Tipping Point Leadership - How to Break the Performance-Cost Trade-off

Police chief Bill Bratton is credited with transforming the US’s most dangerous city – New York – into its safest. But this was not Bratton’s first turnaround success. During his 20 years as a policy reformer, Bratton led dramatic turnarounds of Boston’s police department and its transit authority, as well as New York City’s transit authority; successes that were even more noteworthy given that in each case, time and money were scarce. In this HBR article, Professors Kim and Mauborgne explain the secrets to Bratton’s success and show how similar results can be realized by understanding the strategy of Tipping Point Leadership, which allows companies to break the performance-cost trade-off in turning around their organizations.

by Chan Kim, Renée Mauborgne
Last Updated: 23 Jul 2013

The statistics are impressive: between 1994 and 1996 in New York City, overall crime fell by 17%, felony crime fell by 39%, murders fell by 50%, and there were 200,000 fewer victims a year than in 1990. This dramatic turnaround is attributed to police chief Bill Bratton, who, by the time he joined the NYPD, already had 20 years experience in turning around public institutions with few resources at his disposal.

In studying Bratton’s leadership style, W. Chan Kim, the Boston Consulting Group Bruce D. Henderson Chair Professor of International Management and Renée Mauborgne, Distinguished Fellow and Affiliate Professor of Strategy and Management, both at INSEAD, found that all of Bratton’s turnarounds are textbook examples of what they call Tipping Point Leadership.

The theory of tipping points, which has its roots in epidemiology, hinges on the insight that in any organization, once the beliefs and energies of a critical mass of people are engaged, conversion to a new idea will spread like an epidemic, bringing about fundamental change very quickly and at low cost.

The authors say that leaders like Bill Bratton use a four-step process to bring about rapid, dramatic and lasting change:<UL> <LI>Break through the cognitive hurdle – put managers face-to-face with problems and customers; find new ways to communicate.

<LI>Sidestep the resource hurdle – focus on the hot spots and bargain with partner organizations.

<LI>Jump the motivational hurdle – motivate key influencers, persuasive people with multiple connections.

<LI>Knock over the political hurdle – identify and silence key naysayers early by building coalitions with powerful allies and putting a respected senior insider on your top team to know where all the mine fields are.</UL>

Harvard Business Review, April 2003

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