By Sharon Drew Morgen

Because I wanted choice over my actions, I’ve spent a good portion of my life coding the trajectory of change so I could intervene to do something differently. I realized early on that knowing WHAT I wanted to change, WHAT doing it ’right’ entailed, and WHY I wanted to change, didn’t reliably lead me to the HOW of successful change, regardless of my willpower and discipline. Even my attempts at Behavior Modification were unsuccessful.

After studying brains and how they generate behaviors for many decades, and after trying unsuccessfully to try to change some of my own habits, I realized the problem: because behaviors are merely mechanical responses (outputs) to how my brain is programmed (inputs), real change can only come by rewiring my brain. In other words, I’ve been doing it wrong.

Seems by merely trying to change a behavior by ‘doing’ something different – a behavior being the output of a series of brain signals – I failed to change my brain circuits at the place where the behavior is initially prompted.

How is it possible to consciously change our brains, you might ask? I spent decades figuring it out. And I’ve made it possible to generate new circuits whenever you want to change a behavior or habit. Let me explain what’s going on, and then I’ll introduce the program I’ve developed so you, too, can permanently change behaviors at will.

HOW BRAINS GENERATE BEHAVIORS

Brains require a very specific sequence of activity to generate behaviors: First we

  1. send a message to our brains for what we want to accomplish
  2. that gets checked against our risk filters and beliefs that agree, or not, to proceed and
  3. creates signals that seek out similar-enough circuits
  4. which carry the message to an action.

Our behaviors are merely the output of our brain’s signaling system, the response to a set of instructions that travel down a very fixed pathway. They are not stand-alone features, or values-laden actions, but the activity, the output, the response, from a series of electro-chemical brain signals that have no meaning at all.

It’s like putting liquid red rubber into a machine and a red chair emerges. Something inside is programmed in a way that produces ‘chair’. If it were programmed differently, even using the same red rubber, a ‘ball’ might emerge. It’s all in the programming.

These brain signals, this specific circuit that carries out that specific behavior, is hard-wired. And once we have a circuit for a behavior set up in our brains, it becomes a habit. Hence, the problems we all have when we attempt to change an existing behavior.

Indeed, trying to change a behavior by trying to change a behavior is like trying to get a forward moving robot to go backwards by pushing it: until the programming is changed, until the signals and motivators are reprogrammed to trigger new wiring with different responses, it cannot do anything different than what it was programmed to do. And merely trying to change our behaviors will not alter our existing, programmed, circuits. Hence our difficulty losing weight, or maintaining an exercise regimen.

HOW TO GENERATE NEW BEHAVIORS

The good news is that our brains are more than happy to generate new behaviors when they’re reprogrammed, which we do by developing brand new circuits (neuroplasticity). I’ve spent decades unwrapping the ‘how’ to generate new messaging and circuits and the steps involved, eventually developing a training model of change facilitation that I’ve been teaching in sales (Buying Facilitation®), leadership, and coaching for 40 years.

Recently I developed a new model to facilitate others through the steps to generate new circuits for their own new behaviors (i.e. transformative change) and ending old habits – not to modify what’s there, but to actually consciously transform their brain’s pathways for permanent behavior and habit change. It includes:

  • why it’s so hard to change a habit [By merely trying to change a behavior by trying to change a behavior we’re unwittingly recruiting the same circuits that caused the habit to begin with.];
  • why we can’t change behaviors by trying to change behaviors [Behaviors are outputs and reside in habituated circuits that unconsciously hook up with what’s already there and normalized, regardless of our desire to change.];
  • why we must develop new signals and circuits to generate new behaviors [Brains will always generate new circuits when they receive new messaging for new circuits that cause new behavior generation.];
  • how our brains enable or prohibit change, habits, and behaviors [Our Beliefs are our traffic cops and react unconsciously to incoming signals, separate from our conscious wishes.];
  • how to build a scalable model to develop new messaging to generate new circuits that to trigger new outputs and choices, from input to output, while avoiding resistance and failure.

Take a look at the program syllabus: http://buyingfacilitation.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/how-of-change-syllabus.pdf

CHART ISOLATING CHANGE ELEMENTS

Here is a chart of the elements of The HOW of Change™ model. It isolates the brain elements necessary to generate new circuits that will create new behaviors, habits, ideas. Certainly our brains are able to generate new circuits (but they cannot get rid of existing ones), but to do so requires very specific elements be included in a very specific sequence. It’s really not as simple as merely doing something different. Take a look at the chart as it explains the trajectory of change:



Let me explain a bit of the chart, and it’s a bit geeky, so hang in.

When your wish (I want to be better organized) enters in the CUE it gets translated into an electro-chemical signal that then gets sent to the CEN which matches circuits that are ‘close-enough’, and behaviors emerge. If you want to do something different than you’ve done before, the Trial Loop (in chart) is instigated (I developed this Trial Loop) to facilitate agreement, buy-in, congruency and risk during a learning process. Watch as I discuss the process in my sample one hour video.

I’m writing a new book on this, and now offer a 5-part video training program available to teach leaders, change makers, coaches to help their clients change. Let me know if you’d like a conversation to learn if the program could help you stop smoking, lose weight, start your exercise regimen, or any other new behaviors you’d like to make habits. sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com. And watch my sample video, or see the program syllabus, here.

This is a new-type of program, in that it asks you to actually work hard on making your unconscious conscious. It’s not behavior-change based, or information-based, but brain change-based and takes more concentration. It produces permanent change via wholly new circuits. If you’re interested in real change, take a look. And I’m here for questions.

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Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, author NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell), listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharon-drew.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

October 4th, 2021

Posted In: Change Management, Communication

5 Comments

Conversation

In these trying times, one thing has become clear: the biases we live with restrict our choices. Certainly no one ever wants to harm anyone. And yet, because of the unconscious nature of them, we are too often unaware that we even have them. It’s not our fault, but we must learn to take more responsibility for them.

Our biases have been developed through the stories of our lives. From birth, our parent’s beliefs and life trajectory become part of our unconscious, very personal, ecosystem made up of our habits, behaviors, and identity; the schools we attend or the gangs we join introduce us to the way our world works and how to behave accordingly; our professions are chosen to allow us to comfortably maintain our norms.

These norms – unique for each of us – create the status quo we make unconscious choices from. Net net, our lives are inspired by our unconscious biases, causing us to live and work, marry and spend time with, people whose norms, interpretations, and beliefs are very similar to ours.

Our normal skill sets aid and abet us: we listen through biased filters and hear and respond to, basically, what our biases tell us was said (I wrote a book on this: What? Did you really say what I think I heard? ); we play and read and watch according to what we already believe and rarely venture far afield; we notice what we notice in response to our nucleus of personal norms, values, and learned habits. All our decisions, actions, choices, are ruled, restricted, and biased by our unique predispositions.

Indeed, we trust our unconscious biases and interpretations, and the resulting responses, so thoroughly that we are often unaware that our actions – built in, normalized and habituated, accepted by our family, peers, and profession – may harm others.

WE CANNOT UNDERSTAND OTHERS

We believe, with certainty, that what we see, hear, and feel is ‘real’ because it IS our reality; we restrict our lives accordingly, making it difficult, if not impossible, to fully understand another’s reality. What we might hear as powerful might be heard as insulting by another person; an incident might be noticed by one person, ignored by another, and an excuse for violence by another. We cannot help but judge others according to our reality.

I, for one, never lock doors. My car is always unlocked. My house is always open even when I travel. Many people would find this unthinkable. I find it safe. As an incest survivor and a rape victim, I always need a quick way in and out. If a door is locked around me, I hyperventilate. Terrifying. My choices, of which locks on doors are only a subset of the aftereffects of my early life, have affected my communication, my lifestyle, my choice of friends and mates, my political views, my unconscious triggers, and my choice of professions even after decades of therapy. There is no way you can understand my interpretation of anything, or the resulting behaviors I exhibit, unless you’ve lived in my shoes. And yet my differences might cause you to judge my actions against your own and find them wanting.

And herein lie the problem. When we run into others with different lifestyle choices, or communication styles, or education, or assumptions, or race, or political beliefs, we may not have the skills to connect with them in ways they understand; we may wrongly misinterpret their intent; we may judge them against our own standards which they could never understand. Certainly we may not notice we’ve harmed someone with our actions or words and behave automatically in ways that inadvertently harm another.

I believe that most people don’t intend to harm anyone. But without common ground, the best we can do is act from our habituated interpretations and assume because we ‘mean well’ that we’re not causing harm.

NEED FOR CHANGE

Historically, we’ve done a bad job caring about resolving the problems of inherent bias that may ultimately harm others. I think this might be changing. Companies and public servants are now taking unconscious bias seriously and requiring unconscious bias training in the hopes of giving people new choices and eradicating harm. Good. But I have a concern.

As someone who has spent decades coding and scaling the stages of how human systems change, I know it’s not possible to push change from the outside; each individual must find a way to evaluate and reconsider their own core norms and biases to make any necessary corrections that only they can make, from within (i.e. inside/out). I don’t believe we’re doing that.

Current training approaches are based on helping folks recognize and change behaviors by offering information, practice, scientific data, videos, etc. from the outside (outside/in), hoping to create new triggers, new behaviors, and new awareness. This approach cannot fix the problem permanently because it:

  • doesn’t get to the root of someone’s unconscious, and very subjective, biases;
  • demonstrates subjectively chosen hypothetical situations believed (from the outside) to trigger bias and may miss specific issues and habituated norms of an individual;
  • has no way of knowing if the offered visuals or stories or trial experiences address the full range of potential biases within each individual learner;
  • doesn’t teach how to transcend someone’s habituated ‘unconscious triggers’ that go off in real situations;
  • fails to install permanent, instinctive, alternative, appropriate behaviors.

Current unconscious bias training assumes people can change if they understand the ‘good, rational’ reasons behind it. The training offers videos, discussions, practicing ‘real’ situations, etc. showing examples of unconscious bias, hoping this creates the awareness to recognize a problematic situation as it’s happening and know exactly what behaviors need changing – and what to change them to!

In other words, just when our brains are unconsciously registering ALERT, we want it to tell itself ‘Nope. Wrong thinking. Don’t do that. Don’t think that. Stop responding that way. Do something different. NOW!’ just as it’s occurring. It’s possible to do so, but not with the training offered. For real change to occur it’s necessary to get to the root of the bias: beliefs. And unfortunately, as you’ll see, information doesn’t teach anyone how to change, even it attempts to explain the reasoning behind the need to do something different. Sharon Drew’s rule: change cannot occur because of any outside rational, regardless of the need or the efficacy of the solution.

WHAT IS BIAS? AND WHY IS IT SO HARD TO CHANGE?

Bias is the unconscious, habitual, involuntary, and historic reaction to something deemed ‘different’ (skin color, gender, lifestyle choices, etc.) that negatively triggers someone’s largely unconscious beliefs and values – going against what the person deems ‘right’ or ‘good’ – causing an automatic feeling of, and defense against, some sort of violation.

Our reactions to external stimuli are unconscious and automatic, and follow our brain’s historic and habituated neural pathways whenever our unconscious triggers go off. In other words, we do what we do, react the way we react, in a split second as per our historic responses logged permanently into our brain circuitry.

To alter these, it’s necessary to go to the source; it’s not possible to permanently change behaviors by merely trying to change behaviors. Offering behavior-based training that merely offers examples and experiences of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ behaviors, and expecting people to undo their habituated triggers because they ‘admit’ to, or recognize ‘bad’ behaviors, uses the wrong thinking.

Changing core biases permanently is not a behavior change issue; it’s a core Identity/Belief problem that must be resolved, within the system that created it. I’ll lay the problem out for you piece by piece, then introduce a solution for permanent change. Basically, this level of change is a systems problem.

WHAT IS A SYSTEM, AND WHY IS IT NECESSARY TO ADDRESS IN BIAS TRAINING

A system is a conglomeration of (historic, unique) elements (consisting of our norms, culture, history, beliefs, dreams, etc.) that we hold largely unconsciously and are a foundation of who we are. They are formed during our lifetimes starting from birth, and as in all systems, are made up of elements (values, cultural norms, ethics, morality, etc.) that operate from the same set of rules. Indeed, we live our lives in cities alongside others of similar political beliefs, marry people of similar education, and even listen with biased filters that keep out uncomfortable ideas.

