Using NLP at an organizational level
NLP business applications often suck. Well, maybe they’re not that bad, but all you hear about is rapport skills, predicate matching, and sometimes meta-programs. At best, they’re applied to getting people to play nice together, helping customers who call for help feel better, and convincing people to feel good buying stuff they don’t really need or want. NLP is a universal tool that can be used much more widely. It’s a tool for understanding, and a tool for making changes. Using an NLP mindset can lead to powerful business results, just as it leads to powerful personal results.
NLP Thinking Helps Fix Business Problems
NLP provides Practitioners techniques like Change History and Anchoring. As your skill increases, you start thinking in processes. You ask, “How does this person get their current results?” You elicit strategies and states, identify triggers, and choose interventions that change a person’s process.
Process thinking is like gold in business; few people do it well. Applying NLP thinking to business helps find the root cause of business problems. While a person is conveniently self-contained, a business is made of many people, so you’ll be doing your strategy elicitation by working with people and the relationships between them.
Imagine Miss Anne’s Department Store is losing business. Elicit MADS’s strategy for making money by asking, “What’s MADS’s strategy for getting a customer to buy?” Then trace the process step-by-step to find out where it fails. Your strategy elicitation will lead you through the entire organization:
First, MADS must get customers. This leads you to marketing. You ask customers how they heard of MADS. Everyone says, “on MADS’s 5 p.m. radio ad,” even though MADS advertises in 5 different places.
Next, customers visit the store, try on clothes, and buy or don’t buy. You notice people who try on the clothes return most of what they try on when they return from the fluorescent-lit dressing room.
Then, customers approach the cash register to pay. They walk up to an empty register, look around in puzzlement, and hunt through 3 departments to find the on-duty cashier. After a 10-minute wait, they reach the register.
Finally, customers pay. You notice that several want to pay by credit card, and are dismayed by MADS “cash-only” policy. Without sufficient cash, some customers return clothes to the racks.
We’ve just seen the business-equivalent of a strategy. Just as NLP strategies lead you to the intervention (“you’re yelling at yourself? Let’s turn the volume down!”), business strategies also suggest their own interventions. In this case, help the marketing department do a better job of attracting customers, replace the dressing room light bulbs with full-spectrum lighting, make sure cash registers are fully staffed, and accept credit cards.
NLP Helps Understand the Link Between Individuals and the Business
Once you’ve found the critical organizational process moments at the business level, you can search for the people at the heart of organizational issues. When people make decisions that set policy, those decisions get magnified into organizational behavior. For example, I worked with a COO candidate who made decisions too slowly for his CEO’s comfort. He liked making fully-informed decisions. Really fully-informed. Jam-packed-fully-informed. He could spend months gathering and analyzing data. Thus, the organization itself would slow until he made up his mind.
This executive’s personal decision-making strategy determined the entire organization’s speed! At this point, we could shift to “typical” NLP with the individual. Here, NLP came into play unpacking and revising his decision-making process. His decisions sped up, his organization’s decisions sped up, and he was eventually promoted to COO.
You’ll find this is not uncommon. Individual NLP skills can, indeed, help people in an organization get better at what they do. But when you combine individual NLP skills with NLP process thinking at an organizational level, you can find the organizational leverage points where a single change in the business or in a person can create lasting, significant business value.