Summary: Leverage Change By Robert W. Jake Jacobs
Summary: Leverage Change By Robert W. Jake Jacobs

Summary: Leverage Change By Robert W. Jake Jacobs

1: Pay Attention to Continuity

A Common Problem: There’s Too Much Change

Solution: Pay Attention to Continuity

A major reason most change work falls short is that you’re dealing with only half of reality. Whether people realize it consciously or not, they know there’s something wrong with this picture. You’re clapping with only one hand. What about a rousing chorus for a “case for continuity,” highlighting all those things from the past and present that need to be part of your organization’s successful future? The firmer the ground people stand on, the more able they are to push off in their leap into an uncertain future. Radical continuity makes radical change possible. Welcome to the world of paradoxical change. If you want change, don’t (just) go after change. Remember and celebrate the importance of continuity, and you’ll be well on your way to achieving successful change.

You have to see change for what it is—half the equation. Going after change to create more change … will create less. You’ll build your own resistance. People getting in the way of your grand change efforts have made your job harder since day 1, putting up roadblocks that slow your best efforts. Maybe it’s you who’s had it wrong all along.

Once you see change paradoxically, you can never see it another way again. Leverage is not found in pushing harder, arguing louder, or holding on to your position longer. There’s a new set of rules to follow. Seek out the old guard and have them tell you stories of the good old days. Let go of your beliefs about these folks being past their expiration date, out of touch, and behind the times. Assume instead that they are your best friends, bringing nuggets of wisdom to the table—nuggets you would have stumbled past on your way to a bigger and brighter future.

To make this lever work for you, you have to sincerely bring this belief on board. People will know if you’re faking it. We all have internal BS radar. Make a commitment to see the world differently. Give yourself a challenge. See whether you can identify the wisdom being shared in the resistance you’re hearing. Learn to say, “Could you say more?” to encourage so-called resisters to feel safe enough to share the mother lode of insight they possess. Trust them, and they will begin to trust you.


2: Think and Act as If the Future Were Now!

A Common Problem: Change Takes Too Long

Solution: Think and Act as If the Future Were Now!

Make a different choice, a better one for you and your organization. Deploy the lever Think and Act as If the Future Were Now! Don’t separate the future from the present. Think and act as if it were happening today. Make the line between the present and the future blurry on purpose

None of this works if you don’t believe it will. People can tell when you’re only partially invested or doubting what you’re asking them to believe. You need to be the one leading the charge to see and be different in the world. Once you start thinking this way, you’ll never not do it again. You’ll find yourself walking the halls of your organization, sitting in meetings, or having casual conversations and see opportunities to Think and Act as if the Future Were Now! Maybe you already approach change this way. If so, you’ll have an easy job of it. If, by contrast, your own “believability index” is low and this seems like a bunch of hooey, play along for a day, week, or month. Stretch your timeline as you prove to yourself the value of this new worldview. Change doesn’t have to take ages. You and others can create it, right now.

This lever makes the future happen faster. Therefore, it’s essential to have the future you are envisioning be a successful one for your organization. Make sure it’s one that you want. You’ll be experiencing it faster than you believed possible. With the wrong future, you run the risk of rapidly and effectively failing. You don’t want to go down a path of wasted time, money, energy, and other resources. Create a future that people want to call their own, and you’re on a near-certain positive path. Having a picture of success in mind will help you take full advantage of this lever.


3: Design It Yourself

A Common Problem: People Reject Your Change Approach Because It’s “Not Invented Here”

Solution: Design It Yourself

The Design It Yourself lever takes this resistance off the table, immediately and completely. No one can complain that the organization has directly imported someone else’s answer to their problem, whether it’s a fine fit or not. This lever doesn’t preclude you from using best practices. It warns you against adopting approaches without considering how suitable they are to your organization’s culture, strengths, and weaknesses. You need to define the unique purpose, outcomes, and road map for your change work. Even when actual changes are predetermined, the more control that people in an organization have over how those changes will be made, the less resistance you will encounter.