Systems are congruent (Systems Congruence) entities that always seek stability (Homeostasis); they define our politics, our mate selection, even where we live and how we listen to others. Because systems seek to maintain congruence, they avoid situations that make them uncomfortable or they find incongruent. Attempting to shift them, to change in any way, causes resistance because they seek to override the norms of the system that hold them in place, without getting buy-in.

As a result, trying to change from the outside in, by trying to change behaviors without getting the necessary buy-in, threatens stability. As a result, by attempting to push change without the system’s agreement, we’re threatening the system’s internal congruency, regardless of the seeming need to do something different or the efficacy of a new/better solution. In other words, our status quo shows up every day to maintain itself and we will do whatever it takes to maintain it. It’s who we are.

For permanent change to occur, for new behaviors to be exhibited and chosen, there must be a change in core beliefs before new skills or situations are offered. Current bias training uses methods don’t facilitate this change:

  • Listening: our habituated listening filters and neural pathways automatically bias whatever anyone says to us; we set up our lives to avoid discomfort, and uniquely interpret differences in what has been said so our brains can keep us comfortable. When information is offered as evidence, our historic, habituated, biased listening filters kick in and uniquely interpret incoming data, often differently than the intended meaning. Indeed, it’s not even possible to hear anyone without bias; when what we hear (or see, or feel) makes us uncomfortable, we react historically.
  • Questions: all normal questions are biased by the Asker’s subjective curiosity, thereby restricting the Responder’s replies to the interpretation of what was heard, and potentially overlooking real answers.
  • Historic: biases are programmed in from the time we’re born. Every day we wake up with the same biases, kept in place by our choice of friends, TV, neighborhoods, professions, reading materials, etc. To permanently shift our biases, we’d have to change our historic programming.
  • Physiological: who we ‘are’ is systemic; our beliefs and norms, character and values have been programmed in and become our Identity, creating the behaviors and responses that will unconsciously maintain our status quo in everything we do and every action we take.
  • Triggers: because of our lifetime of inculcated beliefs, values, norms and outlook, our brains react chemically, unconsciously, and automatically when there is an untoward activity.
  • Information: our training programs typically tell, show, explain, offer stories, videos, etc. etc. using the biased choices- languaging, presentation style, chosen information – of the trainer in hopes that their information triggers a new response. But since people can’t even listen without bias, they can’t accurately make sense of whatever we’re telling them: they have no brain circuitry already set up to listen through, and the process of ‘telling’ does not develop new circuitry. All it will do is get misinterpreted or misunderstood according to historic beliefs already in place.
  • Behaviors: as the expression and execution of our beliefs and status quo, behaviors translate our core systemic beliefs and norms into daily action. Behaviors represent us; they are not ‘us’. And since behaviors are merely outputs, they are fixed by the time they show up. Change must happen at the input, at our beliefs.

And herein lie the problem. Because of the complexity and sophisticated combination of the elements above, merely doing something different because we are told to, or even want to, won’t change our behaviors or our systems permanently. It’s the equivalent of trying to get a forward moving robot to move backwards because we tell it it needs new options, or think it would be better if it did, or show it pictures of other robots who do move backward. To change behaviors permanently it’s necessary to change the system, the programming, which created them to begin with. And this cannot be accomplished by trying to change the output of the problem itself. Remember Einstein? Trying to change behaviors with the system that created them won’t permanently change behaviors.

CHANGE IS A SYSTEMS PROBLEM

Change is the alteration of something that has existed in a certain way, using specific and accepted norms, in a specific configuration, for a period of time. To amend our responses to bias, we must first recognize, then modify, the specific triggers (historically produced for a reason) that have been developed to operate unconsciously as the norm.

It’s basically a systems problem: for permanent change to occur, we must reconfigure the system that has created and maintains the status quo, and has operated ‘as is’ for some amount of time. Anything new coming in to our system (any problem to fix, any new information that creates disruption, any new activity) demands changing the status quo. Indeed, any new decision is a change management problem. The way we are addressing the problem of changing people’s unconscious biases is not enabling permanent change.

Change means that a system (by definition stable) must go through a process to become something different:

  • a trigger alerts the status quo that something may be awry;
  • a careful examination by all elements within the status quo must occur to find any incongruence;
  • agreement within the system (rules, stakeholders, identity, etc.) that change is necessary and that a fix won’t cause permanent disruption;
  • an initial attempt to fix anything missing (using the same elements that created the problem to begin with);
  • the realization that the problem cannot be fixed from within the system;
  • an examination by everything that created the problem of any new possibilities that will create Systems Congruence;
  • an understanding and acceptance of the downside and disruption of a change (i.e. if politics change, how do we speak with family? If same-sex relationships, what happens with our church group?);
  • a fix is found that is agreeable, with full knowledge of how to circumvent any disruption it will cause;
  • new habits, new triggers, new neural pathways, etc. are developed in a way that incorporate the ‘new’ with the old to minimize disruption.

Does any element of the original need to be kept in place? How will the system know? How would any change effect the whole? How will the bits that need change shift while still maintaining its core values? The system will fight to maintain itself.

If all of the above aren’t managed, the system will fill in the blanks with something comfortable and habituated (regardless of its efficacy). In other words, if there is not systemic agreement, no known way to resolve the problem using its current givens, no known way to incorporate something new to the existing system so the system doesn’t implode, no change will happen regardless of the need or the efficacy of the solution.

Indeed, you can’t change a behavior by trying to change a behavior. And all of the current bias training involves a focus on getting behaviors changed without addressing the source that created the behaviors and triggers to begin with.

WHAT IS A BEHAVIOR?

Current Bias Training attempts to get behaviors changed by using ‘rational’ means: showing learners biased situations, offering data and research, and playing videos to learn what bias looks like. In other words, offering Information: showing and telling people what’s wrong with what they’re doing and what ‘right’ would look like – all of which can be misinterpreted, misread, or objected to, regardless of our intent.

While it certainly can make people more aware, and might, if remembered, offer different choices of actions, these attempts will not cause permanent change: they develop no new habituated triggers or neural pathways to set off a new response to a stimulus. Let’s delve into this a bit.

If asked in a vacuum if we want to harm anyone, few of us would want to. And yet in small and large ways, our unconscious behaviors too often end up unjustly ignoring, being mean to, or harming someone because of their gender, or race or or… I once heard Malcolm Gladwell, who is bi-racial, say that when tested for unconscious racial bias, he came up biased.

We all carry some biases. The question becomes 1. Do we notice when, or before, problems occur, and if not what would we need to know or believe differently to notice, and 2. Once we notice (or not) can we have choice over our actions and avoid biased behaviors or make adjustments at the time, or just before, they occur. To permanently change a behavior, a system must:

  • shift the core beliefs that inform any habituated, unconscious bias and develop additional beliefs, assumptions and triggers;
  • create new neural pathways to the brain that lead to choosing more respectful outputs, habits, behaviors;
  • listen with a different listening filter than the habituated ones;
  • enable the person to change themselves, using their own unconscious system of norms to design new behaviors that won’t offend the system;
  • interpret another’s actions in a neutral way that doesn’t offend our own beliefs – or change our beliefs.

To change our unconscious, automatic responses that cause us to respond defensively, the system that has created and maintains the status quo must be reconfigured to produce alternate outputs while still maintaining Systems Congruence. And unfortunately, information-based training (showing, feeling, telling, explaining) is ineffective because it only seeks to change behaviors.

CHANGING BEHAVIORS DOESN’T CHANGE BEHAVIORS

Offering any sort of information before the system knows why, how, when, or if to do anything different – a belief change – will only inspire resistance as the system won’t know how to apply it as it’s ‘just fine, thanks.’ It’s a belief change issue. We’re asking the system to repopulate its status quo that created the problem to begin with, design new behavioral responses, and develop a new set of triggers to tell the system it’s time to behave differently. Initially the system doesn’t know what it doesn’t know and has no inherent desire to do anything different.

As per my robot example, if you think the robot should have the option of moving backwards, telling it when and how to know when or if to move backward, giving it scientific data as to why it should move backward, or pushing it backward, will not cause the robot to change. The programming must be changed. And so it is with all of us: when we change our habituated beliefs and norms (our programming), our behavior will automatically change.

Real change demands a systemic shift to create new triggers, new assumptions, new neural pathways, and ultimately, as an outcome, new behaviors. No one, no information, no person, from outside is able to go into someone’s unconscious to (re)create all these things. And permanent change will not happen until it does.

The goal is not to train someone to rid themselves of unconscious bias; it’s to teach the system itself how to discover where its beliefs are restricting understanding and teach it how to add new beliefs to decide with and facilitate it through to new behaviors a way that maintains the foundational norms of the system.

Basically, to alter the foundation that will develop new behaviors, the brain must change itself. Over the past decades, I’ve coded the 13 steps that constitute the route to systemic, human change so people can make their OWN internal changes that will lead to new choices, i.e. new behaviors. I’ve taught this model in sales as Buying Facilitation® to global corporations (KPMG, Morgan Stanley, IBM, P&G, Kaiser, etc.) for over 30 years, and written several books on it. The book that details each of the stages is Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell.

We must become Facilitators, not Influencers. We must teach folks to create and habituate new neural pathways and filters.

  1. Listening: We must avoid habituated neural pathways when listening to others. In your mind’s eye put yourself on the ceiling and listen from above. From above, you can observe what’s going on without bias or reaction. I have a whole chapter on this in What?. Not difficult – you just need to want to do it and develop triggers that will alert you to the need to do something different.
  2. Questions: I developed a new form of question that doesn’t interrogate and is not biased by the needs of the questioner, but instead acts like a GPS to guide people through their own unconscious. These Facilitative Questions are systemic, use specific words, in specific order, that traverse through the steps of change sequentially so others can note their own incongruencies. So: What would you need to know or believe differently to be willing to spend time with me so we could both learn, together, how to listen from a ‘different ear’?
  3. Beliefs: by shifting the focus from changing behaviors to first changing beliefs and systems, we end up with permanent core change, new triggers and habits.
  4. Information: we make several types of information available for the learner to choose from, to fit their own learning criteria and styles.

I’ve developed a new way to train that facilitates self-learning and permanent change from within the system. For those wishing a full discussion, I’ve written an article on this that appeared in The 2003 Annual, Volume 1 Training (I’m happy to send you a more specific discussion of this if you’re not already bored) Just note: my process leads people, without any bias, to those places in their brains, into their system of beliefs and cultural norms, which made the decisions to employ their biased behaviors to begin with, and teaches them how to reconfigure their system to adopt something new (so long as its aligned with their beliefs). We are making the unconscious conscious and developing more appropriate triggers and behaviors.

How will you know that by adding systemic change elements to your training that you can enable more people to make more appropriate behavioral choices around their bias?

If you would like my help in designing a program that resolves unconscious biases permanently, I’d love to help. I believe it’s an important task. I believe it’s time we had the tools to enable learners to permanently change and become non-judgmental, accepting, and kind. And above all, cause no harm. All of our lives depend on it.

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Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, author NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell), listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

September 13th, 2021

Posted In: Change Management, Communication, Listening

10 Comments

Buying and selling are two different activities. The Buy Side: People don’t want to buy anything, merely resolve a problem at the least ‘cost’ to their system and become buyers when they’ve determined the expenditure to be less than the status quo. The Sell Side: Sellers seek to place solutions by finding those with a ‘need’ and having, promoting, and placing great content.

I suspect these differences cause some of the frustration sellers face when they strongly believe a prospect has a need but they’re not buying. Because the off-line journey people take on route to becoming buyers is change-based, not ‘need’ specific or buying-based yet, the sales model overlooks this portion of the Buying Journey at great cost.

I think we’re wasting a monumental opportunity to sell more, make more money, make more people happy, have fun at work, and truly serve our customers.

NEED ISN’T WHY PEOPLE BUY

Think about it: we sellers spend our time chasing ‘need’ – seeking a need, pushing data into an alleged need, and following up this mythical need – assuming ‘need’ drives buying. But just because someone has a need doesn’t mean:

  1. They want to resolve it.
  2. They want to resolve it now.
  3. They want to resolve it with our solution.
  4. They can’t resolve it on their own.
  5. They have the buy-in necessary for any resultant change management issues.

I joke that most of us need to lose 10 pounds or should eat healthier. But we don’t. Need has nothing to do with it.

And then there’s the perpetual assumption that a solution – when presented properly! – should be purchased if there’s a ‘need.’ Content marketing, intention marketing, demand marketing, are all based on pushing content because of this assumed need.

