Micro Changes as a Tipping Point

April 30, 2024 at 10:04 AM |
Posted by:
Debi Grebenik
Debi Grebenik

Change. Some dread it, some embrace it. The reality is that change is the only way we can get from here to there. Maybe you’re that one that doesn’t like change. Within our work with child welfare systems, it’s not uncommon for some to truly want to be in a different place, yet drag their feet when asked to adjust or adapt. Most lasting changes don’t come in big waves. Micro changes create the foundation for a tipping point, as Malcolm Gladwell points out in his book, The Tipping Point. Building small, consistent, and strategic changes leads us to the lasting changes we envision and desire. 

Think about how change works for a moment. Imagine that you decide you'd like to become a runner, so you begin your training journey at the start of the year. To keep yourself accountable, you sign up for a marathon. But to be prepared for an activity as tremendous as a marathon, you need to build small, consistent, and strategic changes. You buy a pair of supportive running shoes, you modify your diet to support this new form and level of activity, and you begin pounding your feet to the pavement. Over time, your tolerance and endurance for running builds, allowing you to increase your distance and speed with each run. The culmination of your small changes suddenly transforms into dramatic and sudden change, and you're crossing the finish line at the marathon you couldn't possibly have run at the very beginning of your journey.

IMG_0007-1024x1024Most changes, whether personal or professional, follow this same type of trajectory. I’d be remiss if I didn’t highlight the fact that some changes occur because of a crisis or disaster (natural or man-made). Those aren’t the changes I am talking about right now. When first starting our work with child welfare systems, leaders and staff are generally excited, expectant, and sometimes unaware of how to proceed. They know where they want to be, though they may be overwhelmed with all the work to be done and all the potential pathways that exist. I love being able to give a starting point, or a place to settle into as the journey of change begins.   

It’s easy to experience mission creep and move away from your ideals. This dissonance can create moral injury, staff turnover, and impede desired outcomes. Understanding our values is a foundational building block. Know who you are and why you do what you do. Know what your organization was created to do, and be all in. Then, you will be capable of building on micro changes and experiencing the dramatic changes they lead to after you reach your organization's tipping point.