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The Process of Change

With the phenomenal pressure on organizations to make changes and fast, it is inevitable that processes are increasingly seen as a key to success. If you like me spend time talking with people about how they will go about understanding and improving processes, then you will know that pretty quickly the discussion turns to methods and tools. We soon find ourselves discussing the relative merits of BPM vs. Lean Sigma vs. Six Sigma, of EFQM* vs. AQPC*, of which modelling tool to use or which BPMS* vendor talk with.

Very soon people are talking about how they are going to analyze processes and problems and how they are going to improve or automate them. Keep talking and listening and eventually two things will come up. Firstly, there will be a discussion around how the method or technique needs to be applied without the associated training, “because we don’t have the budget for training” and “we know how to do it but people are simply not buying into the change”. Of course other issues such as communication and lack of management support are also factors, but in some ways these factors also relate to the issue of change.

I have found it fascinating over the years just how few people or organizations have in place or have even studied the “Process of Change.” If change is so important to us and is such an ongoing thing, then why does every organization not have a well documented and well exercised process for change? Why do people not understand that effective change begins no t by analyzing the problem, but instead by elaborating the opportunity or eventual goals/aims? Perhaps it is something to do with the lack of breadth of our studies, or perhaps it is because the people we rely on to do the work are analysts and so naturally they are good at analyzing problems.

This reminds me a little of the ongoing debate between those with a background and training in psychotherapy and those who believe in NLP. There are many in the psychotherapy field that have no time for and are dismissive of NLP, they believe in their own approaches which in some cases can take years to produce results in their patients, they diligently work away analyzing their patients problems and slowly trying to chip away at the causes. They suggest that it is crazy to think that people with only a few weeks of training can produce life saving changes in people with only one or two sessions. They suggest that it makes no sense how people can help others without having to know all about the background and circumstances that bring them to where they are today. Yet all over the world there are people who have had their lives changed for the better in a matter of hours, who did find that good practitioners have taken them to where they want to go in one or two hours, after they had spent years in therapy. There are always new ways of doing things, the old is not bad, just old, new does not have to be good, just new. The art is to blend what works from the old with what works from the new and that delivers the best results in the shortest practical time (with the least possible pain)

Within the IT and Process space I am often amazed at just how narrowly people study, we might learn everything about our chosen method and spend a fortune on our chosen tool, but we seem to only pay lip service to other bodies of knowledge. Areas such as creativity, innovation, communication and facilitation are not learned or taught as an everyday part of Business, Systems, or Process Analysis, or when they are it is only to a small degree. I wonder just how many analysts have read Daniel Pink’s “A whole New Mind” or Malcolm Gladwell’s “Blink” and then combined that reading with things like Robert Cialdini’s “Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion” and Marcus Buckingham’s “First Break all the Rules” – these are just examples of reading that cause as to have a wider perspective, there are many others and types to choose from.

Personally, I have been fascinated at look at process improvement through the eyes of Psychology & Neuro Linguistic Programming, through the eyes of nature & energy healing, in addition to the more traditional approaches. My reasons and guiding principles have been simple; in the words of Einstein “”We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” So we need to look wider than the traditional ways of doing process analysis and design and of J. Krishnamurti “If all problems are problems of the mind, then surely all solutions are solutions of the mind, in which case if we spent as much time focusing on solutions as we do on discussing problems, we would find that solutions would come with equal measure.” So how can we help people focus more on thinking about solutions and new ways of doing things as opposed to simply analyzing where they are now.

Over the past 20 years I have read studied and practiced many aspects of NLP*, I have also been fortunate to learn from many great teachers, but I have also been able to study the subject directly from one of its creators, Dr Richard Bandler. In NLP training we are taught an extensive range of tools and techniques that can help people make changes in their life, overcome fears and phobias, break down emotional barriers and to create the life of their dreams. What tends not to be taught explicitly though is the process of change, it is implicit in the training, but few people seem to notice it. A part of the original thinking in NLP was that if we could find a way to codify how great people achieved the results they did, then we could find ways of learning those patterns and teaching them to others. It was with this in mind that I took the opportunity, two years ago, to discuss with Richard the process of change and to ask him to validate my process for change. What follows is the discussion we had.

“Richard, we have learned many new skills and we have had plenty of opportunity to practice those skills. You have taught us how to make changes, many of which we have seen can be quite profound, yet I am not sure that people really understand what the process of change is, I mean how to consistently apply the learning and techniques such that good results can be obtained across a wide range of issues.” To which Richard, as you would expect replied, “An interesting statement, do you have a question?” “Yes” I said, “May I repeat to you what I understand that process to be and have you comment on it?” “Sure” he said “Fire away.”

“Firstly, you seem to focus on discovering what it is that somebody wants, have them describe their compelling vision of the future or positive view on why their life will be better. Then you have them go into detail on this in such a way as to have them really associate with it. During this you listen very carefully for clues and challenge them so as to ensure that they really do want to make changes and test for the level of seriousness. Once you are satisfied you appear to move on to the next step. This is when you start to analyze, to ask questions of them to understand more about what might be stopping them achieving the results they desire. Also, to think about which of the tools, techniques or patterns might be the most appropriate to achieve the results they are looking for. Once you are happy that you understand what they want and how you might help them you design an approach to achieve the desired result. Before actually performing any change work, you then check in with them to validate that they are totally happy to make the changes and will be comfortable with the results, only when you are sure that you have total agreement do you move on. If you don’t have full agreement, you appear to go back to the first step and once again try to rediscover, analyze and design before one again trying to validate. Now, with their full agreement you undertake the change work, you implement the changes with them and lead them to the point where they are learning new habits, behaviors and changes for themselves, you are providing them with new choices and helping them get a different perspective on things. Once they have come to their own realization, or had their own ‘aha’ moment, you help them to integrate those learning’s. Help them generalize the learning out into other areas of their life, areas where they believe that the new choices will serve them better. Having integrated the change, you provide them with techniques to ensure that they can hold on to the gains they have made to control the changes and themselves. Finally, you have them look at other areas of their life where the new perspective can serve them better, to have them generalize and improve those things that will serve them more usefully in the future.”

“Yup!” said Richard “That seems to sum up what we actually do to make effective changes”

So, if this appears to be the process by which one of the most successful change agents of our time uses, and the one on which most other successful personal change personalities have based their own work and businesses, then why is it that we seem to try and avoid using the same process in business? The process of change is universal and the above can easily be adapted to business and process problems. The longer we try to avoid such a process then surely the longer we are going to take to successfully embed a culture of change within our organizations.

Now the question is, where will you look to enhance your understanding of the process of change? How can taking a different perspective enable you to be even more effective than you are now?

If you would like to read and learn more about NLP from the creator, then Richard has released two excellent books this year “Get the Life You Want: The Secrets to Quick and Lasting Life Change with Neuro-Linguistic Programming” and “Richard Bandler’s Guide to Trance-formation: How to Harness the Power of Hypnosis to Ignite Effortless and Lasting Change“, both of which I would highly recommend.


* Abbreviations used

EFQM (European Framework for Quality Management)

AQPC (American Quality & Productivity Center)

BPMS (business Process Management System)

NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming)



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