Real Time Strategic Change: How to Involve an Entire Organization in Fast and Far-Reaching Change

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Real time strategic change is a way of redesigning how organizations change-a mindset and accompanying methodology-that ensures that Change occurs at a fast pace and in real time throughout an organization. Change occurs simultaneously within the whole organization. Buy-in, commitment to, and ownership of a change effort is a natural by-product of involving people in the process of change. People feel responsible for the ultimate success of the organization's change effort. Broad, whole-picture views of the organization's reality form the basis of information used to support people in making changes. Change is viewed as an integral component of people's "real business." Substantial changes are made across an entire organization. The most successful organizations of the future will be those that are capable of rapidly and effectively bringing about fundamental, lasting, system-wide changes. In response to this challenge, Real Time Strategic Change advocates a fundamental redesign of the way organizations change. The result is an approach that involves an entire organization in fast and far-reaching change. Interactive large group meetings form the foundation for this approach, enabling hundreds and even thousands of people to collaborate in crafting their collective future. Change happens faster because the total organization is the "in group" that decides which changes are needed; and the actions people throughout the organization take on a daily basis are aligned behind an overall strategic direction that they helped create. Complete with conceptual frameworks, tools and techniques, agendas, and roles key actors need to play, this is the first book published on this powerful approach to organizational change. The process Robert Jacobs details has proven effective in diverse settings, ranging from business and industry to health care, education, government, non-profit agencies, and communities. Real Time Strategic Change demonstrates the flexibility and power of this approach in stories from such diverse organizations as Marriott Hotels, Ford Motor Company, Kaiser Permanente, First Nationwide Bank, United Airlines, and a group of 18 school districts.

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1 Why Common Approaches to Organizational Change Fall Short

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Most people consider fundamental, far-reaching and fast-paced organizational change to be a contradiction in terms, and basically impossible to make happen. Their past experience in a variety of change efforts reinforces this belief. Yet fundamental, far-reaching and fast-paced change is something that most organizations would benefit from and many need to achieve.

The factors driving this need are changing market forces, increasing customer demands for quality and service, the introduction of new technologies, and people’s desire for a greater say in shaping their own and their organization’s daily operations and future direction. “Business as usual” is no longer a viable response. Large multinational corporations and small local volunteer organizations alike are being forced to rethink basic assumptions governing their strategies, the way they organize themselves, their work processes and support systems, workforce composition and competencies, and their culture. Said another way, an organization’s capacity to change is a key factor in its short and longer term success. The most successful organizations of the future will be those that are capable of rapidly and effectively bringing about fundamental, lasting, system-wide changes.

 

2 The Power and Possibilities of Real Time Strategic Change

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Real time strategic change defines an overall process, accompanying technology, and the type of results organizations achieve by engaging in the process and applying the technology. First as an overall process, it outlines a complete approach to the business of change, including the specific phases involved and the various roles required. Second as a technology, it provides a method—a set of principle-based practices and processes—that is employed in different ways at different phases of a change effort. Third and finally, real time strategic change defines the results achieved—fundamental, far-reaching and fast-paced change.

Several years ago, my colleagues and I came to call the methods underlying this unique approach a technology. According to Webster’s dictionary, technology is defined as systematic knowledge gained through experience. This definition accurately captures the essence of this work. We have effectively deployed this systematic knowledge gained through experience around different parts of the world and in a wide variety of organizations. Over time, even we have been surprised by the flexibility, rigor, robustness, and power of the technology. Specific roles, methods, and models exist for leaders, consultants, people planning these sessions, and those responsible for myriad logistical details that are part and parcel of bringing together large groups of people for interactive meetings. Strategic options to further support change are unlimited, while unique applications of the technology enable organizations to customize its use to meet their particular needs.

 

3 Commonly-Asked Questions About Real Time Strategic Change

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This section of the book answers a handful of the most commonly asked questions people have about this powerful approach. These questions, culled from experiences of working in a wide variety of organizations, represent a composite list of initial inquiries people typically make as they explore applying the technology in their own organization. There are two responses to each question. The initial responses represent first-hand accounts by leaders; these are supplemented with my own perspective in the plain text which follows.

“There are a lot of bright people ready to articulate ideas to make METRO or any organization better at what it does,” says Dan Linville, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587, who was involved with a culture change process at METRO, an agency responsible for the Seattle, Washington area’s water pollution control and public transit needs. He describes his perspective of potential payoffs from using this approach to bring about change: “Getting all these people together at one place and at one time gives you a lot better shot at finding new solutions to old problems.”

