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The STEP UP!™ game is based on a proprietary case study which we originally featured in selected learning programs on change management. The case describes a real-world challenge that ORCHANGO president, Edmond Mellina, had to tackle during his former career as a leader driving organizational change from the inside.

Written as a theatre play, the highly engaging case was among the learners’ favorite activities. As they worked in teams through its various chapters, the participants developed a keen understanding of how to drive support for their change initiatives. They had plenty of opportunity to practice some of the tools and techniques from the ORCHANGO Master’s Toolkit. Because it was based on real characters and workplace dynamics, the participants could draw numerous parallels with their own change management challenges – and the real people involved in them.

The result was an engaging activity that generated good learning value. However, in our ongoing effort to raise the bar, we decided to turn the case study into a learning board game / business simulation which we called “STEP UP!™”.

We developed the STEP UP!™ game with the following objectives in mind:

  • Drive participants’ level of engagement – by increasing the fun factor and transforming the case into a competitive board game / business simulation.
  • Maximize the learning – by ensuring that the game: encourages the right mindset to succeed with change; offers plenty of opportunity to practice the tools and techniques in the classroom; and provides a road map for effective actions thereafter in the real-world.
  • Multiply the “stickiness” of the learning – by referring back to the characters, events and techniques of the game during the subsequent learning modules and on an ongoing basis.
  • Foster true partnerships among the various groups who have to collaborate within client organizations in order to successfully execute change (i.e. Senior Executives, Middle Managers, Front Line Managers, Project Leadership Teams, Change Agents and HR Partners) – by providing a common experience, a shared toolkit and techniques that encourage collaboration and reinforce the efforts of the other groups.

Getting ready

STEP UP!™ challenges teams of learners to take on a tricky change situation. The objective is to drive a successful campaign for change. There are plenty of obstacles, office politics and twists that simulate the real world.

Participants play STEP UP!™ in small competing teams (3 to 7 players usually). As the game unfolds, the players follow in the footsteps of Giorgio Catalyst, an Italian change expert hired by the U.K. division of Korbus Global to lead its Change and Technology function. Giorgio’s challenge is to manage a major change initiative at InfoBIZ, the key division of Korbus U.K.

The materials incorporate some of the most critical tools, concepts and techniques of the ORCHANGO Change Management System™. Each team receives:

  • game board featuring ORCHANGO’s “Ladder of Commitment | Resistance” with its six “Attitude-based Segments to Trigger the Domino Effect” (i.e. Campaigners; Helpers; Skeptics; Wind Watchers; Foot Draggers and Torpedoes).
  • A set of character cards representing the “Top Influencers”.
  • A set of poker chips representing the “Followers”. Green, yellow and red chips correspond to “Supporters”, “Fence Sitters” and “Opponents” respectively; the number of chips matches the typical distribution at the beginning of a change journey: 20% Supporters; 50% Fence Sitters and 30% Opponents.

Each player receives a deck of pre-sorted playing cards. Each card describes an event, features a dialogue or provides insights about the evolving situation and/or the main characters involved. The deck of playing cards is organized chronologically. All players receive the exact same deck – which means the teams have to tackle the same situation. We adopted this controlled approach to the game in order to maximize the learning.

Starting the game

The game starts when a London-based head hunter calls Giorgio Catalyst in Milan about an existing search for a proven change leader. The client organization is Korbus U.K. and the job is based in London. Giorgio researches Korbus, goes to England for a series of interviews, negotiates an employment contract and moves to London to start his new job.

The game now officially begins. The deck of playing cards starts with Giorgio’s first day at Korbus U.K. and covers a period of about three months.

Navigating the change journey

Consistent with the maritime imagery used throughout our learning programs on change management, the game unfolds as a journey organized in 4 to 6 legs (depending on the version / duration of the game). Each leg ends with a port of call. Teams of players progress through each leg of the journey by reading the playing cards in sequence (i.e. in chronological order). At the end of each leg, the players find a red decision card.