It’s better not to engage the organization at all than for leaders to begin with false promises about the influence people will have and then pull the rug out from under them partway through their work. Set initial boundaries about what is fair game and what’s off-limits. Much time typically gets spent considering leaders’ expectations of the organization. It’s equally important for the organization’s expectations of senior executives to be clarified. Consider the knowledge, skills, and abilities people will require to provide the leadership needed for the effort to succeed. In some cases, these may already be in place. In others, they’ll need to be developed or to be brought into the organization. Next, think about the best people to serve on a design team. This group of people responsible for guiding your change work is a microcosm of the organization. Bring cynics, zealots, and everyone in between to the team.

Ensuring diversity of thought is critical. There is no magic number.

When you study past practices, you’ll gain valuable insights that will help you create faster, easier, better results this time around. Invite some who were directly involved in these past efforts to join your design team. Have them tell stories. Distill the lessons they learned. Secrets for addressing today’s challenges can be found in yesterday’s successes and failures. Take the time needed to understand not only what happened but also why. Look for clues beyond the obvious. Don’t be satisfied with a cursory look back.


4: Create a Common Database

A Common Problem: People Don’t Know Enough to Make Good Decisions

Solution: Create a Common Database

The Create a Common Database lever is the remedy to these problems of people not knowing enough to make good decisions. Named by my mentor Kathie Dannemiller, it busts the paradigm in which information represents power for a few. Those advocating sharing information on a “need to know” basis have not always been far off the mark. It’s just that their definition of who needs to know has woefully undercounted those in need of strategic information. This lever argues that we should err on the side of disclosing more information to more people. Challenges posed by a hierarchy, a matrix, or demanding customer needs are no match for an organization focused on a free flow of information up, down, and across. This lever also acknowledges the importance of inquiring minds that dig deeper for understanding and of people who advocate for their point of view. Both of these approaches lead to more data being available to the entire organization.

Understanding how and why the organization operates as it does is just as important as having your finger on the pulse of the external environment. You never know what could accelerate or derail your change work. Are there other internal initiatives occurring that need to be connected to yours? What about what’s happening in the rapidly changing world around you? The learning you do is only as good as the information you’re basing it on. Continue looking for clues, especially after you think you have a handle on your situation. Know there are inevitable surprises in your future. Don’t be caught off guard.

Most organizations favor facts over feelings. Facts are objective. You can measure and track them. They’re an essential piece of an organization’s puzzle. Yet alone they are not enough. How people feel about things matters too. Harder to count or tabulate to be sure. It’s the subjective realm, but equally valid. Are people excited about changes you’re making—or afraid of them? Are they confident or concerned? People’s energy, their discretionary effort, is governed by the soft side of the measuring stick. Don’t find yourself favoring facts or feelings over the other. They both count.


5: Start with Impact, Follow the Energy

A Common Problem: All Change Efforts Must Begin from the Top

Solution: Start with Impact, Follow the Energy

Rather than following the rule of starting at the top, let’s begin with a question: What is going to help the organization move toward its preferred future, faster? Maybe it is starting at the top

But if that’s your only way forward, you’re missing opportunities that may be a better fit for your situation. Don’t lock yourself into a one-size-fits-all mindset. Requiring senior leaders to be fully committed and to point the way from the start can stop your change effort before it’s even begun.

There are also choices about how to proceed once you’ve started. Most common is the cascade approach, where each level in the organization follows its leaders. Then the group that has just followed, leads its followers. And so on. This model is based on the premise that one has to be converted oneself before converting others.

To follow the flow of energy in your organization, you need to know where the energy exists. Understand what’s happening at levels above and below you. This means that people have to be straight with you, and you need to be honest in return. Have authentic conversations with others about your own hopes and fears. “Good soldiers” will tell you what they think you want to hear. Good insights don’t come from bad data. Make sure people feel safe talking to you—especially in the difficult conversations. Take time to understand the real reasons that people feel the way they do. As you listen, also test hypotheses about why things are the way they are. Soon you’ll be able to predict how people will answer your questions because you’ve listened carefully to their colleagues. That’s when you’ll know you’ve got a good read of what’s happening in the organization.


6: Develop a Future People Want to Call Their Own

A Common Problem: So Many Ask “What’s in It for Me?”

