How Do You Bring About Real Time Strategic Change?

Jake Jacobs has been curious about why some organizations work and others don't since he began his consulting practice nearly 30 years ago. His pioneering work and lessons learned in the field of Large Group Interventions are captured in his classic book, "Real Time Strategic Change: How to Involve an Entire Organization in Fast and Far-Reaching Change." How to bring about organizational change is one of the chief challenges of my own consulting clients, so I sat down with Jake recently to get his take on how to be an effective change agent, and how to facilitate positive organizational change.

BJG: What do you mean when you say Real Time Strategic Change?

Jake Jacobs: Real Time Strategic Change (RTSC) is about living your future now. With RTSC we shrink the cycle time between planning and implementation. You don't spend weeks or months creating really good plans only to see them end up as another binder on the shelf. Don't get me wrong. I'm not against planning. The problem most of the time is in implementing those plans - actually following through and doing what you say you want to do. Putting out fires and having too much on people's plates always seem to get in the way of solid implementation.

With RTSC we avoid that problem entirely by having people begin creating their preferred future right away. You begin implementing parts of the plan as you continue to develop others.

Let me explain concretely. First you get clear where you want to go. Once you know what you want, there is a powerful RTSC principle called Real Time that leverages the tension between planning for your future AND thinking and acting as if your future were now. Get your plans in place and then challenge yourself. Ask the question: "What do I need to do to begin living my preferred future today, right here, right now?" Pick any situation, large or small. Get a picture of what better looks like. Not the perfect finished painting to hang in a gallery but a good rough sketch. Then grab any element of that sketch and begin living it now. When you do that, the line between "here" and "there" gets blurred and you'll end up enjoying the benefits of the future you prefer much sooner. Why wait when with Real Time Strategic Change you can begin realizing your preferred future today? Don't wait for the future to come to you. Create it for yourself today. Do it now!

BJG: When is it best to apply Real Time Strategic Change?

Jake: It's a great way forward in any situation where you need to engage people and have them align around shared goals. It works with all kinds of organizations and in many ways - in large group meetings, team sessions and in coaching individual leaders. What makes it powerful is that in all of these cases the focus is on creating desired results across the whole organization. This is important because if you lose that whole system view, you may end up working at cross-purposes with good people's efforts in another part of the organization.

For example we worked with an apparel retailer with thousands of employees to rapidly expand their operations in Europe. People got clear about a vision of the new organization, their roles in making that vision real, and the systems and processes needed to support them in doing their best work. RTSC helped them deliver on their growth and implementation milestones ahead of time, identified the need for and successfully launched a European Learning Centre in less than six months, and secured more funding from corporate to support their growth strategies.

But RTSC is not just for really big companies. It's for organizations that are up to really big things. Adams Street Publishing, a small media company with six regional publications and 17 employees has used the same process with the same principles and achieved the same kind of solid results.

Why are you passionate about Real Time Strategic Change? Tell me the story behind your interest in this issue.

Jake: I asked early on in my career how people could achieve their preferred futures faster and more sustainably. Figuring out the answers to these questions led me to create RTSC - a path for people to find their way forward to creating organizations that thrive. People can bring their best selves to work and have their unique talents and gifts leveraged for the greater good. It's so exciting to see an organization and the people in it claim their future. There is always a bigger and brighter tomorrow that is possible. Helping turn that possibility into reality is what gets me out of bed in the morning.

Can Real Time Strategic Change help not-for-profit groups and government entities, as well as corporations and businesses? Tell me more about that.

Jake: New York City was facing the prospect of becoming ground zero for a global epidemic of tuberculosis in the early 1990's. Incidence rates had doubled in the previous decade and increased 50% in the last five years - the trend data was scary. Five city agencies with no history of working well together needed to partner in ways they never had in order to succeed. They had a common and noble goal: to beat back what could be a potential pandemic of multi-drug resistant tuberculosis. The goal was clear. The path to get there wasn't.

We launched the effort with a 400-person interactive, roll-up-the-sleeves working session with representatives from each agency. People shared concerns about the risk of contracting TB, how they could get this job done in the face of tough odds, and their past track record of getting caught in "Us vs. Them" debates that led to frustration, blame and no positive outcomes. At the end of this event, all agencies had agreed on a Blueprint For TB Control that included common protocols for treatment, shared budgets, and a commitment to continue working together in new and better ways in the future. In the first year of this effort there was a 12% drop in TB cases in the City. RTSC is about both fast and sustained change. So where is the City today? Twenty years later there has been an 83% decrease year over year in TB incidence in the City. Now it's at the lowest levels since it was first reported in 1897. It's a shining example of what committed people and leaders can do when armed with the power of RTSC.

What does RTSC say about people who resist change? There're always plenty of those in every organization.

Lucky is the organization with lots of people resisting change. There are all kinds of names and descriptions for these folks - none complimentary. They're called "troublemakers," "people not buying in," "the ones not getting on board" and many more. But there is another way to view these so-called "problem people." I would argue that "troublemaking" is in the eye of the beholder. If I am curious about why you're not on board, I will learn important information. This shifts these people from being "problems in the way of progress" into smart friends who have strategic Information that will help cover our organization's blind spots.

What do you most want people to understand about Real Time Strategic Change?

The message I'd like to leave ringing in people's ears is that all things are possible. Fast and lasting change isn't a pipe dream.

Thanks, Jake. I appreciate you sharing your time, expertise, and insights with me, and I know my readers appreciate it, too.


Jake Jacobs is the President of Global Consulting Services at Polarity Partnerships. For more on Jake and his book, "Real Time Strategic Change," visit He is leading an RTSC Practicum of six weekly webinars beginning Thursday, September 4. Register at: