Managing Change - Tipping Point™

Strategies and Strategy Combinations to Sustain Corporate Change 

  • Avoiding "Flavor of the Month" Management Fads

  • How to Make Change Efforts Stick
  • Translating Plans into Implementation
  • Getting Elusive "Buy-In"
  • The Inevitability Factor
  • What Matters to Employees - and What Doesn't
  • What Factors Kill -- or Build -- Leadership Credibility with Employees
  • The Folly of Rational Argument, Cajoling, and "Mandatory Democracy" Strategies



The ability to change and adapt is, for most firms, the most important competitive advantage.    

Situation:  Most corporate change efforts never get their desired results, especially concerning changes in corporate culture (re-engineering, CRM, teambuilding, quality, coaching, just-in-time, etc.). Making change "stick" is challenging because there is no "silver bullet" for every business problem.  In Leading Change, John Kotter estimated that 85% of companies fail to achieve their objectives. Paul Strebel, in the Harvard Business Review, reports that 50-80% of Fortune 1000 change efforts fail.  These numbers are huge - and alarming.

Solution:  The Tipping Point Simulation™ is a nationally successful half-day leadership development simulation showing managers how to set up changes that last. In small teams, participants compete on a case study to see who can make strategic decisions to create a lasting change - on time and on budget. 

Appropriate for:  The Tipping Point Simulation™ leads leaders to discover and address the most common causes of failure during large change efforts such as major technology shifts, mergers, process improvement initiatives, acquisitions, and corporate reorganizations. The variables are drawn from the experience of many change agents and research. However, the simulation is not a prescription for resource allocation; it is a tool to promote dialogue.  The model leverages the fact that, at its heart, an organizational change is an idea and ideas spread when people advocate them. Appropriate for those with headcount and/or budget authority, general management development programs, those internal managers assigned to take the role of internal consultant, and university MBA programs.

Presenter:  George Smart, Managing Partner of Strategic Development, is one of the leading presenters of this program nationwide, having spoken for years to clients including Boeing's Leadership Development Center, Microsoft, Nielsen, Wachovia, Nationwide, TEC/VISTAGE, UNC Charlotte, GlaxoSmithKline, and more.

Relevant:  Most changes fail or "fade to black" because of some very predictable reasons linked to ineffective change leadership. When there is no compelling reason to change, no inspiring vision of the future and a bad implementation plan, employees take a ‘wait and see’ attitude. They don’t take risk, they "duck and cover," and they wait for leadership to get bored, distracted, scared, or disinterested.

Unique:  What separates The Tipping Point Simulation™ from others?   A practical approach for taking action.  While many change manuals require a decoder ring to understand, the Tipping Point Simulation™ takes a successful, existing change process and provides leaders direct applications to move from disengaged to devoted employees. Participants learn a fundamental rule: corporate change is all about employee acceptance - not "agreement" or the elusive "buy-in." The Tipping Point Simulation™ breaks through years of psycho-babble and change-speak with practical, grounded steps to gain employee acceptance of change. Much like bringing Doppler weather radar to the ancient Greeks, it immediately dispels the silly HR superstitions so many leaders worship.  The Tipping Point Simulation™ concludes with discussion of best practices for creating, sustaining and managing change, after which participants apply learning to their own projects.


What Participants Learn:

  • How to manage "positive infection" - the acceptance and implementation of major change in employee populations
  • How to take an initiative and make it last, deal with resistance, and create advocacy
  • Seven proven strategies and in what combinations to use them to affect action, sustainability, and cost reduction
  • Why "buy-in" is so difficult to get, hard to keep, and time-consuming
  • How to create a shared set of interlocking sustainable change decisions
  • How to create initatives where desired behavior spreads - and lasts


How Participants Benefit:

  • The Tipping Point Simulation™ is far from academic; it is often eerily close to real life corporate experience
  • Learn why groups cycle through "Flavor of the Month" so frequently - and what they can do to stop
  • Put your own "pet theories" into practice and see the results
  • Come away with immediate, relevant insight on correcting current change efforts
  • Generate specific ideas to improve how their organization starts and sustains change
  • Enjoy friendly competition between teams 
  • Recognize the value of a systemic approach to organizational change
  • Experience the interactions that affect how change happens in an organization
  • Understand the nonlinear connection between cause and effect
  • Gain firsthand knowledge of the fallacy of “silver bullet” approaches
  • Better understand and reassess previous change efforts
  • Develop action items to improve a current change initiative
  • Discuss corporate assumptions in safe learning environment

Each participant receives a Tipping Point Simulation™ Workbook.


Agenda: 3 Hours (12-25 people), 3.5 Hours (26-60 people)

The Tipping Point program is a enjoyable, interactive, effective way to get leaders actively involved in the practice of change management using a series of case studies.  Teams vie against each other to create the best change strategy. This friendly competition encourages risk taking and focuses dialogue on what most matters. Team results are seen immediately onscreen in front of the class then we debrief participants on their assumptions about what accelerates change. This helps participants design strategies likely to have more success in their own organizations.