But there’s no uptake on the outreach regardless of seeming ‘need’ unless people have already determined they’re going to buy something. Usually we connect with them when they’re doing research along their route to discovery and change, and haven’t gotten all their ducks in a row yet. Until they do, there’s no way for us (or them!) to know if they’ll end up as buyers.

Indeed, with a need/solution-placement focus, it’s hard to distinguish between a real prospect and someone who appears to have a need but don’t buy. It certainly doesn’t convert people into becoming buyers. My motto has been: selling doesn’t cause buying.

I think it’s time sales includes an additional focus, an extended game plan. Think with me for a moment. We think and create techniques and apps for the Sell Side; we rarely consider the change and systems stuff (people, timing, policies) happening on the Buy Side that folks must address and have nothing to do with buying but could be influenced. I contend we’ll close a lot more by facilitating the Buy Side first.

People, as I said above, only want to resolve a problem at the least ‘cost’ to the system. What if we helped them do what they need to do before we do what we want to do?

They have to do it anyway as we sit and wait and hope and cogitate about what we should say on our 4th voice mail. Instead of looking looking looking for that 5% who show up exactly when and where we’re looking for them, why don’t we join those who WILL be buying and facilitate their journey!

LET’S BE BUYERS

To help you better understand the Buy Side, I’ve written a case study that follows a typical tech buyer as he seeks to increase sales by possibly buying a new CRM system.

As you read it, notice how different the Buy Side is from the Sell Side and how murky it is when a ‘need’ filter is assigned. And notice how many of his activities, decisions, meetings, a seller can never be a part of but are necessary – hence the answer to the age-old question: Where do they go?

The buying decision, a ‘Buying Journey’, begins amidst the change and management issues needing resolution. Note that sellers can’t be part of this journey because Sell Side activities don’t match. There is, however, a way to join them on the Buy Side to facilitate them efficiently through their journey. But let’s start with Jim. Enjoy.

–      –   –   –

Jim is the manager of a sales team of 12 who use a two-year-old CRM system. Over lunch one day, he complained his sales were lagging. His colleague suggested he look into the new CRMs, that their functionality – tracking, organizing, prioritizing, segmenting – allegedly improved sales.

Problem detection and gathering stakeholders

Taking his friend’s advice, Jim invests time in online research seeking CRM systems that would match his team’s values. He fills out a few contact forms to get more data about them, maybe even a trial.

Jim calls a team meeting to discuss his frustration with the poor sales and asks them if they’d find a new CRM system helpful to sell more. Hmmm. Mixed: some like the one they’ve got, some want an upgrade with more functionality, and two don’t care so long as it’s easy to use and they wouldn’t need training.

As a follow up, Jim asks them each to send him a note about what functions on the current CRM they use most and why, which parts they don’t use and why, and what they would find beneficial if they could add functionality.

When the notes come back two weeks later Jim notices an interesting mix of uses. Some use the system to manage data, while others keep notes and track conversations. He wonders if the folks would use it more if it organized data differently, or maybe had more automatic tracking capabilities if there even was such a thing.

The responses bring up a question: would fixing the use of a CRM system actually improve his sales? Maybe a CRM system isn’t the answer. Maybe the folks need sales training, or communication training, even possibly supervision. He’s not even sure what’s missing. The team had hit their target numbers for so many years that Jim hadn’t noticed the problems now cropping up.

During his discovery process, Jim receives several emails (almost daily) from CRM companies sending him data and offering him deals. Three of them have already called him to pitch. But he has no idea what he needs yet and can’t even ask the right questions. He’s told them he’ll get back to them, but that hasn’t stopped their emails or follow up calls. He’ll probably begin ignoring the ones who are so persistent. Gosh, he sure would appreciate it if they were able to help him think through all the issues he must address.

Fixes and workarounds

Jim has just realized how many issues must be resolved and how little understanding he has of the full set of problems causing the lag in sales. He now needs specific data points. Maybe he’ll discuss this with the company’s inhouse tech guys in case they could be part of the fix. That certainly would be simpler.

Jim sends the team a questionnaire:

  1. What would new CRM capabilities enable you to do that you’re either not doing now, or doing some other way that takes more time?
  2. For those not using the current system much now, what’s stopping you? If you had different functionality would you use it more? Or do you just not like using a CRM system at all?
  3. Would you be open to learning a wholly unfamiliar CRM and start from scratch if new functionality will make it possible to sell more? Or would you prefer to have our tech guys upgrade the one you’ve got?
  4. Name two additions in functionality that would make your current CRM more effective for you. What would you be able to do better because of it?
  5. If our inhouse tech guys could provide new functionality in a decent time frame, would you be open to sitting down with them to find out what they could provide?
  6. Do you think a CRM system with more functionality would provide you the most helpful tool to increase sales? Or would you like sales training? Or communication skills training? Please write down your thoughts and suggestions.

Once he receives the responses, Jim meets with the team again to discuss. So many choices. Certainly new CRM capability is part of a mix of fixes. But when to upgrade? Until he understands the entire picture he can’t really make any decisions.

As he’s thinking and researching and meeting, Jim is now actively avoiding taking calls from the CRM folks. But honestly, he would welcome help thinking through his issues and calculating a possible timeline. The sooner he figures this out the sooner he can increase sales.

Team buy-in

Jim decides to let the team choose their options so there will be more buy-in to whatever new solution they come up with. He apportions research tasks among team members:

  • two will research different types of sales training;
  • three will look into different types of CRM systems;
  • three will make a list of the functionality the team would want in a CRM;
  • two will meet with inhouse tech guys in case reprogramming the current system is an option in a timely way;
  • two will research communication skills training.

When the team meets, they discuss the information gathered and consider:

  • which type of training would most efficiently improve their sales;
  • favorite additional functionality for the CRM system;
  • three favorite CRM systems;
  • three favorite sales trainings and communication skills trainings;
  • time frame of training program vs new CRM capability;
  • time frames and capability of inhouse techs to upgrade current CRM.

At the meeting the team decides they want listening training first, then sales training. The plan is to trial these new skills for two months after the training, then factor the resulting changes against their current CRM and see if adding anything is necessary.

Time to buy

Jim places calls to training vendors to make appointments to meet him and the team. He would have preferred to take action sooner, but he needed to muddle through all the issues involved or face resistance and non-use.

–      –   –   –

Jim’s journey led him to a solution he never would have considered at the start when he first noticed his sales problem. Not only that, the whole team is involved with the solution, surely a great sign that they’re committed to excellence.

One thing is clear to him: if he’d gone ahead with his initial idea to purchase a new CRM system without knowing the team’s real issues, he wouldn’t have discovered their need for further training, or a full understanding of usage issues, or the buy-in from the team for any change.

Some of the folks would have resisted anything new – certainly not used it – and sales would not have increased, not to mention he would have risked the trust his folks have in him as a leader. The way he’s gone about it they’re all on board with anything they decide.

THE BUYER’S JOURNEY

I assume that you recognize the difference between the ‘Buying Journey’ on the Buy Side, and how the sales profession views the ‘journey’ from the Sell Side. Notice how sales only sells to those who’ve completed their Buy Side activities which are at the end of their change management and decision journey.

In other words, the last thing people do is buy. These are the only folks who heed our efforts. Unfortunately we waste gobs of time trying to convince those who just aren’t ready when in fact they rarely notice, regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution.

I contend it’s possible to recognize who will be a buyer before they identify as buyers, then facilitate the Buy Side first with a change/decision facilitation focus and leave the ‘need’ and solution placement bits once they’re buyers. Saves a lot of time and resource wastage. And by starting with the need for change (i.e. rather than the ‘need’ for your solution) you’ll close 40% instead of 5% because you’re selling to those who have done their true discovery and buy-in work already and identify as buyers already.

And I’ve developed a model that actually does this and a book that explains it.

BUYING FACILITATION®

In 1985 I developed Buying Facilitation® to facilitate the Buy Side journey to Buyer Readiness when, as a successful sales professional-turned-entrepreneur, I realized that selling didn’t cause buying. Buying Facilitation® includes:

  • a new form of question (a Facilitative Question) that facilitates discovery (People don’t have the full data set until the end so gathering information too early doesn’t help either prospect or seller);
  • a stepped approach that facilitates people to through change and discovery to becoming buyers;
  • a model to listen for patterns rather than listen for ‘need’;
  • a way to enter a conversation as a decision facilitator first before a sales person.

After all, until people figure out what they need to figure out they’re not even buyers, and the time it takes them is the length of the sales cycle, regardless of their need or the efficacy of our solution. People prefer to resolve problems in less time, but they can’t ignore the issues they must manage, or face disruption.

With Buying Facilitation® we can find those who WILL be a buyer on the first call and facilitate them through their decision and change issues and then sell – in one quarter the time. Imagine a seller saying this on a first call to Jim:

Hi. I’m Sharon-Drew with CRM Quality responding to your online query. You wrote that you’re seeking a new system to bring in more sales. Before I get into answering questions, I’m wondering how you’re currently addressing the change issues involved with giving your folks additional functionality or new skills?

Notice how this one Facilitative Question helps him understand you’re there to serve, avoids getting stuck in pitch mode, helps him actually begin to think through what he’d need to consider anyway, gives you a competitive advantage, and positions you as a true relationship manager as the two of you begin to traverse his change journey. And you’re not starting with sales because Jim is not starting with ‘need’. He is certainly not a buyer when he fills out online forms initially.

When we assume ‘need’ and send content, or pitch too soon, we can only attract those few at the very end of their process (the low hanging fruit) once all of the decisions get made. By then we’ve lost an enormous opportunity to discover and serve real buyers.

Discussing our content and following up (and following up) before folks have become real buyers is a great resource waste. The sales model ignores the real buying journey, causing us to close only that small percent who have completed it. It’s the reason we’re only closing 5%, when Buying Facilitators close 40% of the same population selling the same solution. So here’s the question:

What would you need to know or believe differently to begin selling wearing a decision facilitation hat to find folks early during their change/discovery phase and lead them through their decisions as they become buyers?

Do you want to sell? Or have someone buy? You know what happens when you sell. Maybe it’s time to get on to the Buy Side help buyers buy. Call me and I’ll help you figure out if it’s an idea your team can run with. Sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

____________________________

Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

August 30th, 2021

Posted In: Change Management, Communication

8 Comments

When I asked a clerk at Walmart recently if I needed to wear a mask to enter, he responded: “Do whatever you want. Frankly, they don’t pay me enough to care.”

The implications of this statement sent my mind reeling and I had some questions:

The implications of this statement sent my mind reeling and I had some questions:

  • What if it mattered to a company that their employees cared about customers, that customers could potentially become ill because of an employee’s judgment?
  • Is Walmart (or any company, frankly) so cash-strapped that they can’t afford to pay employees enough to care? To build customer care into their job descriptions and only hire folks who comply? To teach new hires that customer-caring criteria are a big part of their jobs?
  • What sort of hiring and supervision practices make it possible to hire folks who won’t do their jobs – or does ‘customer care’ not show up on their job descriptions?
  • Do companies understand that customers are the secondary victims of bad hiring practices and inadequate pay?
  • What is the value of employee and/or customer happiness?

I strongly believe companies are one of the propagators of happiness for employees and customers. In this article I’ll examine people, pay, respect, and responsibility so we can begin to think about ways to make money AND make nice.

Given the size of the topic, in this article I’ll merely pose some questions to inspire interest and create a foundation for a fair equation. Ultimately, I’d like to think that companies are in business to serve.

PEOPLE

  • How can we compensate employees to make sure they earn enough to take care of their families AND incorporate caring for clients as part of their job?
  • What is an operational equation between gross corporate revenue, fair profit margin, employee pay, product pricing, and vendor profit?
  • How do we choose new hires that are people-oriented, who understand their job is to serve both customers and each other, to understand that customers provide their income?
  • How do companies design an equation for employees and customers in which everyone walks away getting what they need? How do we factor in ‘people-respect/happiness’ and put it high on our criteria – for hiring, for job descriptors, for client care?

