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Practical Perspectives: Are You at Your Tipping Point?
By Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, Jail Administrator, Scott County Sheriff's Office
Published: 03/07/2011

County jail
Editors note: The following is a continuing series of articles written by Major Clifford G. Tebbitt, of the Scott County Iowa Sheriff's Office. Mr. Tebbitt is a Jail Administrator and a PhD candidate. The series includes: contemporary issues with jail/corrections administration. The series uses the fictitious County name of Acme County.

As leaders in corrections what would you have to make happen to bring about change and innovation? What will you have to support, and how would you categorize the majority of the people in your facility when it comes to change? Shapiro (2004) looks at change within organizations in terms of a PEST, i.e., the political, economic, social and technological milieu. The acronym “PEST” represents four essential constructs that provides in Shapiro’s design of a new “change model” that captures a fresh new organizational change concept he has named “The Tipping Point.” The acronym elements serve as vesicles that facilitate our understanding of how the world works, and what would have to happen to the various factors to bring about change and innovation. The Tipping Point model captures important dynamics of change that can help leaders to see potential side effects of their actions with the aim of sparking new ideas about implementation in pursuit of affecting change (Shapiro, 2004). The concept of change within this framework is anchored to the notion that the milieu of PEST is in an ever-changing state. Consequently, in order to facilitate organizational change adaptation within these constructs is critical. Interestingly, Shapiro (2004), bases The Tipping Point model on the notion that “most organizational change initiatives fail” because of a lack of systems thinking. The Tipping Point model ties PEST into a comprehensive systems thinking approach that creates a common mental model of change implementation.

Let’s take a look at PEST application on the ground. As you know Acme County is a “big little town,” often driven by small, petty politics in its decision-making and attempts to innovate. County officials exercise discretion on PEST types of decisions based on the circumstances. However, considering PEST’s and making changes, Acme County does little more than ensure that the government has the staff and expertise to make informed and independent decisions. Here, the answer is ensuring that the various departments have the core competency to adequately carry out its oversight and decision-making responsibilities (Burman, 2008). It would appear from the learner’s perspective that innovation subsequently suffers. In other words, to articulate Acme County’s change model one would likely cite Conner’s two key roles in creating change based on advocates and sponsors, and Kotter’s leadership concept as playing a key role in change (Kotter, 1996; Shapiro, 2004). These approaches exercise processes at the center of the change, organization and resource, systems and controls, and behaviors (Oakland & Tanner, 2007).

With all that happens in Acme County, (and for that matter all that doesn’t), deeply reinforced institutionalized processes that do not yield to reason or common sense much of the time hamper much of the organizational change initiatives. Recognizing Acme County’s challenge is often not clear and most always quite daunting. Long-term organizational success requires streams of innovation (Tushman & O’Reilly, 2002). The paradoxical pattern of decision-making within the County in which favorable decisions often become losers, in which departments lose their innovative edge, is often driven by the personalities within the organization. Managerial actions and organizational processes in the face of discontinuous change (Tushman & O’Reilly, 2002) drive these paradoxical patterns. Hence, to discuss the application of organizational change within Acme County the milieu of PEST and its ever-changing state must take into account the organization will not change unless the people within the organization change (Shapiro, 2004).

The majority of the people (to include leaders for that matter) in Acme County government resist change principally driven with the attitude that hierarchy networks are more efficient than dialogue and consensus in building effectiveness, and thus innovation. The organizational culture reinforces a decision-making climate that discourages innovation and change as it struggles with the forces of larger systems surrounding the community, with a strong need to push back broad trends in society. The challenge for Acme County is to break away from past practices and the clutches of failing decision-making models. The objective than is to create an operating governing system that is more responsive and appealing, that embraces innovation, and attracts the benefits that such a progressive enterprise draws. The likely result is an environment that is better suited to respond to PEST and its ever-changing state.

From a leadership perspective, the beginning of change within Acme County would be wise to take into consideration The Tipping Point model as described above when building commitment to change. The model offers a framework for leaders to categorize people within the organization resulting in a better understanding of the various personalities and their influences in the process of implementing change. It takes into account four attitudes that people generally have toward change initiative, i.e., advocate, incubator, apathetic, or resister (Shapiro, 2004). In the context of Acme County’s woes, many of the drivers within the landscape appear to be motivated by apathetic and/or resister attitudes towards innovation and change. To fight the good fight, in this instance, the leader should challenge assumptions and leverage knowledge so as to lead to deeper insight and more effective actions; to help create a culture of learning (Shapiro, 2004). Creating a culture of learning according to Shapiro (2004), can be a tipping point toward extraordinary business results.


Burman, Allan V. (2008). Inherently Governmental Functions: At a Tipping Point? Public Manager, 37(1), 41-43. Retrieved November 6, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1470691191).

Kotter, John P. (1996). Leading change. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. ISBN: 0- 87584-747-1.

Oakland, J. S. and Tanner, S. J. (2007). A new framework for managing change. The TQM Magazine, 19(6), 572-589. Retrieved November 6, 2010, from ABI/INFORM Global database. (Document ID: 1377065491).

Shapiro, Andrea (2004). Creating contagious commitment: Applying the tipping point to organizational change. Hillsbourough, NC: Strategy Perspective. ISBN: 0-9741028-0-6.

Tushman, M.L. and O'Reilly, C.A. (2002). Winning through innovation. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press. ISBN: 1-57851-821-0.

Other articles by Tebbitt:


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