 

4 Day 1: Building a Common Database of Strategic Information

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Imagine this: you enter a large room. It could be the Grand Ballroom of a local hotel, a conference center, sports arena, or even a high school cafeteria during summer break (and we have held events in all these locations!). It is teeming with 600 people. A podium and microphone are situated along one wall of the room. As many as eighty round tables fill the room, and small groups of friends and colleagues are clustered between them. Break tables are set with coffee and a light breakfast spread. Flip charts stand at attention around the perimeter of the room—more of them than you may have ever seen in the same place at the same time in your life. Packets of materials including the event’s purpose and agenda await you at your table, which is populated with people you may never have met before, even though you have worked together in the same organization for years. This, you learn, is your “max-mix” table (short for “maximum mix”), a diverse collection of individuals from different levels and functions throughout your organization with unique perspectives and experiences you will increasingly come to understand and appreciate as the event progresses. There is one piece of paper face up on the table at your seat. This is what you see:

 

5 Day 2: Discovering the Future in Diverse Perspectives

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Day 2 begins in your max-mix group with one of the consultants giving feedback on the Evaluations, including exact words from a representative cross-section of them. Listening to the summary, you are able to compare your experience to others’ and gauge where the total group left off yesterday. Even the negative comments are read out loud with the group’s reaction showing how counter-cultural it can be to tell the truth in your organization. After the summary, the consultant briefly reviews the purpose of the event and the Day 2 Agenda.

“I went into the event in my organization thinking I needed to change the people who reported to me,” begins Norm Collins, vice president of Boeing’s computer support group. “I left the event believing I needed to change myself … I was quite surprised when I learned from the evaluations after the first day of our session that my people were not comfortable asking me questions directly for fear of retribution. The questions they had wanted to ask me, but didn’t feel free to, didn’t even seem that profound. They were telling me that they were afraid, and for the first time then, maybe we had some kind of hope that we could really work together. When I looked at my own patterns, I could see that I was just playing out the role of a company manager. In that role I always had to know all the answers because it wasn’t okay to even look like you didn’t know. I now ask myself, ‘Why am I doing this? Am I justified in taking this position? Is it fair to the other people involved?’ Just a few years ago, I’d have said, ‘I don’t care if they like it or not. That’s the way it’s going to be in my organization.’ The next two days of that first event were different—people were more comfortable voicing their own opinion, even when it was different than mine. The last few years around here since then have been more of the same.”

 

6 Day 3: Creating Commitments and Action Plans That Make a Real Difference

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You and others enter the Grand Ballroom for Day 3 of your event, eager to hear how your leaders have integrated the thinking of 600 with their own. You think this is no small task as you head towards your max-mix table. There you find the revised strategy document waiting for you. You scan through the changes made to yesterday’s version, which are highlighted in bold type. One of the consultants finishes reviewing the Feedback on Evaluations and Agenda saying, “For those of you who’ve been saying, ‘Let’s get to the action planning,’ this is your day. But before we do that, let’s make sure we all understand and agree with the overall strategy for the future.”

In the next module, Response from the Leadership Group: Finalized Strategy, you listen to your leaders describe the process they used to integrate the mountain of recommendations they received. One by one they cover each element of the strategy and what they heard people recommend for that particular element. Then they explain what changed based on the feedback and the rationale for not changing certain elements. The general feeling at the tables is that your voices have been heard in the process, even though the leaders did not make all of the changes recommended by the total group.

 

7 The Working Model Behind the Magic

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“I think these events have a touch of magic in them,” says Asma Ma’ani, director of human resources and training for the Marriott Hotel in Amman, Jordan. “I’m not sure exactly what it is, but I’ve seen participants leave these large group events in Cairo, Amman, and throughout Europe excited and motivated about having some influence over their destiny. Only very slight changes were required for the different cultures. I think people always wanted to participate. This process just gave them opportunities to do so they’d never had before.”

The three-day event described in the previous chapters is an illustration of the real time strategic change technology. However, for some time I have been exploring why specific applications of the technology have proven effective in such diverse settings. How could large, bureaucratic organizations begin changing so significantly in such small windows of time? How could individuals, departments, even entire functions at war for years suddenly redirect their battle cries and begin forging partnerships for the future? How could these same people shackled by out-moded business practices transform their organizations and work processes, whether they were improving customer service in a Hong Kong hotel or building higher quality cars in Detroit? What could explain the many places, ways, and speed with which these system-wide changes unfolded in organizations deploying the technology? These changes seemed so numerous and diverse, yet aligned, that some set of forces had to be at work. What was the secret, I wondered, searching for the words, phrases or concepts that could explain what I already knew at a gut level.