PAY

  • What is the fair equation between CEO pay and employee pay? Between profit margin and a living wage?
  • How does respect – for employee/colleague/customer treatment – get imbedded, compensated, supervised, tracked as part of a company culture?
  • What does pay represent? Is it job specific, outcome specific, paid as per responsibility/job description, ability to bring in income, degree of customer happiness, amount of customer churn?
  • How can customer facing jobs – sales, customer service, help desk support – be fairly/equally compensated given they hold the key to maintaining customers?
  • How can corporations reward all employees in a way that reflects minimizing customer churn? Maybe an annual bonus for all depending on what percent customers remain from last year? A bonus for customer-facing employees dependent on customer retention?
  • Why do some jobs – i.e. sales, ‘C’ level officers – receive such an inordinate amount of pay when other jobs that are client facing – outside field techs, customer support folks – and actually lessen customer churn get paid less?
  • Why is nabbing new clients more highly paid than keeping clients? It’s now built in that some jobs are more highly compensated but shouldn’t be if the churn rate is high and much business gets lost annually due to bad customer service bad customer service?
  • What if sellers got paid according to customer retention rather than new sales?

RESPECT

  • How does respect – for clients/customers, for employees – get compensated?
  • How do folks get hired and trained as per respect, and how is it built into their job description?
  • How do customer-facing folks get paid to respect clients? To have the time to provide what customers need to be happy and satisfied rather than paid per X number of minimal minutes per customer?

RESPONSIBILITY

  • What is our responsibility as a company? To our employees? Teams? Vendors? Clients? The environment? How does this get built into the company culture?
  • Who are companies responsible for/to? How do we imbed this into daily work?
  • What does ‘responsibility’ look like on a daily basis – for our employees? clients?
  • What are sales folks responsible for? They currently waste 90% of their time pushing solutions and chasing those who will never buy rather than facilitating buying and closing actual sales? (Hint: it’s possible to close 8X more prospects by facilitating buying than pushing solutions – but not by using the sales model solely.)
  • What are managers responsible for? How can they be held accountable for facilitating teams who create outcomes that ultimately enable mental, physical, spiritual well-being within the company culture, or for clients? And how does this get compensated?
  • How can responsibility to the environment get factored in to company identities?
  • How can the corporate environment encourage learning opportunities with courses, peer coaching, rotating leadership roles?

WHO, EXACTLY, ARE WE?

Some say that companies are in business to create products to sell. What if our companies are vehicles to serve? What if it were our main priority to not only produce great solutions but to responsibly and ethically care for our employees and customers and the environment? To create reward traditions that are fair and equitable for all?

I believe we’re short-sighted by focusing on profits. This ends up making us greedy and numbers-driven rather than people- or serving-driven.

So I pose the question: what do we need to believe differently to run companies that have heart, that care about all involved – customers, employees, vendors, and the earth. With such a large canvass, I bet we can make a difference.

_______________________________

Sharon-Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon-Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

July 26th, 2021

Posted In: Communication, Sales

One Comment

I recently got a call from a noted venture capitalist of healthcare apps.

DH: I heard you have a model that facilitates permanent behavior change. I wonder if it would work with any of the 15 healthcare apps I’ve invested in.

SD: I do have a model that does that. And it certainly could be used as a front end to conventional behavior change apps to enable users to develop permanent habits. What are you using now to help folks change behaviors permanently?

DH. Behavior Modification, but it doesn’t work. There’s no scientific evidence that it works and our analysis concurs. But there’s nothing else to use. Can you help?

It’s a known fact that Behavior Modification has a 3% success rate over time. Sure, people initially lose weight with a behavior-based plan to eat differently. Certainly people stop smoking or get to the gym for a few weeks. But because these new behaviors haven’t been accepted by, or made permanent in, the brain, they cannot succeed over time. And repeating the new in hopes that THIS time it will stick obviously doesn’t work.

Permanent change is a very achievable goal. But not the way we’re going about it; we’re approaching the problem from the wrong angle. In this essay I will explain what a behavior is, what change is, how our brains govern them both, and introduce the steps needed to form habits. Believe it or not, it’s mechanical.

THE PROBLEM WITH BEHAVIOR MODIFICATION

Lately I’ve heard several Behavioral Scientists on the radio, all offering Behavior Modification techniques to habituate new behaviors by, well, habituating new behaviors. They ‘remove barriers’, suggest ‘momentum’, offer ‘promoting forces/restraining forces’, and propose ‘behavioral interventions’ such as keeping weights at your desk so you can ‘lift’ during Zoom calls. All meant to motivate behavior change – through behavior change. I suspect Einstein might have something to say about that.

The problem is the premise. Behavior Mod’s core assumptions are actually contrary to brain science. It assumes that by merely repeating a behavior over and over (and over and over), permanent brain change will result that can be maintained over time. But it doesn’t. And it can’t.

Certainly we’ve all tried. Gone on a ‘different’ diet that we’d get ‘serious’ about this time. Or promised ourselves we’d always write up a schedule for the next day before ending work so we’d be up and running in the morning. But we’ve failed.

We’ve learned the hard way that we can’t lose weight permanently by trying to lose weight. Or stop smoking by trying to stop smoking. Somehow we forget that we have to remember to keep doing it, so we promise ourselves we’ll be disciplined ‘this time’. But we don’t. And we don’t know what else to do.

DIFFERENT THINKING REQUIRED

The reason it’s not possible is pretty simple once you understand what a behavior is and how our brains generate them. The problem isn’t our lack of discipline. We’re ignoring the brain chemistry and neural pathways that prompt behaviors to begin with.

I’ll start with an analogy. Let’s say you purchase a forward-moving robot, use it for a while, then decide you want it to move backward. You tell it why a ‘backwards’ functionality would enhance it, show it slides and presentations of other robots that move backwards, and attempt to push, cajole, and offer rewards for days on end. Nope. It won’t move backward. But if you program it differently, it will.

What about changing a chair into a table. You put red plastic into a machine that is programmed to spit out a red plastic chair. Once the chair is produced, you can’t make it a table. But you can create a table if you program the machine appropriately at the start.

Changing habits by trying to change habits is merely attempting to change the outcome, what’s already occurred – the output, the habit, the behavior – but failing to reprogram the brain with different instructions.

Sounds obvious. But that’s not what behaviorists are trying to do: Behavior Mod tries to get the robot to move backward by pushing it (and pushing it and pushing it) on a regular basis assuming the repetition will cause permanent change. It’s just not possible to maintain over time without changing the core input instructions to the brain.

WHAT IS A BEHAVIOR?

To understand the full scope of the problem it’s helpful to understand what, exactly, a behavior is. They don’t just arise haphazardly, like coincidences that seem to occur by chance, or stand-alone features.

Behaviors are merely the activity, the output – the forward-moving robot – of our brain’s signaling system, the response to input instructions that travel down a fixed neural pathway and hook up with a set of circuits that generate a behavior.

Where do behaviors originate? Behaviors are Beliefs in action, tangible representations of our core identity factors. Our politics represent our Beliefs. The way we dress, talk; the professions we choose; where we travel and who we marry. Everything we do represents who we are. As the foundational factor, Beliefs determine our actions and must be factored in when considering change or forming a new habit. Current Behavior Mod approaches try to circumvent Beliefs and therein lie the problem.

There is actual science on how behaviors get generated and why we automatically repeat behaviors even when we don’t want to. Here’s a quote from noted Harvard neuroscientist Richard Masland in We Know It When We See It to set the stage:

Our brain has trillions of cell assemblies that fire together automatically. When anything incoming bears even some of the characteristics [of operational circuits], the brain automatically fires the same set of synapses. (pg 143)

I’ll now offer a simplified version of the specifics of how to convince the brain to make the changes that lead to new habits: the science, the neurology, of how messages travel through the brain to become a behavior. It’s only slightly wonky, so hang with me. Once you ‘get it’ you’ll understand how behaviors occur and where change comes from.

NEUROLOGICAL PATHWAY FROM INPUT TO OUTPUT

Generally, each behavior starts off as an input – an idea or command, thought or story – that enters our brains as a meaningless puff of air, an electrochemical vibration (a ‘message’). To keep us congruent, the input gets evaluated against our Mental Models and Beliefs before going further. Is this input a risk? Is it congruent with values?

If the idea goes against who we are, it gets rejected or resisted and does not end up becoming a permanent pathway. Did you ever try to convince someone of a different political persuasion, regardless of the strength of your argument? Nope. We’re not talking rational here, we’re talking electrochemical neurology.

If the vibration is accepted, it gets turned into signals that then seek out similar-enough circuits that translate them into action or output – a behavior. So:

  1. Receive input vibrations (from conversations, thoughts, reading, ideas) and
  2. Compare/test against foundational Beliefs, norms, and history
  3. Get turned into signals that get
  4. Matched with the closest, habituated brain circuits
  5. That translate them into output/action/behavior.

In more scientific language, it looks like this in our brains:

Data/Input -> Risk/Congruence check -> CUE creates signals -> CEN (Central Executive Network) generates/chooses circuits -> Output/behavior.

Or simply stated: Input -> Relevance check -> Programming -> Output

The time it takes a message to go from an input to an output takes 5 one-hundredths of a second. It’s pretty automatic.

THE NEED FOR VALUES-BASED CONGRUENCY

The next important piece is why repetition won’t cause new (permanent) habits. To understand this, it’s important to understand the strength and responsibility of the neural pathway between the input and the output.

All outputs, behaviors, are initiated by signals that trigger them in the first place. Since input messages become signals only AFTER a relevance check and found to be risk free, any potential new habits must go through the same safeguards. There’s a reason why.

One of our brain’s guiding principles is Systems Congruence, or the need to be stable. This need for stability creates our habits that enable us to brush our teeth when we get up in the morning, and take a left turn without major thought. For this reason, our brains seek well-traveled pathways – doing what we’ve always done – regardless of their current efficacy, because they matched our Beliefs at some point and are now habituated and unconscious.

If our Beliefs change and new outputs are required, our system just needs to go back to the drawing board with new inputs, new relevancy check, new signals and new circuits. Otherwise there is no reason for our brains to consider changing. Remember that we’re dealing with brain activity, vibrations, that offer no good/bad judgment on their own. If it was ‘good to go’ at one point, and the brain has no reason to reconsider this, it just keeps on keepin’ on.

Sadly – and the reason new activity fails when Behavior Mod is attempted – if anything tries to change the status quo without being checked for relevance, our brain discards the new input because it may carry risk! The new isn’t sustainable. Ultimately, trying to create new habits without sending wholly new belief-based input instructions – i.e. new programming – cannot cause permanent change because there are no new circuits to administer it!

The good news is that the brain is always willing to create new circuits for new behaviors. It’s called Neurogenesis.

CREATING NEW PROGRAMMING, NEW SIGNALS, NEW BEHAVIORS

To change behaviors permanently, start with new, Belief-based input messages that result in wholly new circuits and outputs:

  • create a new belief-based input/message that
  • generates new signals which
  • create or discover a different arrangement of (existing) circuits
  • leading to new/different behaviors.

Let me tell you a story. A friend said, “I’ve been telling myself I’m a Fat Cow recently. That means it’s time for me to go on another diet.” Obviously this input would lead her to the same circuits (and results) that it used for past diets that she failed at. But if she changed her input signal and told herself instead:

‘I am a healthy person who will research best nutrition choices for my body type and lifestyle and have the discipline to eat the best foods for the rest of my life.’

she would end up with a different set of circuits and different output/behaviors.

Our outputs, our behaviors, are merely responses to inputs that our brain has checked out as congruent with who we are. So change the incoming messaging to one that is Belief-based and takes into account all the elements (Mental Models, history, norms, experience) that might cause risk to the system. Once it’s approved, it will automatically generate new circuits and new, habituated, behaviors.

THE HOW OF CHANGE

I’ve been studying, unpacking, and writing about Choice and Change for over 50 years. It’s been exciting and frustrating: exciting because I continue to learn as new discoveries in brain science emerge, frustrating because science largely studies outputs without curiosity re where, how, or why a signal gets created or chosen to begin with. The concept of Beliefs, or Systems Congruence, is omitted. And yet science now says it understands change comes from Beliefs – but doesn’t know how to get there. I do. It just takes different thinking.

In 2019, I spent a full year unpacking the science of neural pathways and adding some of my understanding about change and congruence into the mix. From this, I developed a 5-hour program program to guide folks through the step-by-step activity of consciously designing permanent habit formation. I’ve trained it to a few hundred people who have had great results. Here you can watch me deliver the first, introductory, hour of the How of Change™ program.

I am passionately interested in enabling people to consciously design new signaling instructions for their brains to output any new habits they seek. My wish is to work with healthcare providers and apps for exercise, healthy eating, meditation and decision making to aid folks seeking to achieve greater health and success. It’s quite possible to add the How of Change capabilities to the front end of Behavior Mod apps so users first change their brains to be ready for permanent change.

