over the decades?  In some ways it has changed massively, in other ways it hasn’t really changed at all.

I’m not sure how well ‘change management’ was recognised as a discipline in the 80s, though (then as now) anyone working in a leadership role spent a lot of time and energy managing change, or trying to manage change, in one way or another.

In 2017, many organisations across every sector of the north east economy employ people with change management in their job titles/descriptions. And the nature of changes taking place within these organisations appear, at first sight, to be very different from those that took place 30 years ago.

New technologies, new approaches, new organisation-types, new industries, new ways of thinking and being and communicating…

But are today’s challenges really so different?

Fundamentally, all workplace changes have a common factor at their heart. This is true now, it was true in the 1980s, it has been true throughout human history. At the heart of every change is a person or, more often, a number of people.

People, people’s roles, attitudes, abilities and preferences, people’s responses when confronted with new developments that require them to work in different ways.

The success of the changes that we seek to introduce – as leaders, as change managers and facilitators, as organisation development practitioners – depends on our ability to understand people.

  • What the change means to them, how they will react, how they will behave, what influences will make a difference to them.
  • What actions we could take that would strengthen the change and increase the extent to which it is enthusiastically adopted, supported and advocated by those who will be affected by it.

The science of Change Management

The science of change management has developed very considerably since the 1980s. It continues to progress as our fast-developing insights into the workings of the human brain help us to better understand just exactly how averse to change we really are (the answer, by the way, is very averse).

So, in conclusion, logic would suggest that Change Management North East is much more advanced and sophisticated in 2017 than it was 30 years ago.

That would surely be true if we could rely on best practice in change management being applied universally and well.  But unfortunately, within Change Management North East as within Change Management Everywhere Else, best practice in change management is only applied in a small minority of cases.

That’s the challenge that Change Management North East is facing.

Let’s make this region a genuine hotbed of leading edge change management best practice.  It won’t be easy, but if we can manage it what a strong competitive edge it will give us in these turbulent times. If you would like to discuss how we can help you, please do get in touch.  Also, it would be fantastic if you would follow our Company Page on LinkedIn

North East Leadership Academy

David Yarrow (of Time for Change) has a national reputation in business excellence benchmarking and this permeates into related fields of OD, change management, facilitation and business consultancy… I would recommend Dave to any client.

Clive Spencer, Director North East Leadership Academy

NHS Foundation Trust

“This workshop has made a significant contribution to our work with the Trust Board and senior management teams in moving the organisation further towards achieving its aims. Board members and colleagues really appreciate the great learning that the workshop offers about effective and cost-effective change implementation.
The workshop itself and the supporting materials are cleverly designed to suit the needs of all learning styles – active learners are attracted to the hands-on ‘learning by doing’ nature of the workshop, while more reflective learners have access to in-depth explanations and evidence of the underpinning theories and principles. We have seen many examples of ‘penny dropping’ moments as colleagues reflect on their experiences of change and gain insights into what works, what doesn’t, and why.”

Michelle Brown, Head of Organisational Development, Tees Esk and Wear Valleys NHS Foundation Trust