Coaching for Rapid Change

Motivate People to Take Immediate Action

Focus on the smallest difference in behavior that makes the biggest difference in the result.

We start a lot of change efforts but we never finish them. It takes too long. It becomes too difficult. And we usually don't have the patience to wait months for things to start to change. Besides, in the end, we have the same meeting every week!

These thoughts may cross more than a few people’s minds as they endure yet another pointless meeting while silently worrying about the real work that awaits them outside the conference room doors. One manager summed it up this way, “I’m sick of hearing about plans. I want to know what my people are doing!”

Today, people had better be doing more than just something. The pace at which the business market moves requires people to take actions that make a positive difference for their business, and they need to make them now. Coaching for Rapid Change™ does exactly that. Based on the behavioral principle of reinforcing incremental steps toward ongoing improvement, the coaching for rapid change process focuses on getting improvement plans started and tweaking those plans along the way, as needed or as is required. It all starts with one question: What am I trying to accomplish? “The first step is to have people describe their coaching plan in a minute or less,” says Joe Laipple, behavior change specialist. “We’re not aiming for world peace here and we don’t want a plan that takes six months to implement and benefit from. We don’t want to talk only about what people are planning to work on. This approach involves a brief, but deliberate plan to take action on Monday, or the next day, or later that same day!” The response to the accomplishment question needs to include three elements:

  • What is the desired business, financial, customer-related, or productivity result?
  • What is the customer response you are looking for, whether that customer is internal or external?
  • What is one important behavior that you think will help you make a change?

In companies ranging from manufacturing to pharmaceutical sales, managers and coaches have called this process “powerful” and “amazingly impactful.” Small changes quickly add up to big results which creates an equation of positive, immediate change reinforced by positive, immediate consequences. Every few days, weeks, or once a month, managers and coaches convene via a telephone conference or in a meeting room for a rapid report out during which they each share a two-minute synopsis of what is happening in their area. Specifically, they address: What are they doing today, this week, this month that they weren’t doing before? How is this working/or not working? Are they getting different customer responses or results?

While each manager is reporting out, the other participants are required to write down and share something that they like about the plan, a few clarifying questions, and no more than one or two suggestions that might improve the plan. “In the beginning of this process, people tend to ask questions that include negative feedback. They gradually learn not to do this,” Laipple comments. “Also only one or two suggestions to help are allowed, not a thousand. If somebody is working on a plan, they’re probably only able to change a couple of things in two to four weeks, so why tear somebody’s plan apart when they can only do two things right now anyway?”

One manager whose plan was working well explained that she used the feedback from her peers about what they liked to pare down her list to best practices. “I want to make sure I continue to do the things that work the best,” she says. “I’ll keep doing the things that people especially like and maybe I don’t need to do everything else I was doing.”

Essentially the coaching for rapid change approach shifts the focus from the negatives associated with making changes with the positives of ongoing accomplishment. “Why not give people a step that works right away and then give them more things to do that work in the next step and in doing so, layer the learning over time?” remarks Laipple. Small changes and suggestions are part of the process, and they are shared when people are able to hear them. This is a process that infuses the science of behavior and the discretionary effort it inspires but is driven by the specific needs of each business and its customers. “People love it, because it makes their jobs more interesting and definitely more effective,” Laipple adds. The fact that the process is built into their meeting agendas has people shouting “It’s about time!” Being longwinded and baffling with baloney is no longer acceptable. Now the requirement is to be concise, precise, and specific, then go out and put plans to work.

“This also allows executives to know if and how real coaching is occurring because there is usually a correlation between the coaching you give each other in these calls and meetings compared to the coaching that goes on out in their natural work environments,” says Laipple. One high-level executive began dialing into conference calls once a month at each of his eight business centers. He said that he learned more about how the business was being managed from these one-hour calls than if he had spent two days in the field with each of his direct reports. “I can hear how people are actually managing and changing behavior in each of these locations,” he said. “Instead of them giving me a dog and pony show with a presentation, they talk specifically about how they are trying to change one thing at a time.”

Changing just one thing just isn’t as ominous or threatening as trying to formulate a plan that may or may not elicit astounding results six months down the road. One manufacturer made a 51 percent increase in one machine within three weeks, for example. “Unless you can get a small change in a short period of time, you’re never going to get the big change,” says Laipple. He adds that in developing this process, he’s learned quite a bit about the best way to engage others in change. “Instead of going in and saying that I’m the expert and here is a model that will work for you, I say, ‘Here’s a process that has been very successful. Let’s work together to figure out how to make it work well for your company.’”

Coaching for rapid change embodies the concept that the positive reinforcement derived from good customer response, measurable change directly tied to one’s actions, and the power to make those changes on a daily basis are the consequences that sustain top performance. When people realize that they can accomplish behavior change within a week and results within a month, their usual response is, “I want some of that!” That’s a big difference from the moans and groans that often accompany any mention of a change initiative. “People in every industry have at times made successful changes. They are the experts, so we need to ask them questions and work collaboratively using the science to first identify and then accelerate more change,” says Laipple. The key is in not expecting perfection right off the bat, an expectation that tends to freeze people in their tracks. Laipple summarizes this rapid change approach as follows: “Let’s find the smallest difference in behavior that makes the biggest difference in the result. That goes a long way.”