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7 Ways to Make Big Change Quick and Permanent

Big change can be disruptive yet beneficial and often necessary. Change expert Robert "Jake" Jacobs shares his tips on how to create real and lasting change.
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Some leaders thrive on constant change; others abhor it. In either case, the people most affected are the employees who have to adapt.

I have always been a huge fan of Robert "Jake" Jacobs's work on the subject of fast and lasting change.  His system, "Real Time Strategic Change," has helped companies big and small to make real and lasting positive change.

For example, Real Time Strategic Change has been used by:

  • AT&T to become competitive after deregulation.
  • The Home Depot to help the front line become customer friendly.
  • TJ Maxx to support their growth strategy of rapid expansion into Europe.
  • Stanley Black & Decker executives to become a real team and break down silos.

Jacobs runs powerful seminars: He once facilitated a three-day 1,000-person meeting on the floor of the New Orleans Superdome for Mobil's Gulf of Mexico business unit.  Imagine 125 table groups of 8 people, all focused on generating ideas and commitments to save their business. Due to Jacob's work they created a $250 million turnaround to the bottom line in only 18 months.

Jacobs, who runs a free webinar about making change, explains that the principle of "Real Time" is about accelerating results with sustainable change. Shrinking the time between planning and implementation means that you have to begin living your future today while at the same time planning for it.

This means that Real Time Strategic Change acts as a turbo-charger for work you already have underway and with models and tools that you are already using. It supplements what you are doing and how you are doing it instead of requiring you to starting from scratch, as many change approaches require. Change is more easily implemented and is more likely to stick when you can work with tools you already have. Make any part of your preferred future real today and you've just done good Real Time Strategic Change work.

If you need fast and lasting change to help your team, here are seven tips from Jacobs.

1. Start anywhere, be willing to go everywhere.

Change work is about energy. Find it. Follow it. Leverage it for the greater good. Many change approaches require you to move through a series of pre-determined steps. Jacobs says begin where people want to do the work. He once ran a problem-solving meeting of 80 people in a company of 10,000 that had just undergone layoffs. This was hardly a starting point for corporate transformation. Most consultants would politely decline and look for a more promising project. But Jacobs readily agreed. The CEO was amazed at how productive 80 people were who had just survived traumatic circumstances.

2. Listen to the "troublemakers."

On the surface,energy seems positive or negative. So-called resisters are seen as bringing bad juju to the work. In Jacobs' other book You Don't Have To Do It Alone: How To Involve Others to Get Things Done, he argues that troublemaking is in the eye of the beholder. Contrarians often seem to be throwing up roadblocks to the important work. But these problem people, Jacobs maintains, see things others don't. Think of them as protecting you from your blind spots. Instead of shutting down those who aren't getting on board, Jacobs suggests asking, "Could you say more?" You might be surprised what you uncover.

3. Engage people's heads, hands and hearts.

Jacobs sees people as whole beings with complex sets of needs, wants, hopes and fears. The work is about engaging all of these aspects of a person. Organizations and the people in them have limitless potential. The key is figuring out how people can work better together to achieve common goals. This is simple to say but much harder to pull off consistently as a way of doing business. People yearn to be part of something larger than themselves. Create opportunities for people to contribute in meaningful ways and to make positive contributions to the greater good.

4. Pay attention to both leadership and followership.

Change experts focused largely on leaders in the past.  Now, the focus is shifting to followership. Change requires individuals to provide leadership for the effort to succeed;  Some come from the traditional hierarchy, while others are informal influencers in the organization. Both types need to be to set up for success by developing the new skills, knowledge and experiences needed to lead in the preferred future.

Followership plays an equally important role.  Formal leaders can become the best followers as others in the organization take on leadership roles. Who is leading and who is following is sometimes tough to discern. What's important is progress toward your preferred future by whatever means are necessary--and by whatever leadership and followership can be provided.

5. Always be results-driven.

Real Time Strategic Change is about getting real work done well, and embedding better ways of doing business in daily activity, all in the name of achieving agreed purpose and results. Often people live in an incremental world. Why they are engaged in a change effort and the needed deliverables can become fuzzy as work progresses. With Jacobs' Real Time Strategic Change process these needed results remain a "north star," guiding decisions and actions throughout the effort.

6. Work on many fronts at once.

Creating fast and lasting change is not a linear process. In a best-case scenario a step 1, step 2, step 3 approach gets you incremental change. Worst case? People think you're following a cookbook instead of leading your organization. Don't assume Jacobs is not a fan of structure; he finds it helpful. I love his quote, " Structure gives you something to deviate from." When implementing the Real Time Strategic Change process, you look for any opportunities to advance down the field. More channels of work mean better odds for success. When working on many fronts at once, a team's progress, your own learning to lead in changing times, and embedding even just one new way of doing business in your organization are all worthy goals. Go after all of those and more to create fast and lasting change.

7. Bet that people care about winning.

Every win gives you the time money, energy and political capital to achieve your next round of investments. When you begin a change effort people often talk about "low hanging fruit." Early wins are not always the easiest wins. They're the wins that matter the most that you need to achieve quickly. These deliverables increase the "believability index" for people. What results will grab people's attention? Be strategic. Make the changes relevant to your organization.

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Last updated: Jul 1, 2014

KEVIN DAUM | Columnist

An Inc. 500 entrepreneur with a more than $1 billion sales and marketing track record, Kevin Daum is the best-selling author of Video Marketing for Dummies and the executive producer of Amilya! on 77WABC New York.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.



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