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Influencing Change – A Guide For Sellers, Coaches, And Supervisors

Submitted by on Wednesday, 9 February 2005

When people or groups make a decision to purchase something, they go through the same decision cycle that an individual goes through to decide upon a personal change, or an employee goes through to change behaviors at a boss’s insistence.

Until now, our communication rules have assumed that when we kindly or persuasively offer others good information that could solve problems and achieve successful results, or coach them toward making a much-needed change, or even just pitch a product they sorely need, we can expect a positive reception. Obviously, if our communication partner (called Partner in this article) has a problem and we’ve got the true solution – and we do! We do! – they should take our advice. But they don’t.

We watch our Partners nod their heads in agreement with our clever suggestions, and promise to do something different, but then quickly return to their old less-successful behaviors.

When we offer our Partners seemingly obvious solutions and expect them to change, we are failing to take into account their need to make comprehensive systems decisions first. Indeed, our Partners need to recognize and manage all aspects of their presenting problem before they can make sense of our suggestions. But it’s not so easy as we think.

Let me make up a silly analogy using an iceberg: we all see the tip; but if an iceberg engineer (I’m obviously making this up) needs to move the iceberg, he can’t until/unless he understands its size, shape, weight, as well as weather conditions, sea conditions, and its course of travel. Until the whole iceberg is measured and a new location is found, the tip ain’t movin’.

There is so much more to influencing choices than we initially recognize.

Of course, our Partner’s presenting problem seems obvious to us, especially when we’ve been in business a while and have seen it all so often. But the full ramifications of the problem – all of the elements that it contains, all of the legs it has to-and-from the rest of the Partner’s environment, all of the beliefs and constructs that maintain the problem – are quite hidden.

And until or unless the client understands and resolves all of the elements that created and maintains the problem, she won’t know how to make a change. She might act differently for a bit when she intellectually understands the reasons to adopt new behaviors. But if the complete set of issues aren’t understood, managed, and accounted for, permanent change will not occur.

Too often, sellers of change focus their drive toward change around rational, proven facts, generally accepted knowledge, or unique data – all of which I am labeling ‘information’. While information is necessary, and will be useful at some point later in the decision cycle, there is no way early on for people to know what to do with it. It’s akin to explaining to the iceberg engineer all of the dynamics of the moving crane before he’s sized up the components of the iceberg, the weather, or the sea.

It’s difficult to understand that accurate information is not enough to warrant change: people just end up resisting.

This problem shows up when buyers take too long to purchase. Or when people don’t heed our advice and continue on doing the same-old, same-old, complaining fervently of an unresolved problem. It seems curious for us to see their problem so clearly, and have a viable solution, and then be ignored, while the Partners continue to muddle along with the same problems.

But a note of caution: it’s not our job to understand or fix our Partner’s problems although we’d sure like to. It’s not our job to know what our Partner needs. The Partner must effectively manage all of the elements within their existent system before change can occur. Once they do this, as part of a facilitation process of painstaking discovery you can lead them through, they can develop all the necessary criteria for designing a unique solution; as support folk, we then just supply it. So much easier than us trying to create a solution based on a small segment of data.

I recently got a call from a young woman in a large recruitment company. She wanted to know how I would train 3000 people.
“What criteria are you using to know if they’ve been successfully trained?”
“We just want a training program. We’re talking with several different groups, and want to know what you can do for us.”
“But all programs don’t offer the same things, and your sales staff would learn different skills from each program.”
“Well, we want you to tell us what’s different about yours so we know and we can compare.”
“But what are you comparing if you don’t know your criteria?”

I then used Facilitative Questions to help her determine her success criteria. Here’s what she came up with:

  1. differentiation from the competition;
  2. loyalty and trust created from each interaction;
  3. a ‘true’ consultative approach in which the seller helps the buyer understand and solve her own business problems;
  4. consistent skills among all sales staff;
  5. creation of value through each interaction.

Once we discovered the criteria, it became clear that Buying Facilitation would work for her. But until then, she wouldn’t have known how to discern one program from another since ‘sales training’ meant something unique to her that I had no of understanding without making guesses.

Let’s digress here to underscore the importance of ‘systems’, which are the elements of the Partner’s company that must be managed before change can take place.

People and groups of people possess unique, internal elements, or ‘systems’: they operate through certain beliefs; hold religious or personal or company values; collaborate with others (family, partners, vendors, colleagues) with whom they have another set of beliefs and values; work/live with rules, politics, and norms; have hopes and dreams, fears and regrets. In business there are often vendor or multinational relationships that alter the fact pattern. Indeed, all of us have very unique mind-sets, compounded when there are several people within the system, such as families or business colleagues. And these elements – which I’m labeling ‘systems’ – cause and create the Partner’s landscape.

People/teams are generally unaware that their problems are a direct result of the mix of these very idiosyncratic systems issues. It’s the system itself, in the precise way it exists, that has created the problem situation.  Indeed, whatever is going on actually looks and feels ‘normal’ cuz that’s the way it’s always been. It’s only when a significant problem crops up that people look beyond the conscious-comfortable status quo.

As outsiders, there is no way we can address, manage, or alter those unique internal issues. We just see the results of the decisions made: there is no appropriate training program in place; the person is overweight and facing serious illness; the employee comes in late every day; 20 people are working from a server that handles 5 people.

