NLP As a Strategic Business Tool

By

nlp_neuro_linguistic_programmingI have been a proponent of NLP since 1992, and an early adopter of NLP training in the company where I was National Service and Training Manager. It was a place where forward thinking, confident people thrived and created rapid growth. The most competitive were the first to seek out NLP to help them succeed. Initially these were the sales executives looking for anything to give them the edge in a highly competitive marketplace. They were soon followed by marketing and management teams.

There were many successes like the sales executive who won a £60m contract with BT because he knew how to create strong rapport with the key influencers. It was a highly creative and dynamic period and NLP was still very new to the UK. Today NLP is finding its position centre stage as a universal approach to many strategic business challenges. Those who are succeeding with it have learnt that applying NLP requires a good degree of understanding and a willingness to break free from conventional thinking.

Key business areas where NLP is having a positive impact:

Conventional thinking is a major limitation to the success of NLP in the workplace so my intention here is twofold –

  • To outline some of the problems encountered by people trying to use NLP in business but failing to have the impact they expected.
  • To highlight how to apply NLP for maximum benefit.

How not to do it
NLP-Description1NLP is short for neuro-linguistic programming which describes what happens in NLP training courses – you learn how you communicate through verbal and non-verbal language so that you can change, or re-programme your thinking for positive gain. You also get an acute understanding of the communication process between people, and some very practical models of motivation. It has been called the study of the art of subjective experience, keying into how a person is thinking at any moment, and responding according to what you are sensing.

One of the mistakes often made is to think that someone who has trained as a Practitioner can pass their learning on to others. Whilst learning NLP it is unlikely that Practitioners will be able to focus on the subtle processes used by their NLP trainers that ensure learners are motivated and learning sticks. Because NLP is such an exciting subject, and people get so much from it, they tend to be enthusiastic about teaching it to others, but teaching NLP, and demonstrating what you have learned to others are not the same.

Another mistake made by organisations is to use it to ‘sheep-dip’ everyone in NLP. The initial response to NLP can be like the response to Marmite – you either love it or hate it. So sheep-dipping is not an effective way forward – it is also unnecessary as you will read later in this article.

An effective approach
The format that we have developed over the years, and which we recommend to our clients has five main stages:

  1. Specify your audience
  2. Define outcomes
  3. Pace current experience
  4. Lead to a new experience
  5. Keep it real

1. Specify your audience
NLP1First decide the part of your business where you want to apply an NLP approach. If you start with a specific area then you will be able to measure the progress made in that area as a result of the effort invested. The people in this area are your audience, and your job is to motivate them to participate in the show. Sales performance is one of the easiest applications to measure, and results will come quickly. Most sales people will be motivated to learn anything they believe will help increase their sales volume.

Other areas such as customer service, employee engagement and team-working may take a little longer for the benefits to filter through, although the ‘champion’ approach creates a pull as opposed to a push for change. By training the people who are already up for change (champions or change agents) and allowing them to demonstrate their positivity and expertise, you create a Mexican wave-like chain reaction in the organisation. This requires no pushing as more and more people volunteer to sign up for the programme. This is true engagement and ownership in action and prepares the organisation for embracing future change initiatives.

2. Outcomes
Having chosen your audience the very first question to answer is ‘what do you want NLP to do for you?’ and this leads to the ultimate question – what is your outcome? Deciding on your outcomes will help you to focus the application and measure the results, but these are only your outcomes. If you want to engage your audience they will need personal outcomes too. This is such an important aspect of any initiative it must be included but is very often overlooked. Motivation to learn requires a personal value attached to what you are learning. It is common for learning or change initiatives to fail or struggle because this aspect has been omitted from the front-end process.

3. Pacing current experience
NLP-neuronOne of the first lessons of NLP is that people will let you influence them if they feel you understand them and are sincere in your intentions. When this happens they are happy to be led to new ideas. A typical example can be found in the response to cynicism where the most common reaction is to defend your ideas. This usually ends up in a heated exchange of defensive positions. The NLP approach is to respect that the cynic has a view by saying something like, ‘and you are right to be cynical about new ideas until you have thoroughly tested them out, otherwise we just accept anything as valid. I only want you to agree with me after you have tried it for yourself’.

Pacing is all about building sufficient rapport such that trust in the relationship is created. This makes everything else easier to achieve as people will want to succeed. This dynamic is effective with 1:1 interactions, small groups and entire organisations. The only difference between them is the frame you work within for each. For example, your frame for a 1:1 interaction will incorporate the needs and desires of the individual, and your communication will be determined by his/her communication. Your frame with a small group will be the same as for the 1:1, but you will utilise additional communication techniques to ensure that you pace every individual. With an entire organisation you will do the same as with the small group, and use additional communication techniques that include a wider and more disparate larger group of people. You are also likely to frame your interaction with them in a much bigger context.

When it comes to pacing and leading large groups you only have to think about a union dispute to see how management frequently fail to recognise the efforts of a workforce. If instead of pushing through changes managers were to invest in showing appreciation for day-to-day achievements, there would be less confrontation. All too often disputes arise because managers attempt to lead without first pacing past and current experience.

