Training Industry

The Seven Levers of Change: A Success Story

  • The Seven Levers of Change: A Success Story

My March blog post introduced the Seven Levers of Change. Used together, these levers engage employees and help them recognize the potential of a change initiative. The levers deal with getting the word out (Personal Contacts and Mass Exposure), gaining expertise (Hire Advocates), dealing with resistance (Shift Resisters), and fostering an environment that encourages people to adopt practices necessary to make the change successful (Infrastructure, Walk the Talk, and Reward & Recognition). The seven levers have the most synergy when used together.

Let’s look at a successful example of these levers in action. Meals on Wheels (MOW) is a nationwide program to address hunger, especially among seniors. A major focus is delivery of prepared meals to people who are homebound due to illness, disability, or age. Gale Adland is the director of  MOW in Durham, North Carolina. A year ago, with a small staff and dedicated volunteers, they were able to feed 280 people. With 100 more people on the waiting list, the need was greater than their capacity. To satisfy their mandate, they had to increase their ability to reach the homebound hungry.

Initially, their plan was to go after more grant money and recruit more volunteers. They were successful at this, but more money and volunteers just weren’t enough to allow them to serve more clients. In fact, the larger volunteer base was more difficult to manage and created a certain amount of drain on the staff. After reading Creating Contagious Commitment, Gale realized that she needed to put the Seven Levers to work. Infrastructure was a key missing piece to expanding their capability. The software they were using was adequate for tracking meals, but it did not help them manage the larger volunteer base. Gale demonstrated clear leadership by example, or Walk the Talk, by personally researching software designed to manage meal programs.

With the board’s approval, MOW Durham purchased new software that not only tracks clients but helps with volunteer roles, such as scheduling drivers. It also has an accounting component to further streamline workflow. One staff member was trained by the software vendor, and then she trained others. Learning from peers allowed staff to share how it applied to their particular MOW office. This Personal Contact increased the relevancy of the tool. Unfortunately, there was some resistance to the change. Not everyone was able to adapt to the new tool, and a personnel change was needed to move forward. The remaining staff was restructured and streamlined, because “the new software is doing more of the work for us.”Shapiro Aug Blog

Six months after deploying the new tool and using staff to help bring each other up to speed, this small MOW office is feeding 340 homebound clients. In Gale’s words, “I am certain this would not have been possible without the upgrades to our systems and having a staff fully engaged in the new processes.” Her story illustrates how applying the levers of change that were appropriate for the organization and the change—in this example, Personal Contacts, Walk the Talk, Shift Resisters, and Infrastructure—made it possible for Meals on Wheels to reach their goal of providing meals to more people.

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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