If you want to collaborate, or have questions, contact me to discuss ways we can engage those seeking permanent change. sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com

_______________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

July 19th, 2021

Posted In: Change Management, Communication

One Comment

We all know the importance of listening, of connecting with others by deeply hearing them share thoughts, ideas, and feelings, by being present and authentic. We work hard at listening without judgment, carefully, with our full attention. But are we hearing others without bias? I contend we’re not.

WHAT IS LISTENING?

From the work I’ve done unpacking the routes of incoming messages in brains, I believe that listening is far more than hearing words and understanding another’s shared thoughts and feelings. Listening is actually a brain thing that has little do to with meaning. It’s about puffs of air.

There are several problems with us accurately hearing what someone says, regardless of our intent to show up as empathetic listeners. Generally speaking, our brains determine what we hear. And they weren’t designed to be objective. There are two primary reasons:

  1. Words are meant to be semantic transmissions of meaning, yet they emerge from our mouths smooshed together in a singular gush with no spaces between them. Our brains then have the herculean task of deciphering individual sounds, individual word breaks, unique definitions, to understand their meaning. No one speaks with spaces between words. Otherwise. It. Would. Sound. Like. This. Hearing impaired people face this problem with new cochlear implants: it takes about a year for them to learn to decipher individual words, where one word ends and the next begins.
  2. When others speak, their words enter our ears as puffs of air without denotation – sound vibrations that have no meaning at all. None.

This second note is confounding: our ears hear what they’re set up to hear, not necessarily what a speaker intends to share.

Just as we perceive color when light receptors in our eyes send messages to our brain to translate the incoming light waves (the world has no color), meaning is a translation of sound vibrations that have traversed a very specific brain pathway after we hear them.

As such, I define listening as our brain’s progression of making meaning from incoming sound vibrations.

HOW BRAINS LISTEN

I didn’t start off with that definition. Like most people, I had thought that if I gave my undivided attention and listened ‘without judgment’, I’d be able to hear what a Speaker intended. But I was wrong.

When writing my book on closing the gap between what’s said and what’s heard, I was quite dismayed to learn that what a Speaker says and what a Listener hears are often two different things.

It’s not for want of trying; Listeners work hard at empathetic listening, of caring about the Speaker and the conversation, of responding collaboratively and caringly. But the way our brains are organized make it difficult to hear others without bias.

Seems everything we perceive (all incoming sensory) is translated (and restricted) by the circuits already set up in our brains. If you’ve ever heard a conversation and had a wholly different takeaway than others in the room, or understood something differently from the intent of the Speaker, it’s because listening isn’t based on words or intended meaning; it’s because our brains have a purely mechanistic approach to translating signals. Here’s what our brains do:

Input (vibrations from words, thoughts, sound, feeling, sight)

CUE (turns incoming vibrations into electro-chemical signals)

CEN (Central Executive Network finds existing ‘similar-enough’ circuits to interpret into meaning)

Output (meaning)

Here’s a simplified version of what happens when someone speaks:

– the sound of their words enter our ears as mere vibrations (puffs of air with no meaning),

– get turned into electro-chemical signals (also without meaning) that

– get sent to existing circuits

– that have a ‘close-enough’ match (but may not match fully)

– previously used for other translations,

– and then discards the overage – whatever doesn’t match

– causing us to ‘hear’ the messages translated through circuits we already have on file!

It’s mechanical.

The worst part is that when our brain discards the ‘overage’ signals, it doesn’t tell us! So if you say “ABC” and the closest circuit match in my brain is “ABL” my brain discards D, E, F, G, etc. and fails to tell me what it threw away!

That’s why we believe what we ‘think’ we’ve heard is accurate. Our brain actually tells us that’s what was said, regardless of how near or far that interpretation is from the truth.

In other words, we ‘hear’ only what our brains translate based on our historic circuits – or, our biased, subjective experience.

With the best will in the world, with the best empathetic listening, by being as non-judgmental as we know how to be, as careful to show up with undivided attention, we can only hear what our brain allows us to hear. Being unwittingly restricted by our past, just about everything we hear is naturally biased.

IT’S POSSIBLE TO GET IT ‘RIGHTER’

The problem is our automatic, mechanistic brain. Since we can’t easily change the process itself (I’ve been developing brain change models for decades; it’s possible to add new circuits.), it’s possible to interfere with the process.

I’ve come up with two ways to listen with more accuracy:

  1. When listening to someone speak, stand up and walk around, or lean far back in a chair. It’s a physiologic fix, offering an Observer/witness viewpoint that goes ‘beyond the brain’ and disconnects from normal brain circuitry. I get permission to do this even while I’m consulting at Board meetings with Fortune 100 companies. When I ask, “Do you mind if I walk around while listening so I can hear more accurately?” I’ve never been told no. They are happy to let me pace, and sometimes even do it themselves once they see me do it. I’m not sure why this works or how. But it does.
  2. To make sure you take away an accurate message of what’s said say this:

To make sure I understood what you said accurately, I’m going to tell you what I think you said. Can you please tell me what I misunderstood or missed? I don’t mind getting it wrong, but I want to make sure we’re on the same page.

Listening is a fundamental communication tool. It enables us to connect, collaborate, care, and relate with everyone. By going beyond Active Listening, by adding Brain Listening to empathetic listening, we can now make sure what we hear is actually what was intended.

______________________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.    

July 5th, 2021

Posted In: Communication, Listening

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As a preamble to a discussion about failing consciously, I’d like to retell a story. Many years ago Xerox was beta testing a then new-type digital printer. The testers sent back complaints: it was hard to figure out how to work the damn thing, and the user guide was confusing. Obviously, User Error, the designers concluded. Yup. More stupid users. So they set up an internal focus group to test what exactly was happening.

They brought in three middle managers, put them in a room with the new printer and user guide, and from the one-way mirror watched while mayhem ensued. They watched while the managers got confused by the directions in the user guide, spent literally hours arguing amongst themselves about what the user guide meant, kept pressing the wrong buttons, and finally gave up – never getting it to work.

User Error, they again said. Obviously, went the thinking, the managers weren’t smart or savvy enough to understand simple directions. Except they didn’t know a trick had been played on them: the testers were actually PhD computer scientists. Oops. It wasn’t User Error at all. They had failed to design a machine and a user guide that had clear user interfaces. So while the printer itself might have been a marvel of machinery for its day, it couldn’t be used. It was a failure. Or was it?

WHAT IS FAILURE

I contend that until every ‘failed’ step was taken, and every ‘failed’ assumption made, there was no way to know exactly what problems needed to be fixed or if indeed their printer was a success. The failure was part of the march to success.

We call it failure when we don’t achieve a goal we’ve set out to accomplish, whether it’s starting up a company, reaching a job goal, learning something new, or starting a new diet. I think that part of who we are as humans is the strive to succeed, to be seen as competent, to be ‘better than’, even if we’re only in competition with ourselves. It’s natural to want our products, our teams, our families, our competitive activities, to reap success. To be The Best. And we plot and envision how to make it happen.

But the road to success isn’t straight; sometimes we face disappointment, shame, and self-judgment along the route. We get annoyed with ourselves when results don’t seem to comply with our mental images, and tell ourselves maybe we didn’t follow the original plan, or didn’t plan well enough, or maybe we’re self-sabotaging. We blame teammates or vendors, spouses or neighbors.

I’m here to tell you that failure is a necessary part of success. It’s built in to learning and succeeding, actually a natural part of the process of change and accomplishment. Before we win we gotta fail. Tiger Woods didn’t wake up the best in the world. Neither did Pavarotti or Steve Jobs. For anyone to get to the top, to achieve success in any industry, any endeavor, any sport, it’s necessary to fail over and over. How surprising that no one teaches us how to fail consciously. I suggest we develop conscious failing strategies that become built in to our success procedures.

WHAT IS OUR STATUS QUO? AND WHY IS IT SO STUBBORN?

Getting to success is a sequential process that includes trial and error – i.e. winning and losing are both part of the same process, and each adding a piece of the puzzle. Of course there’s no way to know what we don’t know before we start – no way to even be curious, or ask the right questions because we don’t know what we don’t know. And unfortunately, part of the process is internal, unconscious, and systemic.

Change – and all success and failure is really a form of changing our status quo – has a very large unconscious component, and when you only try to add new behaviors you miss the unconscious elements that will rear their ugly heads as you move toward hitting our goals: you can’t change a behavior by trying to change a behavior. It just doesn’t work that way.

Let me explain a few things about how your brain works in the area of change. Anything new you want to do, anything new that requires, ultimately, new behaviors, or added beliefs or life changes, requires buy-in from what already exists in your make up – your status quo. Indeed, as the repository of your history, values, and norms, your status quo won’t change a thing without congruency. Indeed it will reject anything new, regardless of how necessary it is, unless the new has been properly vetted.

Setting a goal that’s behavior-based without incorporating steps for buy in assures resistance. Sure, we lay out the trajectory, attempt to make one good decision at a time, and use every feeling, hope, data point, guess, to take next steps. But when we don’t take into account the way our brains unconsciously process, it may not turn out like we envision. Lucky there’s a way to manage our activities to take into account what a brain needs for congruent change and a successful outcome.

THE STEPS TO FAILING CONSCIOUSLY

In my work on how brains facilitate change and make decisions to shift what’s already there (my The How of Change program teaches how to generate new neural routes) I offer ways to create new synapses and neural pathways that lead to new behaviors. Take a look at the Change Model chart I developed, with a careful look at The Trial Loop:

When developing the Change Model, it became important to me to diagram how we learn and developed The Trial Loop to explain it.

The Trial Loop is where the brain learning occurs. It’s here we iterate through several touch points: new data acquisition, buy-in, trial behaviors, and the stop/go/stop action (double-arrowed line between Beliefs (CEN) and red Stop) as each new element is tried and considered before new behaviors are formed.

So as we try out new stuff, our personal mental models of rules, beliefs, norms, history, etc., go through iterations of acceptance, rejection, acceptance, rejection, etc. until the new is congruent with the norms of the system, something we cannot know before we go through this process. So let’s call our disappointments all part of the iteration process that precedes success. Here is a closer look at my chart:

  1. An initial goal/idea/thought enters (through the CUE),
  2. then gets sorted through an acceptance/rejection process for beliefs and systems congruence (the CEN), which
  3. darts around the brain seeking a match for an existing neural pathway for earlier incidence of achieving this goal.
  4. If no existing pathway is found, a new synapse/neural pathway must be formed.
  5. The brain goes through an iterative process to form a new path to a new action with agreement (buy in) needed at each step (notice the iterative arrows in the chart).
  6. Iterative process includes: gathering data, trialing new activity, getting internal buy in, testing for Systems Congruence (All systems must be in a congruent state. Individually and personally, we’re all a system.)
  7. Process of Stop/New choice-data acquisition-action/Stop etc. as each new thing is tried.
  8. Final success when there’s congruency and new is adopted without resistance as a final Behavior. (And note: the Behavior is the FINAL activity. You cannot change a behavior by trying to change a behavior.)

Now you know the steps to conscious change. Should you want to learn more talk with me about my How of Change program let me know.

THE STEPS TO CONSCIOUS FAILING

Now let’s plot out the steps to conscious failure to avoid large-scale malfunction. To begin with, write down components and sub-outcomes for each stage of the route between input (start of the initiative or goal) and final outcome; examine each stage and resistance point against this; examine what’s not doing what was expected through time; come up with new choices to try, and run through the Trial Loop again; then ultimately create steps to ensure the new is integrated and on track to become a new behavior. Success!

The Beginning: to start the process toward succeeding at a goal, you need:

  • Include all (all) stakeholders (including Joe in accounting) and all who will touch the final solution;
  • Agree upon the wording for the final goal, including specifics of new behavioral elements, rules, politics, outcomes – i.e. what, exactly, will be different;
  • Write up a ‘guess list’ of problems that might occur (failures) to the status quo as a result: what they might look like, as well as possible workarounds;
  • An agreement clause from all stakeholders to act when something is going off course. Note: listening without bias is urgently needed here;
  • Consider possible ways your starting goals may shift the status quo and make sure it’s tenable;
  • Know how the new outcome will be maintained over time (including the people, rules, norms, changes, that will be involved) and what else has to buy in to maintenance;
  • State potential, detailed steps toward achievement that are agreeable to all stakeholders;
  • Agreement to reconsider all previous steps if the problems that show up cause new considerations.