 

8 A Step-by-Step Guide to Real Time Strategic Change

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For years now, organizational trainers and consultants of one sort or another have targeted groups of fifteen to twenty-five people as the focus of their work. Good ones think through the implications their interventions have on the rest of the system in which they are working; however, with such small groups of people coming on board at a time, systemic influence from this work is minimal and slow to spread. The exact opposite occurs in a change effort based on the real time strategic change technology: systemic implications stretch across entire organizations, occurring in rapid-fire fashion.

The large group events—and the work preceding and following them—add a level of complexity to the change process that, while necessary, can be very demanding. This necessity is based on the principle of dealing with all major issues simultaneously, in a true systems approach that addresses parts only in the context of the whole. Consequently, throughout a real time strategic change process, there is an intention to work all the salient issues, involve the right people at the right stages, apply the most appropriate methods, and eventually decide upon, define, and implement changes that optimize the impact on the whole system.

 

9 Unique Paths for Unique Organizations: Five Stories of Real Time Strategic Change

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The real time strategic change technology is a powerful means for launching all kinds of change efforts in all manner of organizations. In Part II, Moving Further into the Future, Faster, I outlined an example three–day strategy development and implementation event. I also explored the working model and presented a roadmap for effectively applying this technology. This chapter describes five specific real time strategic change efforts, each one representing a customized application of the technology. These stories by no means represent the universe of possible applications. Instead, they are intended to stimulate your thinking about the issues and opportunities facing your own organization, and the potential ways in which the real time strategic change technology could support you in moving into your own organization’s future, faster.

Ken Freeman, president and CEO of Corning–Asahi Video, the largest U.S. supplier of color television glass, opens the chapter with his story of how the real time strategic change technology enabled 1,200 people to save a business for Corning and jobs for themselves. The second, told by Rick Goldstein, vice president of Marriott’s Hotels, Resorts, and Suites division, describes how the technology was used to support a worldwide assault on quality by the company’s 100,000 associates. Next Ben Chu, a senior vice president in New York City’s Health and Hospitals Corporation, relates how the large group events that form the cornerstone of the real time strategic change technology have accelerated the implementation of a managed care mode of practice throughout his system. This required adopting a patient–centered approach in everything from marketing to appointment scheduling systems. Continuing on this journey we hear from Dick Sandaas, the executive director of METRO, a public agency responsible for water pollution control and transportation in King County, Washington. Dick and 4,000 METRO employees used the real time strategic change technology to directly address some long–standing cultural diversity issues in systemic ways. He believes that using this approach had much more impact than traditional diversity awareness training techniques. The chapter closes with Tom Elliott, deputy superintendent of the St. Lawrence–Lewis Board of Cooperative Educational Services. He recounts how he and others brought together 450 people drawn from across communities in eighteen rural school districts in upstate New York to begin crafting a new role for public educators as partners with businesses, colleges, universities, parents, students, and the communities they serve.

 

10 How to Use the Technology to Your Advantage

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“Even as you get started in the very beginning, I think it’s critical that you ask yourself ‘What has to be in place in my organization six months from now to really capitalize on the opportunities that will be available from using this approach?’” cautions MaryAnn Holohean, a vice president with the Fund for the City of New York. She offers her advice on getting started with this technology in your organization. “You need to push far into the future in your thinking and identify implications for implementation of choices you’re making today. In a lot of ways this kind of thinking cuts to the core of making lasting changes in any organization.”

At this point, you may be feeling excited, enthusiastic, and ready to launch a real time strategic change process in your organization. Perhaps you have been intrigued by the concepts and applications you have read about, but feel uncertain about how the real time strategic change technology could apply to your organization’s particular mix of challenges and opportunities. Or you may still be feeling skeptical about this approach to supporting change efforts.

 

11 Designing Your Real Time Strategic Change Event

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This chapter focuses on the process of designing an interactive large group event. Although the prospect of these events captures most people’s attention and sometimes awe, it takes good designing, planning, and consulting to ensure their success. This chapter takes a behind the scenes look at who designs these events and why, how decisions are made about which activities occur when, and what happens when you need to deviate from your original plan.

Consistent with the principles underlying the technology, each real time strategic change event is planned by a design team comprised of a microcosm of those people who will actually attend the event and a team of consultants with experience in applying the technology. As consultants, we work collaboratively with this group to determine the purpose and agenda for each event. The design team uses a consensus process to figure out what needs to be discussed, how it should be discussed, and when it should be discussed to achieve the purpose. In short, everyone must agree—a sometimes difficult standard, but one that is essential. In this design phase, consultants provide expertise in the real time strategic change technology, while line managers, front-line workers, and leaders focus on the organization, its issues and their hopes for the future.