4. Leading to a new experience
After sufficient pacing you can begin to lead. If you have done a good job at pacing then leading is a natural process. The way you lead will depend upon the motivation patterns of your audience. Whether 1:1, small team or large group, your ability to listen and observe motivation patterns will guide you in how best to lead. The more information you are tuning in to the easier it will be for you to lead.

If your intentions are pure, honest and sincere then people will willingly be led by you. If you have hidden agendas or are insincere in any way then none of this is going to work. We all have the ability to sense insincerity. It is picked up unconsciously through voice tone and body language.

The skills of leading are learned on an NLP Practitioner course, and they relate as much to the development of leaders as to any other area of business. The skills leaders need to develop, engage and motivate their teams are all found in NLP. Frequently we find that managers attending our programmes return to their organisations and begin to exert more positive influence in a widening sphere of influence. They have learned how to lead in a very elegant and natural way.

5. Keeping it real
world_in_hands reiki healingBeware theories, generalisations and negative conjecture. These are the limitations of conventional training courses, lectures and seminars. A theory is only useful if you can apply it. Applying a new theory usually requires a new behaviour which develops from practise – otherwise old habits tend to prevail. So many people are able to recite theories but unable to behave according to the theory.

One of the most common questions we hear at the beginning of our NLP courses goes something like this, ‘would a person do x in this situation?’ The questioner is attempting to make a prediction for all people in such a situation. Of course this is nonsense. Our typical reply to this question is ‘which person?’ As I said earlier NLP is the study of the art of subjective experience, and so unlike conventional psychology we don’t seek to define ‘norms’, because they don’t really help us. We want to work with subjective, in-the-moment experience. In this way we can be practical and effective with our interactions.

Conjecture is another barrier to learning. Some people, when listening to a trainer describe a technique or scenario, will play it out in their head by saying to themselves, ‘how would this work?’ In doing so they are putting themselves in the frame and imagining how it would play out for them. This is fine if you are just remembering the process, but some people take this further and imagine a negative conclusion to the process. This brings them to say, ‘this wouldn’t work for me’ and hey presto, a barrier to learning is created. You can only really know if something will work by trying it out yourself – not just in your head, but actually doing it whilst being open about the outcome.

These are only a few of the more common barriers to learning new skills. There are many more which conventional trainers are unlikely to notice. NLP trainers are highly trained to spot all these learning barriers and adapt their teaching style to help individuals overcome them and begin learning. If there is one thing that NLP offers everyone it’s the ability to learn smarter and faster.

Skills
NLP is similar to other business improvement methodologies in that there is a process, a number of models and some underlying principles. But this is where the similarities end. One of the reasons why companies fail to implement business improvement strategies, or feel the need to force them onto their managers is the lack of recognition for soft skills requirement. Holding meetings, analysing business processes and ticking boxes is the easy part of any methodology, but real buy-in and achievement comes when managers communicate effectively as part of the process. This includes questioning for clarity, facilitating others’ contributions, engaging people to get involved and presenting projects with enthusiasm. If companies invested as much in communication skills as they do the tick-box part of the process they would gain so much more and wouldn’t need to use force.

It is understandable why these crucial skills are overlooked. The consultants who bring the methodologies into your organisation often don’t recognise the importance of communication skills, and they may not know how to deliver them. It takes a much higher level of training ability than relying on a simple show and tell method of teaching.

Sensory acuity
imagesThis is a core skill of NLP and includes the ability to listen actively, recognise voice tone changes, notice body language whilst also observing patterns such as decision-making processes, limiting beliefs, uncertainty and levels of engagement. This is an advanced skill which requires ongoing development, but can be learned fairly quickly from an expert NLP trainer.

Behavioural flexibility
People rarely engage in a project because they have heard your argument for it. You need to be flexible in your language and behaviour and adapt your messages to fit the needs of your people. The use of language is a major aspect of NLP training and usually makes an immediate positive impact on the business, in clarity of information, smarter decision-making and engaging employees.

Pattern recognition
NLP skills make people smarter. You begin to see patterns of behaviour at both micro and macro levels, some of which are effective and others not so effective. Coupled with the ability to listen, engage and connect you suddenly become much more resourceful as an individual.

NLP skills have much to offer – just as much, if not more than any business improvement methodology. The secret is in the approach taken to introduce NLP skills into your organisation. Don’t let the enthusiasm to learn cause you to make the mistakes mentioned earlier, but use the enthusiasm to find real experts and specialists in business NLP who can give you sound advice and support you along the way.

David Molden, Fellow CIPD
http://www.quadrant1.com

Enhanced by Zemanta

FREE eBook Gift for Signing Up
Get Your FREE eBook

Subscribe to Robert's mailing list and get a FREE eBook offer.

Leave a Reply

FREE eBook Gift for Signing Up
Get Your FREE eBook

Subscribe to Robert's mailing list and get a FREE eBook offer.