The Middle: to make changes, add new knowledge to trial, get continuous buy in, you need:

  • Re write the original goals, with delineated outcomes for each;
  • Notice how the new is disrupting the status quo. Is it necessary to amend the new plans to ensure Systems Congruence? Is the cost of the new lower than the cost of the original? There must be a cost-effective decision made;
  • Find ways to acquire the right knowledge to learn from;
  • Check on the ways you’re failing. Were they expected? Do they conform to your goals? Do you need to shift anything?
  • Agreement to develop new choices where current ones aren’t working as per plan.

The End: making sure the outcome is congruent with the original goal:

  • Go through the Beginning steps and check they’ve been accomplished;
  • Compare end result with original goal;
  • Make sure there is congruent integration with the thinking, beliefs, values of the original;
  • Make sure the status quo is functioning without disruption and the system ends up congruent with its mental models and belief systems.

Here are more specifics to help you integrate the necessary failure, and avoid guesswork and reactions to what might seem inconsistent with your goals:

  1. Lay out specifics for each step you’re considering to your goal. Include timelines, parameters, and consequences of results, specific elements of what success for that step should look like, and what possible failure might look like. Of course, you can’t truly know the answers until they occur, but make your best guess. It’s important to notice something new happening when it’s happening.
  2. If something unplanned or feared occurs (i.e. failure), annotate the details. What exactly is happening? What elements worked and what didn’t, and how did they work or not work – what/who was involved, how did the result differ from the expectations? What does the failure tell you – what IS succeeding instead of what you wish for? How does the remedy for the problem influence the next step? How long should you allot for each occurrence before determining whether it’s failure, or just part of the success trajectory you weren’t aware of?
  3. Are all stakeholders involved and shared their input? Do you need to bring in more stakeholders?
  4. Notice the consequences of the outcomes for each: employees, clients, hiring, firing, quitting, vendors, competition, state of the industry and your place in it. What comes into play with these factors when considering if you want to continue down one trajectory rather than designing a new one? What will it look like to decide to change course? How will your decisions effect your vision of an outcome? How are the stakeholders affected by each choice?
  5. How much failure are you willing to risk before you determine that either your outcome is untenable, or you need to make structural changes? What part does ego and denial play? Does everyone agree what constitutes failure? Success?
  6. What will you notice when your trajectory to success is negatively effecting your baseline givens? What are you willing to change, or accept, to reach your goal?
  7. What will it look like, specifically, when you’ve concluded your efforts? Will parts of the failure be factored in as success? Do all stakeholders buy in to the end result? If not, what remains unresolved? And how will you bring this forward?

Of course there’s no way to know before you start what any specific stage will look like. But using the steps, the thinking, above, you’ll be able to get a handle on it. And by including the failure, you’ll have a far better chance of succeeding.

For some reason, as leaders or individuals, companies or small businesses, we shame ourselves when we don’t achieve what we set out to achieve during our change processes. I contend we must think of each step as an integral part of the process of getting where we want to be. As they say in NLP, there’s no failure, only feedback.

________________________________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

June 7th, 2021

Posted In: Change Management, Communication

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What if most of our viewpoints, interpretations and assumptions are so unconsciously biased that we unwittingly restrict our ability to accurately understand, or act on, incoming information? And what’s accuracy anyway?

Usually, we don’t question what our brains tell us, what seems to be reasonable or wrong. Responding from our personal norms and beliefs, we instinctively assume our perceptions, actions, interpretations, are based on reality. But what if we’re actually restricting ourselves to what’s comfortable and acceptable, and not accounting for our deep seated biases?

Our subjectivity maintains us. At all costs.

SUBJECTIVITY VS OBJECTIVITY

Subjectivity is based on personal, unique, and idiosyncratic beliefs, assumptions, and norms. We’d think we’re making good choices when we choose or consider one thing vs another, when we easily reject something because it makes no sense or annoys us. Or worse, when it’s ‘obvious’ to us that one thing should be valued differently than another.

We like to think we’re able to be objective. I’m here to tell you, we’re not.

The Wikipedia definition of objectivity is “… the elimination of subjective perspectives and … purely based on hard facts.” And “a lack of bias, judgment, or prejudice.” But is this possible? What are ‘hard facts’ when our brain rejects them as faulty? I suggest that objectivity is only slightly less biased than subjectivity. It’s our brain’s fault.

Indeed, it’s pretty impossible to experience or interpret most anything without bias. We act, make decisions and choices, communicate with others, raise children and have friends, all from a small range of favored, habitual mental models that we’ve spent a lifetime culling and assume are accurate.

  • We hear and understand through our brain’s existent neural pathways, causing incoming information (incoming via electrical and chemical signals devoid of meaning) to flow down historic brain routes developed through a lifetime of beliefs, norms, experiences. Regardless of how ‘factual’ it is, when incoming data doesn’t jive with our existing beliefs, our brains ‘do us a favor’ and resist and re-interpret whatever falls outside of what we ‘know’ to be true. Obviously, anything new has a good chance of not being understood accurately. Bias is just cooked in; we don’t even think twice about trusting our intuition or natural reasoning.
  • Whether we’re in a conversation, listening to media, or even reading, we listen through biased filters, and hear what our brains tell us was said – likely to be X% different from the intended message. Unless we develop new neural pathways for the new incoming data, we will only hear what our brains are already comfortable with.

Indeed, our worlds are very tightly controlled by our unconscious and habituated biases, making it quite difficult to objectively hear or understand new idea-based incoming information that is different. It takes quite a bit of work to act beyond our perceptions.

WHY CAN’T WE BE OBJECTIVE?

Each of us interpret incoming messages uniquely. Have you ever spoken with folks who believe that ‘9/11’, or the moon landing, was a hoax or conspiracy? What about people who smoke, and interpret the health data uniquely, believing that because their grandfather smoked until he died at 95 that it’s not going to happen to them? Objectivity is not, well, objective. Here’s what happens: Sometimes

  • the way the new info comes in to us – the words used, the setting, the history between the communication partners, the distance between what’s being said and our current beliefs – cause us to unconsciously misinterpret bits of data;
  • we have no natural way of recognizing an incongruity between the incoming information and our unconscious thoughts;
  • our brain deletes some of the signals from incoming messages when they are discordant with what’s already there, without giving us the deletions to let us know what we missed (My book What? Did you really say what I think I heard?explains and corrects this problem.);
  • our beliefs are so strong we react automatically without having enough detachment to notice;
  • what we think is objective is often merely a habitual choice.

We each live in worlds of our own making. We choose friends and neighborhoods according to our beliefs and how our ears interpret ‘facts’, choose professions according to our likes and predispositions, raise our kids with the same norms and beliefs that we hold. In other words, we’ve created rather stable – certainly comfortable – worlds for ourselves that we fight to maintain regardless of how our biases may distort.

When communicating with others, ‘objective facts’ might get lost in subjectivity. In business we connect with different viewpoints and attempt to convince other’s of our ‘rightness’, and either they don’t believe us or they feel we’ve made them ‘wrong’. Our children learn stuff in school that we might find objectionable regardless of its veracity, or we might disagree with teachers who have different interpretations of our child’s behavior. What about the ‘fake news’ claims these days? What, exactly is true? I contend the difference between ‘fake news’ and factual reporting is in our perceptions. Either can be objective or subjective given our underlying biases, and separate from the ‘reality’ of facts.

And of course, most scientific facts we deem ‘objective truth’ may just be opinions. Folks like Curie, Einstein, Hawking, and Tesla were considered to be cranks because their ideas flew in the face of objective science that turned out to be nothing more than decades and centuries of perceived wisdom/opinions.

The problem shows up in every aspect of our lives. Sometimes there’s no way to separate out objective fact from subjective belief, regardless of the veracity.

I remember when my teenage son came home with blue hair one day. Thinking of what his teachers would say (This was in 1985!) or his friend’s parents, I wanted to scream. Instead I requested that next time he wanted to do something like that to please discuss it with me first, and then told him it looked great (It actually was a terrific color!). But his father went nuts when he came to pick him up, screaming at both of us (“What kind of a mother lets her son dye his hair blue!!!”), and taking him directly to the barber to shave his head. For me, it was merely hair. Objective reality.

CASE STUDY IN OBJECTIVITY VS SUBJECTIVITY

I once visited a friend in the hospital where I began a light conversations with the elderly orderly helping her sit up and eat. During our chat, the orderly asked me if I could mentor him. Um… Well, I was busy. Please! he begged. Not knowing what I could add to his life and having a bias that folks who asked me to mentor them just wanted me to give them money, I reluctantly, doubtfully, said ok.

He emailed me and invited me to dinner. Um… well, ok. I’d donate one night. He lived in a tiny room in a senior living center, on the ‘wrong’ side of the tracks. It was very clean and neat, and he had gone out of his way to prepare the best healthy dinner he knew how to offer. Shrimp cocktail. Nice salad. Hamburger and beans. Ice cream. During dinner he played some lovely music. Just lovely. I was transfixed. Who is that playing, I asked.

“It’s me. I wrote that piece, and I’m playing all the instruments. I have several CDs of music I’ve composed and self-produced. Can you help me find someone who might want to hear it and do something with it? I’ve never met anyone who could help me.” I helped him find folks who helped him professionally record at least two of his compositions.

By any ‘objective’ measure, using my own subjective biases and ignoring the objective truth that we’re all equal and everyone is capable of having talent, I didn’t initially consider that someone ‘like that’ (old, black, poor, uneducated) had the enormous talent this man possessed, regardless of my advocacy of non-bias and gender/race equality.

Unwittingly, we seriously restrict our worlds by the way we process incoming data. We live subjective lives that restrict us. And as a result, we end up having arguments, misunderstandings, failed initiatives; we end up having a smaller pool of ideas to think with and don’t see a need for further research or checking; we make faulty assumptions about people and ideas that could bring benefits to our lives. I personally believe it’s necessary for us to remove as many restrictions as possible to our pool of knowledge and beliefs.

HOW TO COMPENSATE

To recognize bias and have a new choice, we must first recognize the necessity of noticing when something we believe may not be true, regardless of how strong our conviction otherwise. It’s quite difficult to do using the same biases that caused us to unconsciously bias in the first place.

Here’s a tip to help expand your normalized perception and notice a much broader range of givens, or ‘reality,’ to view an expanded array of options from a Witness or Coach or Observer position on the ceiling:

  1. Sit quietly. Think of a situation that ended with you misinterpreting something and the outcome wasn’t pretty. Replay it through your mind’s eye. Pay particular attention to your feelings as you relive each aspect of the situation. Replay it again.
  2. Notice where your body has pain, discomfort, or annoyance points.
  3. As soon as you notice, intensify the feeling at the site of the discomfort. Then impart a color on it. Make the color throb.
  4. Mentally move that color inside your body to the outer edges of your eyeballs and make the color vibrate in your eyes.
  5. When you mentally notice the color vibration, make sure you sit back in your chair or stand up. Then move your awareness up to the ceiling (i.e. in Witness or Observer position) and look down at yourself. From above you’ll notice an expanded range of data points and options outside your standard ones, causing you to physiologically evade your subjective choices.

Since the difference between subjectivity and objectivity is one of perception, and in general our brains make our determinations unconsciously, we must go to the place in our brains that cause us to perceive, and make it conscious. Only then can we have any objective choice. And next time we think we’re being objective, maybe rethink the situation to consider whether new choices are needed.

___________________________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, author NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity, Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell), listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

April 12th, 2021

Posted In: Communication, Listening, Sales

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How do we manage change in our organizations? Not very well, apparently. According to statistics, the success rate for many planned change implementations is low: 37 percent for Total Quality Management; 30 percent for Reengineering and Business Process Reengineering, and a whopping 97% for some software implementations. Regardless of the industry, situation, levels of people involved, or intended outcome, change seems to be sabotaged in unknown ways, causing the real possibility of failure:

  • Internal partners fail in attempts to promote and elicit proposed change initiatives across departments.
  • Leaders get blindsided by unknowns, creating more problems or becoming part of the problem when attempting to find a fix.
  • The system gets disrupted during the change process, unwittingly harming people, relationships, and initiatives.
  • Improper, or non-existent, integration between developers and users cause lack of buy-in and resistance.
  • The change doesn’t get adopted as conceived, with financial and personal fallout.

Is it possible that our approach is causing some of the problems? I submit that we’re omitting some of the foundational elements to congruent change, change that can be successful in:

  • its comfortable transitions between phases;
  • its ease of buy-in;
  • enabling all participants to embrace leadership roles and be a part of designing and developing the Rules and Beliefs that will define the emerging, new system;
  • reducing fallout and cost;
  • eliminating resistance,
  • encouraging creativity.

