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Helping clients adjust to change

Brendan’s assignment is to get a factory working again after they slimmed down staff.

Half the struggle in doing this is of course practical – making sure the processes and systems to identify and correct problems are in place. The other half is in the heads of the “survivors”.

If you’ve ever had trouble convincing clients to get on board with a change process, or if you’d like tips, then read on!

First a little background. We all see the world through our own filters.

When we filter we notice some things, and don’t notice others.

Optimism and pessimism, whether a glass is half full or half empty, is one filter we all have.

There are many others . When you understand these filters and work with them, and you’ll deal more easily with people in change.

Businesswoman with four businesspeople at boardroom table in bacChange filters: past, present, future

The first step is recognising the filter they’re using. When you know this, then you can use it to put a spin on their attention. Are they looking forward or looking back?

One change filter is our time focus. Some of Brendan’s clients will focus on the past – “we used to have 20 people now we have 10 people to do this job. We used to do it better before”.

Some others will focus on the future “We’ll never be able to do it with fewer people”.

Some will be focusing on the now “I don’t know what to do”.

There is nothing inherently wrong with looking back. It allows learning from the past, and prevents reinventing wheels. Future focus works too. We need it to plan. A “now” focus works for high-concentration tasks, as well as relaxing and resting. Now focus isn’t so great when reviewing last year’s business plan, or creating next year’s.

People will naturally prefer one focus. Some choose their occupations based on it. Bookkeepers and archivists deal with the past; builders and plumbers with the now; planners and strategists with the future. Hands-on occupations like nursing or carpentry deal with the now.

Each of us can think in each style. Occasionally we get stuck in one, and we will all have a preference for one.

The good news is it’s a predictable pattern. When you see a predictable pattern you can leverage it. For example if all your customers come in at lunch time, you add more casuals at lunch time. In the same way, if all of your clients think past and don’t do now, you can use the past to move them to now.

Back to Brendan’s story: Brendan talked to people who’d been through similar change. The key seemed to be accepting how the world is, and moving on. This is a “now” focus.

So, let’s look at the past and future focus patterns, and how Brendan moved his clients to “now”.

The technique he’s using is rapport, or pacing and leading. You can learn more about that here, here and here.

painted smiley on human fingersUsing the past to get to now

For past focus, he acknowledges the past, pacing or matching it. Then he leads them to a now focus.

For example: Things were different last year (matching past).

You had more staff and more orders (matching past).
Of course there were peaks and troughs in your work (past).
What it’s always been about (past) is taking a good look at what we’re doing now (leading towards now), and at each moment noticing what we could be doing differently (lead now).
The more we look back (past), the more we’ll notice how in fact we’ve been most productive when we’ve been focused on what we’re doing (now).
Not looking back (past).
Sure we need to learn from the past (past).
And 80% of our time we have to do what we do – now (now).

They say that people resist when they feel you don’t get them yet. If it happens, spend more time matching them. Some would say matching them is “stating the obvious” – letting them know that you know what it’s like for them.

It’s a simple formula. It goes match past, match past, match past + lead now. Past past now. Past now. Pay attention to any good political speech, or listen carefully to any good change agents, they’ll use this same pattern of matching and then leading. The more trust you have, the fewer paces you need. The more you need to build trust, the more you pace. The stronger the relationship, the fewer matches required.

Whenever people resist, increase pacing.

Pulling back from the future to now

Now let’s try it with a future filter. It’s the same concept – match a number of times (3 – 5 is good) and then lead. Then return to matching and then lead a little.

Here’s what Brendan said:

When you pay attention to what’s about to happen in the marketplace, (matching future), you’ll be aware of trends (matching future) like Internet shopping and nanotechnology which impact on our business.
No matter how far ahead you look (future), you’ll know that it’s important to have a job now (leading to now).
Let’s listen to what the future is telling us (future).
We need to pay attention to what’s happening now (now), so we are ready to meet the challenges of what’s coming (future).
So we can focus and prepare ourselves now (now).

woman working on modern technologyUse this technique to get to anywhere you want to go

Brendan’s examples move people from future or past to now.

You can use the same match match lead pattern to move from past to future, or from now to past.

Different tasks require different focus.

If you want to plan, then match where they are then lead to future focus.

If you need them to review and report, then lead to a past focus.

Brendan discovered that thinking filters are about how brightly the future, past or present shines. You too can focus the light where it works best for specific jobs, just by using the right words.

In Consulting Mastery Cindy outlines more filters we use when contemplating change. You can read more about the book here.

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