  • Welcome and Overview
  • Examples of Corporate Change
  • Specifics of the simulation
  • Sample Runs
  • Seven Change Strategies
  • Small team Discussions and Presentations
  • Run #1
  • Break
  • Debrief
  • Best Practices, Case Examples
  • Small team Discussions and Presentations
  • Run #2
  • Application:  Relevance to current or planned change initiatives
  • Questions, Summary and Evaluation



"I realized the most important aspects of change are the least expensive in terms of dollars spent."

"Outstanding simulation. It enabled us to see a tool to get commitment to change. I saw a direct use of this tool and info on my project and will use it to evaluate my stakeholders for apathetics, advocates, etc."

“The most useful course I’ve been to in ages. Very practical advice!”

The Tipping Point in Practice

It is a common scene. Eight professional association department heads sit in the 3rd floor conference room with the executive director. They have done a lot of hard work -- needs analysis, interviews, and discussions with vendors. After months of research, they finally have a clear handle on the problem and they see the solution. They are excited. Over the next four months, they envisage every employee understanding and embracing the new organizational change initiative.

Rolling out the change begins with a big kickoff, replete with logo coffee mugs and mass emails. Every staff member is sent to the same generic training course on the change. But, employees, who are already overwhelmed with their current responsibilities, are underwhelmed with this new initiative. They may nod in agreement, but they quietly wish it would go away. Fast forward four months. Nearly everyone in the association, from executive director to housekeeper, is left with that "flavor of the month" feeling. Coffee mugs and binders from the training are all that is left of yet another needed, well analyzed, and technically appropriate change.

According to research on change, 50-85% of change initiatives fail. They fail because it is too easy to ignore the effect that a change has on people and that people can exert on a change. Organizations can only change when people in them change. A change initiative can only succeed when people understand its value and thus think differently about their work. So what can a management team do to motivate their people to embrace a needed organizational change? How can a change initiative move from the heads of leadership into the heads, hearts and hands of employees?

The Tipping Point Workshop is an innovative program that helps leaders discover how to progress from boardroom dreams to employee accomplishments. It leverages lessons learned from public health, systems thinking and organizational theory to understand the factors that can make commitment to change contagious. It takes into account the interactions between attitudes that employees can have toward a change and seven levers of change or actions that leaders can take to foster a positive employee attitude toward an initiative. The workshop uses a computer simulation to make the experience real and help leaders’ focus their dialogue around change. Working in teams, leaders create strategies and experiment with them on the computer simulation. Through teamwork and experimentation, leaders gain an appreciation of the interactions and intricacies of implementing change. They come away with practical, applicable, actionable knowledge.

Pat Natale, P.E.,CAE,F.ASCE, is the Executive Director, Chief Staff Officer, and Board Secretary of the American Society of Civil Engineers, a national organization of 60,000 members representing licensed engineers from all technical disciplines. He and his staff used the Tipping Point Workshop to help them frame a strategy to drive new educational programs and evaluations. In Pat’s words, “The Tipping Point Workshop really helped us look at change. We actually applied the concepts to a huge project -- changing the educational process for civil engineering. We particularly made sure we had the right infrastructure to get the job done, and instead of marginalizing resisters we learned a lot from them to make course corrections and sculpt the right message. Using what they learned, the team working on this change came up with very effective strategies. This is a model that our people are making real for critical changes to the organization. It was a good learning experience, but the dialogue at the end, what it means to us in the workplace, was the most exciting part. It was time very well spent.”

Leadership is about doing, not just about talking. The Tipping Point Workshop provides a venue for leaders to experiment with actions that they can take to lead change in a risk-free environment. Through this experience they learn about actions that can unleash the creative power of all employees involved in a change initiative.

Written by George Smart, M.B.A. and Andrea Shapiro, Ph.D.


Research Model:

Andrea Shapiro, Ph.D., created the Tipping Point Simulation™ in 1996 based on her original research in managing change within Nortel Networks. Since then, she has validated the model on many other companies and types of change. The Tipping Point Simulation™ uses concepts developed in public health, recognizing the analogies between the spread of ideas and the spread of epidemics. While this analogy is not exact, the variables that affect the spread of epidemics (e.g., virulence of the infectious agent, individual immune systems, quality of both sanitation and medical care or population density) are closely analogous to variables affecting the spread of ideas.

These variables are based on interviews with hundreds of change agents within the field backed up by published research in organizational change. The choice of variables comes from the literature on change. The actual relationship between the variables is based on interviewing change agents whose experience was modeled into the relationships between variables. The results were reviewed both with the initial change agents and with others experienced in implementing organizational change.

Malcolm Gladwell's book of the same name was published a few years later. Although his book and this simulation are not formally related, they cover some of the same principles with this simulation covering corporate-specific change.