But we’ll need to do something different from what we’re currently doing.

THE SYSTEMS ASPECT OF CHANGE

Let’s begin at the beginning with my definitions of change and systems.

CHANGE: Change is a new set of choices within a system that cause the elements of the system to exhibit altered Behaviors while still maintaining homeostasis. No change can occur unless the system reorients (i.e. re-organizes, re-prioritizes etc.) itself in a way that incorporates and maintains its core accepted norms (i.e. homeostasis, Systems Congruence). In other words, all change must include a way for the elements to ultimately buy-in to, and incorporate, new functioning while maintaining the rules and Beliefs of the status quo.

SYSTEM: Any connected set of elements that comprise a homeostatic entity, held together by consensual rules and Beliefs that then generate a unique set of Behaviors that exhibit its unique identity. All systems must maintain Systems Congruence or they lose their identity and become something else. Because change represents the disruption of the status quo in unknowable ways, systems defend themselves by resisting when feeling threatened. In order to facilitate congruent change, it’s necessary to get the agreement, and a recognized path forward (There are specific, sequential steps in all change processes.), of all of the bits that will be effected by the final solution to ensure it maintains its core identity, Beliefs, and rules.

As a lifelong student of systems thinking and theorizing (50+ years), I’ve recognized that change is often approached with an eye on altering activity and Behaviors without addressing the vital need for the core system to maintain homeostasis. And when we tie our understanding of the functionality of a system to its Behaviors and attempt to push Behavior change before eliciting core Belief change, we

  • overlook the ability to facilitate the system down its own path through to it’s own version of congruent change
  • are relegated to managing the fallout when the stable system reaches Cognitive Dissonance and is forced to defend itself.

Herein lie the problem: until or unless the full complement of relevent elements (that not only created the problem but holds it in place daily) agrees to congruently alter, and get buy-in from, the elements that caused the problem and will be effected by any change, it will resist change regardless of the underlying problem that needs fixing. The system is sacrosanct. And it applies whether trying to get a teenager to pick up his socks, a diabetic patient to exercise, a team to work harmoniously, or a person to figure out if/when she needs to buy something. In general, outsiders cannot effect congruent change because they cannot know the core elements that have created and maintain the status quo, nor how to re-orient them congruently around any proposed change. It’s an inside job.

With our focus on changing Behaviors, we’ve overlooked the need for a system to maintain Systems Congruence – the foundational rules, Beliefs, relationships, etc. that define the system. Outside influencers – regardless of their initiatives or rationality or persuasiveness or authority – can never understand a system they’re not a part of. Change must begin by teaching the system how to change itself. I’ve written this article to:

  • Explain how current approaches to change management lead to resistance,
  • Introduce the elements of change and need for buy-in,
  • Introduce a route to change that can achieve goals without resistance while maximizing leadership and creativity through buy-in and congruent change.

In my forthcoming book (tentatively titled Facilitating Change) I’ll explore this topic thoroughly. In this article I’ll introduce the important elements and lay out my thinking. And I look forward to your feedback.

ALL PROBLEMS START WITH SYSTEMS

Most influencing professions (leadership, coaching, consulting, sales etc.) begin with a goal to be met, adopt an outside-in approach that uses influence, advice, ‘rational’ scientific ‘facts’, and various types of manipulation to inspire change – while ignoring the fact that anything new, any push from outside the system, any dissimilar element not already within it, represents disruption and Cognitive Dissonance. We put the cart before the horse, attempting to change Behaviors and elicit buy in before the system is certain it won’t be compromised and knows how to make sure it survives. Until the necessary steps of change are completed and the system knows it will maintain Systems Congruence, the identified problem will continue as is: it’s already built into the system:

  • The full complement of elements and that created the problem and represent the status quo must be assembled and recognized [Note: this applies to making an individual decision since each of us is an individual system.];
  • Everyone/everything within the system must accept that it’s not possible to fix the problem with known resources;
  • All of the elements (people, policies, rules, relationships, etc.) that will be effected by a new solution – i.e. change – must begin by understanding, buying-in to, and accounting for, the ways they’d be changing to ensure the path they design for better funtioning leads them to homeostasis.

Until all that happens the system will resist change (or buying, or learning, or eating healthy or or) regardless of the level of need or the efficacy of the solution. And because of the unconscious, historic elements involved, for congruent change to occur, those inside the system must design their own route to acceptable change. And as outside influencers we actually cause our own resistance by pushing our agendas, when we can actually lead Others through to their own change.

By assuming a Behavior addition/subtraction is ‘rational’ or necessary, without accounting for whatever workaround the system has already adopted and built in to its daily functioning, we end up with far more failure and resistance than we should have given the efficacy of our solutions. Indeed, it’s necessary to elicit buy-in for each element that will be changed: to maintain congruence throughout the change process, systems must

  • Maintain Functional Stability. Systems must maintain homeostasis. Their current functioning, even when problematic, has been finely honed over time, waking up every day maintaining the Behaviors, rules, goals, etc. that created the problem to begin with. Change is not so simple as shoving in a new Behavior. Remember: a system doesn’t judge itself as ‘good’ or ‘bad’. It just is. And it keeps ticking over the same way day after day.
  • Achieve Buy-In. Whether consciously or unconsciously, a system will resist anything from outside that threatens the status quo, regardless of the efficacy of the change. For successful change to occur, the system must recognize exactly what fallout will occur when anything shifts or is added, and how each affected element must modify itself in a way that maintains the integrity of the system (i.e. Systems Congruence). I can’t say this enough: the system is sacrosanct, quite separate from whatever reasons an influencer uses to change it.
  • Maintain Underlying Rules and Beliefs. Great data or solutions, important needs or dangerous consequences do not influence the change if they run counter to the system’s homeostatic Beliefs and rules, overt or covert. (It’s why your Uncle Vinny still smokes with lung cancer, and why training doesn’t cause new behaviors.) Note when we attempt change a set of Behaviors without changing the underlying Beliefs that created those Behaviors to begin with, we cause resistance. And here’s a tip: when you start from inside out, from eliciting any change within a system’s Beliefs and rules (i.e. rather than ‘Eat your broccoli,’ start with ‘I’m a Healthy Person.’), new behaviors will automatically accompany them. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work the other way ‘round: when we attempt to push a new Behavior into the system – say, asking a heart patient to change her diet or exercise program – before eliciting Belief change from the entire (and largely unconscious) system, we will achieve resistance as it may be seen as a threat. It cannot be otherwise.

The issues are the same regardless of the focus, whether it’s a company resisting reorganization, a patient refusing meds, a user group resisting new software, a buyer who hasn’t figured out when, if, how to buy, or a group not taking direction from company leadership. As outsiders we too often push for our own results and actually cause the resistance that occurs.

It’s possible to use our positions as outside influencers eschew our bias and be real Servant Leaders and teach the system how to traverse each step of its own change.

CASE STUDY: SYSTEMS ALIGNMENT

Here is a case study that exhibits how to enable buy-in and congruent change management by facilitating a potential buyer through her unique systems issues en route to a purchasing decision. Note: All change situations (whether coaching, leadership, software implementations, family problems, healthcare initiatives, etc.) must go through a series of steps to change to achieve buy in. Until now, we’ve left Others to manage the route through to the steps of change on their own as we push, advocate, advise, influence, manipulate for our own agendas and then we blame them when they resist – not to mention potentially not even reach their own internal route to change.

I was with a client in Scotland when he received a call from a long-standing prospect – a Learning and Development manager at a prodigious university with whom he’d been talking for 11 months – to say, “Thanks, but no thanks” for the product purchase. After three product trials that met with acclaim and excitement, an agreed-upon price, and a close relationship developed over the course of a year, what happened? The software was a perfect solution; they were not speaking to any other providers; and price didn’t seem to be a problem.

At my client’s request, I called the L&D manager. Here is the conversation:

SDM: Hi, Linda. Sharon Drew here. Is this a good time to speak? Pete said you’d be waiting for my call around now.

LR: Yes, it’s fine. How can I help? I already told Pete that we wouldn’t be purchasing the software.

SDM: I heard. You must be so sad that you couldn’t purchase it at this time.

LR: I am! I LOVE the technology! It’s PERFECT for us. I’m so disappointed.

SDM: What stopped you from being able to purchase it?

LR: We have this new HR director with whom I share a leadership role. He is so contentious that few people are willing to deal with him. After meeting with him, I get migraines that leave me in bed. I’ve decided to limit my exposure to him, discussing only things that are emergencies. So I’ve put a stop to all communication with him just to keep me sane. He would have been my business partner on this purchase.

SDM: Sounds awful. I hear that because of the extreme personal issues you’ve experience from the relationship, you don’t have a way to get the necessary buy-in from this man to help your employees who might need additional tools to do their jobs better.

LR: Wow. You’re right. That’s exactly what I’ve done. Oh my. I’m going to have to figure that out because I’ve certainly got a responsibility to the employees.

SDM: What would you need to know or believe differently to be willing to work through the personal issues and figure out how to be in some sort of a working relationship with the HR director for those times your employees need new tools?*

LR: Could you send me some of these great questions you’re asking me so I can figure it out, and maybe use them on him?

I sent her a half dozen *Facilitative Questions to both teach her how to design a route to her own sanity and a path to healthy collaborative partnership with the HR Director. Two weeks later, Linda called back to purchase the solution. What happened?

1. While the university had a need for my products solution, the poor relationship between the HR director and the L&D director created hidden, ongoing dysfunction. The information flow problem could not be resolved while the hidden problem remained in place – details not only hidden from the sales person (outsider) but used as a deterrent by Linda (who didn’t know how to resolve the problem other than to walk away because her own internal system had been violated). So yes, there was a need for the solution and indeed a willing partner, but no, there was no systemic buy-in for change.

2. I stayed completely away from attempting to resolve the problem by sharing, gathering, pitching information or my reasons why change (i.e. buying my solution) was necessary. (Not only is information not needed until the system knows what information it needs – if you haven’t figured out what type of car you want to buy there’s no need to hear a pitch about a Lamborghini – but the bias involved in sharing it and gathering it restricts success. There’s plenty of time to offer our solutions when we can pitch it relevantly, according to the way the system is set up to use it.). The only viable route was to help her figure out her own route to a fix.

3. This was not a sales problem (It’s always a ‘systems change’ problem, rarely a ‘coaching’ problem or an ‘implementation’ problem) – the Behaviors/outcomes were merely representing a broken system. I had to facilitate the change by enabling Linda to resolve her own system. This is how current change management models fail: they attempt to rule, govern, constrict, manage, influence, maintain the change, rather than enabling the system to recognize and mitigate its own unique (and largely unconscious) drivers and change itself congruently.

4. There was no way for the system to fix itself as long as the L&D director – merely one piece of the systemic puzzle that created the problem to begin with – didn’t know how to develop additional choices for herself. Her choice to do nothing was an ode to Systems Congruence.

5. In Linda’s unconscious decision to forgo a problem fix to maintain her own personal homeostasis, she unconsciously weighted her personal criteria above her criteria for doing her job. In order to buy the solution, she’d need to find a way to ensure personal Systems Congruence.

Linda was willing to separate her work-related decision from her personal issues and reevaluate her choices once she realized there was a way to maintain her internal homeostasis AND fix the problem.

Rule: Until or unless people grasp how a solution will match their underlying criteria/values, and until there is buy-in from the parts that will be effected from the change, no permanent change will happen regardless of the necessity of the change, the size of the need, the origination of the request, or the efficacy of the solution.

Current change management models assume that a ‘rational’, information/rules-based change request and early client engagement will supplant the system’s need for homeostasis.

Focusing instead on effecting Behavior change as per the route, goal, assumptions, needs of the influencer. Indeed, even when change agents attempt to include clients into the software design or change implementations, their questions and info sharing strategies are largely biased by their personal outcomes and unwittingly overlook the interdependency of core Beliefs, historic roles, unspoken rules and relationships, and unconscious drivers within the user’s unconscious system.

Rule: Whether it’s sales, leadership, healthcare, coaching or change management, until or unless the folks within another’s system are willing to adapt to, and adopt, the requested change using their own rules and Beliefs, they will either take no action or resist to maintain the homeostasis of the system. The system is sacrosanct. And information push, rational argument, leadership directives, or any outside-in model threatens the system.