Solution: Develop a Future People Want to Call Their Own

The lever Develop a Future People Want to Call Their Own leads people to feel proud of the future they are creating. Each person needs to see the value of a new future for them personally. The goal is to create something that works for the entire organization and each business unit, division, function, team, and individual. It’s a tall order, but one worth striving to achieve. This is about getting to the most workable answer for all. It doesn’t mean that everyone is going to get everything they want. Reality is unavoidable. Some people’s future may not reside with your organization. Treat these people with the same respect and care reserved for those who will be staying. In any case, without a picture of where you’re headed that people are excited to claim as their own, you’re going to have a tough time getting anywhere.

The first step in understanding your collaborators’ desires is to identify your partners in creation. Once someone thinks they are a member of this team, they just became one. To qualify, they need only have a stake in the work you are doing. It’s easier to develop a future that people want to call their own if you keep those crafting it to a minimum. It’s also quicker. But easier and quicker are not always better. Think bigger. Sometimes these folks may be obvious to identify. Make a first-draft list. Talk to them. Ask them who else might need to be included in the conversation about your collective future, and invite them too.

Creating this future is not all on you. It can’t be. You don’t have all the answers. How you ask others to participate can be the difference between welcoming new partners on board or being forced to go it alone. The kind of community you help create with these stakeholders now will foster the kind of relationships you have with them later. Be authentic. Speak your truth and invite them to speak theirs. Do so in ways that welcome them as valuable members of the team, and soon they’ll become critical players in a future you all want to call your own.


7: Find Opportunities for People to Make a Meaningful Difference

Common Problem: People Get to Do Only the Routine Work of Their Regular Job

Solution: Find Opportunities for People to Make a Meaningful Difference

The work of Leverage Change comes with new rules. We are no longer talking about doing what we have always done. It’s time to begin exploring new, different, and even better ways of working that offer ready opportunities for people to make their mark. Look for ways to engage others in the meaningful tasks of building a new and better future. Change can be overwhelming for some. They can feel as though they’re losing control. The future can be an unpredictable place … unless you’re in the thick of creating it.

Leaders and organizations have their own ways of best engaging people meaningfully in change work. The reasons for these preferences can be sorted into one or more of the following three groups: past practice (This is the way we’ve always done things around here); current competence (We know how to do things this way); future success (This will be the easiest way to get the job done). All good reasons to consider. However, a great way for people to experience making a difference in your change work is an important one missing from the list: what people in your organization experience as the best way for them to make a profound difference in change work.

The when, what, and how of change work are not decisions for you to make alone. What other players think counts. They will give you wise counsel from which to arrive at your decisions. How you choose who makes a decision can be as important as what you decide. Patterns you establish now set expectations for the future. Not all stakeholders may agree with one another on how to best collaborate at any point in time. Try having them talk to one another about their desires and concerns. They often don’t know what others are thinking about control and influence. Having the conversation itself is a form of making a difference in the bigger picture, and that’s a solid start. You may also be surprised. Asking people what they want may lead to answers that are different than you expected. You’ll never know if you don’t ask.


8: Make Change Work Part of Daily Work

Common Problem: People’s Plates Are Already Full

Solution: Make Change Work Part of Daily Work

Take a journey on the road less traveled. What about all those changes you can make without needing a formal program to support them? That’s what this lever is all about. Create a new reality. One you want to—and can—live in. This lever is as much about your mindset as it is about your behavior. Change one and you’ll change the other. Part of this approach is a variation on what the Japanese call kaizen, “improvement.” Everyone from the CEO to frontline workers makes small improvements on a continuous basis. Small improvements add up to big changes.

If you don’t get buy-in on this factor, you will have failed very early on in your efforts. It’s the core of the entire lever. You can’t assume that change is someone else’s business. It’s everyone’s responsibility. It needs to be included in everyone’s job description and in all team charters. New hires need to understand the kind of organization they’re joining. People have to first define for themselves the kinds of changes they believe they can best make. Then they need to gain agreement with their colleagues and whom they report to so that they can define their span of control. Just as alignment in goals is required, alignment in roles is necessary for this lever to be optimized.

When people are making changes on many fronts at once, it’s essential that improvements are aligned around common goals. Imagine the mischief created with multiple changes made simultaneously, but working at cross-purposes. First, proposed strategies need to position the organization for winning now and into the future. Second, people need to understand the goals. If people don’t understand them, they are left to wonder why they’re doing what they’re doing. This is confusing at best and demotivating at worst. Third, people have to have confidence in the goals. They need to believe that the goals will get them where they need to go.