Training Industry

Creating A Positive Epidemic

  • Creating A Positive Epidemic

An organizational change initiative begins with an idea about improving how work gets done. It could be an idea about how to increase quality or get product to market quicker or control costs. No matter how good or technically appropriate the idea, it must be taken on board by employees for the idea to become a successful initiative. But, it is only when people understand the value of the idea behind the change do they accept it, adopt its practices, and create the value that it promises.

Last month’s post explored the consequences of the high failure rate of change initiatives. When most change initiatives are not successful, then the logical position for an employee is to just wait and see if the change will really stick before getting behind it. How can this employee disengagement and apathy be transformed into the engagement and advocacy needed to spread acceptance for a new idea—and implement an organizational change?

Ideas spread when people advocate them. The best advocates are people with expertise in the area affected by the change who have experience with the change and have “contagious” enthusiasm for it. When these advocates explain their experience with the new initiative to colleagues who are disengaged, some of these apathetic colleagues begin to mentally test it against their own experience both about how work gets done and how changes are supported in the organization. They begin to “incubate” the idea, and some of these incubators may go on to become advocates themselves—further able to spread adoption of the change.

Not every apathetic employee who hears about a change from an advocate will incubate it. Without leaders who demonstrate support for the change, many will either ignore it or nod in agreement but take no action and remain apathetic. This same level of leadership commitment is needed to create the engagement that moves employees from incubating the ideas behind the change to adopting it, leveraging its advantages in their own work, and even advocating it to others. Without support, employees who are thinking about the change and incubating it are more likely to become disillusioned resisters or simply return to being apathetic than they are to become advocates and help others engage with the new initiative.

This is where the Seven Levers of Change, come in. Three levers of change deal with fostering an environment that provides unambiguous support for the change. These are investment in tools and infrastructure, leaders who set a consistent example of their own commitment, and rewarding and recognizing accomplishments that move the initiative forward. Using the levers creates an environment where people become enthusiastic advocates for the idea, and create momentum for a positive, contagious epidemic of change.

About the Author

Dr. Andrea Shapiro

Andrea Shapiro, PhD, is founder and principal of Strategy Perspective. She brings a unique perspective to organizational change based on experience in software development, business modeling, management, and organizational learning and development. Andrea designed and developed the Tipping Point computer simulation, which forms the heart of the Change, Dialogue, and Action Workshop. She has delivered the Workshop to major corporations, non-profits, and government agencies in the United States, Canada, and Europe, and has accredited hundreds of change leaders and consultants to deliver the workshop worldwide in their own work in organizational change. Her book Creating Contagious Commitment  gives detailed real-life examples, theory, and background, all of which will appeal to any manager faced with implementing a significant organizational change.

After earning master’s degrees in mathematics and psychology and a doctorate in behavioral decision making, Andrea went on to further studies at the Coaches Institute and the MIT Sloan Business School executive education program in system dynamics. She has also served on the Graduate Faculty at UNC Chapel Hill and taught decision making at Pfeiffer University’s graduate program in organizational management. Andrea can be reached through or you can follow her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

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