Once they have reached a decision, all teams reassemble at a port of call. A discussion and debrief occur to extract critical learning and the facilitator scores this leg of the game. To prepare for the upcoming leg, the facilitator delivers a mini-lecture. The purpose is to equip the players with a proven, practical tool to manage the next phase of Giorgio Catalyst’s change journey. Teams then go back to their game board to play the next leg and the process continues in this fashion.

The limited role that luck plays – like in the real world

Contrary to mainstream board games such as Monopoly® or Risk®, luck plays a very limited role in STEP UP!™. Indeed, our objective is to mirror the real world – where the actions of change leaders are what really makes or breaks a change initiative. Furthermore, luck tends to come to leaders who provoke it through their “good moves”. Similarly during STEP UP!™, teams that deserve it throw dice to earn extra points.

Opportunity to get a boost

Boost cards are another feature of STEP UP!™ that we specifically designed to mirror the real world. A boost card offers an advantage to the teams that earn it by providing extra insight.

During our programs, we stress the danger of isolation and, conversely, the power of the phrase: “I need your help”. The worksheet used in the 3rd leg encourages players to reach out to specific characters to help fine-tune their analysis of the human dimension of change. In the real world, one of three scenarios occurs: the person asked for help doesn’t have any insight to contribute; he or she is not willing to share them with the change leader (at least not yet); or the person has valuable insight and is willing to share them. The boost card process duplicates these real-world scenarios.

The poker chips

The players don’t act on the poker chips until the very end of the game. This is also by design: the chips represent the “Followers”; a key principle of the ORCHANGO Change Management System™ is that change leaders must focus their time and energy on the “Top Influencers” of the groups impacted by the change. Once the Top Influencers start supporting the change – i.e. once they step up the Ladder of Commitment | Resistance – they bring the Followers along with them.

During the last leg of STEP UP!™ players have to move the poker chips (i.e. the Followers) up or down the ladder as appropriate. During the debriefing, the facilitator helps the teams recognize they built a strong momentum for change through the “Top Influencers” – without working directly on the “Followers”. We use the term “triggering the domino effect” to capture the essence of this critical strategy. The facilitator uses domino pieces as a prop to illustrate the concept.

Ending the game

At the end of the game, the scores are tallied up and the winning team celebrates. The facilitator shares with the audience what happened in the real case – something the participants are always very keen to hear.

In conclusion, the facilitator discloses a road map (“Triggering the Domino Effect”) which captures the various steps the players took during STEP UP!™ to successfully tackle the Korbus U.K. challenge. As they go back to the real world, the participants leverage the road map – along with the other tools, strategies and techniques introduced – to make progress on the actual change initiatives on their to-do list.

As discussed above, the characters and dynamics in STEP UP!™ are based on a real-life workplace scenario. By design, the game mirrors the real world – it is a business simulation. As they play the game, participants learn how to apply the ORCHANGO Method™ to build and sustain momentum for change.

In the process, they draw numerous parallels with their own change initiatives. Also, the game is designed to help participants “decode” the human dimension of change. As a result, they implement their change initiatives more smoothly and effectively.

Change has two dimensions – technical and human. In order to execute change successfully, leaders at all levels must stay focused on both dimensions. They must act in a coherent, integrated way throughout the initiatives.

This is not easy to do. Indeed, researchers continue to report that about two thirds of all change initiatives fail. In our experience, the root causes of the problem include:

  • Leaders who are too technically oriented and unclear on how to best deal with the human dimension of change.
  • Lack of “battle-tested” tools to manage across the two dimensions.
  • Lack of cooperation – particularly among those in leadership roles (senior, middle- and frontline management; project leadership).

The STEP UP!™ game helps client organizations succeed with change by:

  • Providing very practical and proven tools and techniques – developed for practitioners by practitioners.
  • Immersing participants in a change simulation that mirrors the real world and features such classic difficulties as widespread resistance and tricky office politics.
  • Helping participants “decode” the human dimension of change.
  • Providing a road map for effective action.
  • Fostering true partnerships among the internal groups who have to collaborate in order to successfully execute change.
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