HOW BELIEFS, BEHAVIORS, AND BUY-IN EFFECT SYSTEMIC CHANGE

Fortunately, it’s possible to highlight each pivotal element of change and get buy-in before attempting a change initiative. It requires an understanding of what, exactly, is a Behavior, and why starting by attempting to change the Behaviors/output of the system can only cause resistance.

Behaviors are merely Beliefs in action – the physical transaction that exemplifies the underlying rules and values of the system. In other words, they’re the means a system uses to operate and perform its purpose – the end point, and certainly an ineffective place to begin change.

Think of it this way. If you want your forward-moving robot to go backwards you might tell it why moving backward is beneficial, order it to move backward, offer scientific proof why moving backward is best, or push it. But until the internal programming is changed from the core, it cannot change regardless of how you position your request or push the robot backwards. Indeed, you might even break the robot in your attempts to get it to behave the way you want it to behave.

Since it’s not possible for an outsider to lead from inside, we must teach the system how to lead itself, much like a GPS system leads a driver to a destination without actually being in the car or noticing the landscape. Like a GPS system, we begin by leading the system through its own idiosyncratic route to design its own change (i.e. like I helped Linda figure out her core issues (i.e. not our products) and how to communicate with the HR director) to ensure Systems Congruence, buy-in and leadership from within. Here are my rules to facilitating congruent change and buy-in:

1. Enter with no bias. Help the system define the elements that created the status quo and must buy in to the change. These include anything – jobs, people, initiatives, relationships, departments – that the new solution will touch. Rule: Entering the decision-navigation portion of the change experience with bias or a personal outcome will impede the process and create resistance. Change agents must listen for systems without a biased ear (see my new book on this topic –What? Did you really say what I think I heard?) and eschew attempting to introduce information until the system is set up to change, knows what it needs to know (usually quite different from what we think it needs) and has achieved buy-in.

2. Help the system recognize all of the parts – the people, rules, relationships, presuppositions, workarounds – that created and maintain the status quo. Rule: Until or unless the system recognizes all of the factors, knows how they have contributed to the problems in the status quo, and ensures that they buy in to the change, it will not be able to give agreement.

3. Help the system figure out how to reorganize around the new change so it will not face disruption and will have all of the pieces in place to accommodate the change. Rule: The change cycle is the time it takes for the system to figure out its own trajectory so there will be minimal disruption during the change process.

BUY-IN: A REAL WORLD EXAMPLE

Joseph, a coaching client of mine, was a CMO in a small company (around 150 employees) had a problem: He wanted to implement a new customer-service initiative but had just joined the company and was fearful of making waves. He initially wanted to design the project, issue edicts, and fire those who didn’t comply with the initiative. After casually speaking with a few people about it, he got huge resistance.

He called me in when he realized he had to choose between enforcing the Behaviors and outcomes he had in mind, or creating the structure and teaching the employees how to become creative leaders who would design their own congruent process. I helped him build a creative structure for congruent change, which meant giving up some of the details of his plan while maintaining the congruence of what the outcome looked like. Joseph put together a list of his baseline criteria and then left open the financials, job descriptions, activities, and other decisions:

1. Maintain the company’s integrity, professionalism, and level of service;

2. Design a mix between technology and human interaction;

3. Provide customers with better access to more data, have ease of use for any information they needed, and meet their needs more proactively;

4. Create award-winning service that would differentiate the company from all competitors and keep customers over time.

He called a meeting with the entire company – even groups that the change process wouldn’t necessarily touch – and told them that he was thinking about expanding the customer service operations. He asked everyone to take a few hours to discuss, think about, and brainstorm what it could look like if they had an unlimited budget (which they didn’t have, but it would eliminate the money piece from their brainstorming), and said he’d meet with them the next week to get their ideas.

He told them that this process was highly important, and he wanted it to be part of people’s daily discussions over the next week. He asked that each group have a spokesperson and historian to keep track of all ideas.

The next week, Joseph met with employees again and asked for their input. He captured the ideas by audio and put them all up on an interactive website for the new ideas and told people to add their thoughts. He then sent them back to consider the ideas offered and generate even more.

At the next meeting, he asked workers to take all of the ideas now floating around and use them to brainstorm what the new initiative would look like, who might do what, what would have to change, and what the change would look like for those involved. He asked them to consider:

1. What jobs would change? What jobs would be added/subtracted – and what would happen with the people whose jobs might be affected?

2. What needed to stay the same internally, no matter what? And how could this be included in the new initiative?

3. What might be the possible fall-out from the staff and from customers?

4. What could get in the way of a successful change initiative?

Eventually, employees got into teams and developed solid implementation plans. Those folks who had to change jobs or had their work significantly restructured in a way that might cause resistance joined a management team or focus group and became part of the solution. And throughout the process, I listened carefully to hear points of discontinuity so we could stop and go through their internal examination of their steps to change.

Did Joseph get everything he wanted? Well, yes and no. The new organization ended up far exceeding anything he had conceived. It had more creativity and leadership. It also cost more than he realized (time and money) to put everything in place. But it elicited buy-in from everyone: there was no resistance because everyone had bought in to the idea and made it their own. And over a short amount of time, the change paid for itself.

This is only one method of facilitating change and avoiding resistance. I’ve developed a Change Facilitation model, used often in sales as Buying Facilitation®, that uses a unique skill set to enable core change. I’ve trained this to Senior Partners at recognized consulting firms, farmers in Iowa, tech people in Hong Kong, coaches in Kansas. It’s a generic model that influencers can use to elicit real change. I’m happy to discuss it with you (Sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com).

Conclusion

Before introducing any change initiative, give up the need to push the change, listen without bias, and enable Others to traverse their route to discovery:

  • what elements created and maintain the status quo,
  • who needs to be included (often a larger group than anticipated),
  • recognize what would get in the way of success and what needs to happen to mitigate that interference,
  • figure out how to manage the workarounds in place that attempt to mitigate the problem,
  • notice levels of buy-in and help those who resist shift their personal criteria to become part of the group,
  • get agreement, steps, criteria, and Behaviors for an intact, non-resistant, functioning system that welcomes the new initiative. Then introduce the change.

Until now, we’ve assumed that resistance is a normal part of the change process. But we’ve effectively been pushing our own biased needs for change into a closed, hidden system. We’ve ignored the rule of systems and forgotten that the change we are suggesting will encounter a status quo that is trying to maintain homeostasis. But as we’ve explored above, it is possible to get buy-in without resistance. We don’t have to throw out the many wonderful change models out there. But we first need to get buy-in, and then the change will be welcomed rather than spurned or sabotaged.

____________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. She is the author of several books, including the NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with Integrity and Dirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell). Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

March 8th, 2021

Posted In: Communication

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I’ve read that some leaders and project managers prefer not to collaborate when engaging in a new initiative because they fear losing control. I know decision makers who start their information gathering before involving the full complement of those who will implement.

What sort of success is possible when one source is driving change without the express buy-in from the group? I believe that until there is true collaboration and buy-in, and everyone understands the implications of any change, the group

  • may potentially sabotage a project because of their own biases, causing
  • outcomes and creativity restricted to a specific set of possibilities that may not meet the full group’s criteria,
  • work from biased or insufficient data from a restricted set of sources, and
  • risks alienating those involved.

WHY COLLABORATION IS NECESSARY

To ensure the best data is available to make decisions with, to ensure all risk issues get managed, to ensure consensus throughout the process, we must have these questions in mind:

  • How will we share, collect, and decide on the most appropriate ideas, choices, and alternatives? How will we know we are working with the most relevant data set?
  • How can a leader avoid prejudicing the process with her own biases?
  • How are collaborators chosen to ensure maximum representation? Are some stakeholders either absent or silent? How can we increase participation?
  • How can we recognize if we’re on the path to either a successful outcome, or the route that sabotages excellence? What markers should we be looking for along the way?

Let me define a few terms (albeit with my own bias):

  1. Collaboration: when all parties who will be involved in a final solution have a say in an outcome: a. to offer and share ideas and concerns to discover creative solutions agreeable to all; b. to identify and discern the most appropriate data to enable the best outcome.
  2. Decision making: a. weighting, choosing, and choosing from, the most appropriate range of possibilities whose parameters are agreed to by those involved; b. understanding and agreeing to a set of variables or decision values and knowing how these will effect the ongoing functioning of the system.

I’ve read that distinctions exist between ‘high collaboration’ (a focus on facilitating an agreeable route to the most congruent solution) and ‘low collaboration’ (leading from the top with rules and plans that match the needs of some).

Since I don’t believe in any sort of top-down initiative (i.e. ‘low collaboration’) except when keeping a child safe, and believe there are systems issues that must be taken into consideration, here’s my rule of thumb: Collaboration is necessary among all involved in order to identify accurate data gathering and consensus for any sort of implementation, decision, project, purchase, or plan that requests people to take actions not currently employed.

THE STEPS OF COLLABORATION

Here are the steps to excellence in collaborative decision making as I see them:

  1. Assemble all representative stakeholders to begin discussions. Invite all folks who will be affected by the proposed change, not just those you see as obvious. To avoid resistance, have the largest canvas from which to gather data and inform thinking, and enhance the probability of a successful implementation, the right people must be part of the project from the beginning. An international team of Decision Scientists at a global oil company recently told me that while their weighted decisions are ‘accurate,’ the Implementation Team has a success rate of 3%. “It’s not our job. We hand them over good data. But we’re not part of the implementation team. We hear about their failures later.”
  2. Get buy-in for the goal. Without buy-in we lose possibility, creativity, time, and ideas that only those on the ground would understand. Consensus is vital for all who will touch the solution (even if a representative of a larger group lends their voice) or some who seem on board may end up disaffected and unconsciously sabotage the process later.
  3. Establish all system specifics: What will change? Who will manage it? What levels of participation, disruption, job alterations, etc. will occur and how it be handled? What are the risks? And how will you know the best decision factors to manage all this? It’s vital to meld this knowledge into the decision making process right up front.
  4. Specify stages to monitor process and problems. By now you’ll have a good idea of the pluses and minuses. Make a plan that specifies the outcomes and probable fallout from each stage and publish it for feedback. Otherwise, you won’t know if or where you’ve gone wrong until too late.
  5. Announce the issues publicly. Publish the high-level goal, the possible change issues and what would be effected, and the potential outcomes/fallout. Make sure it’s transparent, and you’re managing expectations well in advance. This will uncover folks you might have missed (for information gathering and buy-in), new ideas you hadn’t considered, and resisters.
  6. Time: Give everyone time to discuss, think, consider personal options, and speak with colleagues and bosses. Create an idea collection process – maybe an online community board where voices are expressed – that gets reports back to the stakeholder team.
  7. Stakeholder’s planning meeting. By now you’ll know who and what must be included. Make sure to include resisters – they bring interesting ideas and thinking that others haven’t considered. It’s been proven that even resisters are more compliant when they feel heard.
  8. Meet to vote on final plans. Include steps for each stage of change, and agree on handling opposition and disruption.
  9. Decision team to begin gathering data. Now that the full set of decision issues and people/ideas/outcomes are recognized and agreed to, the Decision Making team is good to go. They’ll end up with a solid data set that will address the optimal solution that will be implemented without resistance.
  10. Have meetings at each specified stage during implementations. Include folks on the ground to weigh in.

These suggestions may take more time upfront. But what good is a ‘good decision’ if it can’t be implemented? And what is the cost of a failed implementation? I recently heard of a hospital that researched ‘the best’ 3D printer but omitted the implementation steps above. For two years it sat like a piece of art without any consensus in place as to who would use it or how/when, etc. By the time they created rules and procedures the printer was obsolete. I bet they would have preferred to spend more time following the steps above.

Here’s the question: What would stop you from following an inclusive collaboration process to get the best decisions made and the consensus necessary for any major change? As part of your answer, take into account the costs of not collaborating. And then do the math.

____________

Sharon Drew Morgen is a breakthrough innovator and original thinker, having developed new paradigms in sales (inventor Buying Facilitation®, author NYTimes Business Bestseller Selling with IntegrityDirty Little Secrets: why buyers can’t buy and sellers can’t sell), listening/communication (What? Did you really say what I think I heard?), change management (The How of Change™), coaching, and leadership. Sharon Drew coaches and consults with companies seeking out of the box remedies for congruent, servant-leader-based change in leadership, healthcare, and sales. Her award-winning blog carries original articles with new thinking, weekly. www.sharondrewmorgen.com She can be reached at sharondrew@sharondrewmorgen.com.

February 22nd, 2021

Posted In: Communication

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