A solution looks obvious to us; even when a needs-analysis is done it often looks like our solution would solve the problem (see newsletter #51 – Needs Analysis: who is it for?). But no matter how smart we are as outsiders, no matter how much we can see, no matter how right we are, we are still only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

Let’s start with one of my basic premises:

Information does not teach people how to make a new decision.

Since most of us use information transfer as a way to instigate change, let me offer you my rationale for the above statement: unless our Partners address and manage their internal systems issues before seeking a solution, they face the prospect of upsetting any elements that hold the status quo together. In fact, there might be chaos if change is not managed appropriately.

In our iceberg analogy, that means until the engineer understands what he’s got to move where, understands the depth and mass of the ice, and understands the water factors, he faces possible destruction of the iceberg if he tries to move it with only knowledge of the tip.

So there is an up-front set of decisions that need to get made in order to consider doing something new, and a secondary set of decisions to determine an appropriate solution.

In the first stage of decisioning – the choice to make a new decision by managing all internal variables – there are three distinct, sequential phases that all people and teams go through and which must be resolved (consciously or unconsciously) before a final decision can be made. In fact, each of these phases are carried out (consciously or not) in every decision made, whether it’s a simple or a complex decision, or a decision made by an individual, a group, a family, or a company.

  1. What’s missing and how did it get missing;
  2. How can we fix that with familiar resources;
  3. What are the full range of internal variables that need to be recognized and addressed before a new solution can actually be embraced.

1. Where are we? What’s missing? – Recognizing, understanding, and managing the complex issues.

Our Partners must be able to examine the full extent of the elements of the problem and acutely recognize (I mean deeply understand) what’s missing that is creating the problem at hand. Does this sound simple?

How many of us, given all the time in the world to sit down and think, can actually recognize all the elements in play that have gotten us where we are, not to mention what might be missing from our potentially comfortable status quo?

Think of something about yourself that you don’t particularly like: your penchant for procrastinating? Your push to work harder rather than take time with your family? The way you speak to people sometimes or your inability to really listen if you’re distracted? Your forgetfulness?

We all have annoying habits or behaviors that we either try to hide, or wish we could fix. And even when we’ve tried to fix them, they don’t stay fixed. Why? It’s actually difficult from an up-close-and-personal standpoint to fully recognize, understand, or pinpoint all of the elements that have generated and maintained this quirk. It all just ‘is’, and has grown into comfort.

If seeing ourselves clearly is that difficult for us, how can we expect others to have an easier time?

Following this thinking, the main idea here is that only your communication partner – your client, your prospect, your employee – can know the full range of elements she is willing to address, not you. It is faulty for us to think it’s our job to understand (so we can offer our solution?). Our jobs are to help our Partner understand by asking the facilitative questions that will direct them to their own solutions.

2. Fix problems with known resources – Seeking to fix what is already there, or find familiar vendors/sources of change management.

The next piece of the puzzle is that systems try to self-correct. Even when it’s painfully obvious that there is a problem that needs to be solved, the first place that people or teams go to fix it is internal: they end up going back to those same systems that created the problem, hoping for a different outcome.

Of course that’s insanity, but until they at least make the effort, they won’t consider a solution outside of their comfort zone. Our training doesn’t work? Let’s tweak it. I’m overweight? All I have to do is stop eating ice cream every day, and I’ll start today – uh, tomorrow.

One of the problems we have as change agents is that we actually believe people or clients want us to help them change at the moment they come to us to fix their problem. They are only attempting to get ideas to use so they can fix their own problem.

3. Manage all internal variables so no chaos will occur through change – pinpointing the actual ideas/people/initiatives/decisions that would need to buy-in to any changes.

It’s only when people truly understand that they’ll need a solution that’s unfamiliar – possibly uncomfortable, unfamiliar, uncontrollable – that they sit down to truly make sense of all of the issues they need to manage in order to make a change that won’t wreak havoc on their status quo.

Until or unless all of the internal criteria that created and maintain the problem are recognized, and a route is designed in which they can manage an efficient change progression throughout their system, people won’t change. That means having the prospect address relationship, financial, people, historic, branding, belief, and (especially) political issues – whatever they see as elements within the larger system that maintain the current fact pattern. Let me say again, that as an outsider you will never fully understand what is going on. Your job is to support your partners through their own discovery and solution creation.

The jobs of sellers, coaches and supervisors must now shift to include a decision support model on the front end. The Buying/Decision Facilitation Method is a method that leads people through the components of their decisions so they can recognize the systems elements they need to address and resolve. Our roles are to be neutral navigators who chart the course of discovery.

This will bring the following results:

  1. what needs to get changed will be recognized and acknowledged quickly.
  2. decisions get made with all elements included and our Partner knows she has all answers for her solution;
  3. all decision partners are brought into the problem/solution within a few hours/days of the initial phases of discovery. In that way they create their own solution and have no resistance;
  4. the seller/coach/supervisor is seen as a true advisor, and any competition is dispensed with.
  5. the relationship between Partner and change agent becomes loyal;
  6. pitching and presenting is minimized, as the solution comes from the Partner and the seller/coach just supplies it.

We’ve been trained to have answers, to uncover ‘pain’. But we can share the job with our Partners: they have the detail; we have the overview. Between us, we’ve got the whole picture.

Help your Partner change and have a full set of resources. Be the navigator that supports them. Don’t have the answers, have the questions. Trust your partners to do their own changing. Your job is to serve, and supply the appropriate solution when they discover how to manage their own change.

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