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.

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Posted in Change Management.