 

12 Who Does What to Support Successful Real Time Strategic Change

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Participants, leaders, design teams, consultants, logistics team members, and outside presenters each have specific roles in creating a successful real time strategic change process. The purpose of this chapter is to clearly define these roles so that you:

1. Understand their context within the events and in the whole change process.

2. Are able to more concretely think through the implications of a real time strategic change approach for you and your organization.

3. Can begin preparing yourself and others in your organization to engage in this process.

“I’ve found it exciting as hell to be able to say exactly what I think in these meetings, even if it goes against what used to be the corporate grain,” says Jim Barker, a lead mechanic in 767 plane overhaul for United Airlines, who has been involved in several real time strategic change events aimed at designing a brand new maintenance facility and accompanying work processes. He shares his views on being a participant in these large group meetings. “I’ve had my share of frustrations with the old ways and see these get-togethers as a quantum leap forward. The way I think about it, we’ve been able to start holding hands instead of holding weapons. The more people see and understand the big picture of where we’re headed, the more inroads I’ve seen being made. People start thinking, ‘Maybe it doesn’t have to be status quo forever.’ I’ve gotten some new ideas in these meetings and even seen the light go on in some people who used to just be head-bobbers—the people who talked a good game but never played one. We’ve got a completely 180-degree different approach to this new facility and how we’ll work in it because of these meetings and what we’ve learned in them.”

 

13 Keeping the Fires Burning, Once You Have Them Lit

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The real time strategic change process unleashes extraordinary energy and optimism, with significant dividends realized as a result. People see a future they prefer and they claim it for themselves and for their organization. A critical mass of people within the organization develops a new paradigm. They believe that they can bring about fundamental, system-wide changes in a shorter period of time than they previously thought possible. With the dissatisfaction discussed, vision created, and first steps in place changes begin to take hold across the organization. Back in the workplace, people are not alone in making these changes, but are surrounded and supported by hundreds of like-minded and like-motivated partners collaborating to create their collective future.

However, whatever magic occurs during a real time strategic change event is not enough to sustain a system-wide change effort. This technology is not a magic elixir about which you can say, “My organization has had its two real time strategic change events. Let’s check in and see how successful things are in six months’ time.” Although it may seem preposterous to adopt such an attitude, it is not outlandish when you stop to think of how many other change efforts have followed a similar story line. Unfortunately, too many organizations expect people to keep the fires of change burning by giving them a small supply of flint, some twigs, a few dry logs, a rough indication of where the forest is and sending them off to make change happen with an inspiring, “Good luck, we’re counting on you!”

 

14 Three Paths to Realizing the Full Potential of This New Paradigm

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The real time strategic change approach described in this book has proven to be effective in addressing a wide range of issues for organizations around the world. However, even given this substantial impact, I am convinced that we have only begun to scratch the surface of its ultimate potential. Three separate paths need to be pursued simultaneously to realize the full potential of this new paradigm: application, innovation, and collaboration. Each path is different, yet essential in continuing this pursuit. Fundamental, far-reaching, and fast-paced change is a realistic, achievable result for organizations committed to a real time strategic effort. This new world view breaks through existing barriers, thereby enabling organizations to change as whole systems.

The three paths of application, innovation, and collaboration have always been inextricably linked to how the real time strategic change approach was invented and how it has evolved over time. Each serves as a catalyst for the others. The application of team-based action research, or learning-by-doing, has led to innovations in the technology. Innovations in the technology have, in turn, paved the way for new applications.

 

Appendix

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Ackoff, R. L. “The Corporate Rain Dance.” In The Wharton Magazine, pp. 36-41, p. 38. Philadelphia: The Wharton School, 1977.

Argyris, C. “Double Loop Learning in Organizations.” Harvard Business Review, pp. 115-125. Boston: President and Fellows of Harvard College, 1977.

Beckhard, R. and Harris, R. Organizational Transitions. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1987.

Bridges, W. “Managing Organizational Transitions.” In Organization Dynamics, pp. 24-33. New York: American Management Association.

Burns, J.M. Leadership. New York: Harper & Row, 1978.

Carlzon, J. Moments of Truth. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.

Dannemiller, K. D. “Team Building at a Macro Level, or ‘Ben Gay’ for Arthritic Organizations.” In Team Building: Blueprints for Productivity and Satisfaction, edited by W. B. Reddy with K. Jamison, Alexandria, VA: NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Sciences, 1988.

Davis, S. M. Future Perfect. Reading, MA: Addison-Wesley, 1987.

Drucker, P. F. Management: Tasks, Responsibilities, Practices, New York: Harper & Row, 1974.

 

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