The Role of Systems, Bias, and Emotion: The Missing Piece in Decision Facilitation

This article focuses on facilitating buy-in for decision analysis, change management, organization development, and complexity science.

You do a great job gathering and uncovering data to understand the presenting problem. You obtain and discover the facts and uncertainty ranges to analyze good decisions. You work hard at getting all of the right people on board and make sure you help them understand their desired outcomes, and then work collaboratively to make the best decisions.

Yet sometimes there are delays, sabotage, resistance, or even failure – sometimes in your area of analysis and facilitation, sometimes later, during the implementation phase. The breakdowns, by and large, are rooted in human issues.

INFORMATION AND PEOPLE ARE VERY DIFFERENT ENTITIES

To do your jobs, you need:

information – rational, fact-based, sometimes scientific.

people – to collect data and implement recommendations.

Yet information overlooks the messy, idiosyncratic, personal, and values-based people-issues, and people come with emotional biases that sometimes contradict information or make implementation difficult. Obviously, you need them both because

  • until or unless everyone who will be involved with the final solution buys in to any change,
  • until or unless the human issues are addressed,
  • until or unless the established system knows how to accept change to avoid disruption,

the route to optimal success might fail regardless of the rationality or relevance of the proposed solution.

Your job may not include the implementation of the decisions you’ve facilitated nor be present when resistance – so long assumed to be endemic in decision facilitation, change management, and organizational development – rears its ugly head. But by managing the people-issues at the beginning, you can not only collect the best available data when doing your information gathering but also minimize resistance during the implementation phase.

HOW INFORMATION FAILS US

Most of your work focuses on information. But sometimes you don’t always know how, or when, to separate out the facts from the human issues. Until every voice gets heard and becomes a part of the change, and the change management, buy-in, and systemic pieces are handled

- it’s difficult to get unbiased data,

- foundational information will be skewed,

- implementation may prove difficult.

Information, vital to your success as facilitators, is merely dissociated bits of knowledge and not specific to these messy, idiosyncratic, unique, and often very unconscious, human issues that seem to be wild cards and not part of a rational decision. In fact, information is the final piece people need in their decision making process: first they must manage their human, emotional issues to accept that change is necessary, won’t harm them, and will complement their unique, unconscious criteria.

You don’t store your feelings in information. Your egos don’t get bent out of shape when you prefer X over Y, but your sense of worth might feel attacked when your beloved job might shift as a result of a proposed change. Or you know that X is better, but if it means you have to work with your old boss, you might consider choosing Y. And when you are told that a perfectly ‘rational’ initiative is being planned without you being a part of the process, you might automatically resist, regardless of the efficacy of the solution.

Due to the subjective and systemic nature of people issues when involved with change (and all new decisions are change management problems, one way or another), it’s necessary to reconsider the conventional timing when gathering, analyzing, sharing, and implementing findings, probabilities, and solutions. It’s necessary to actually manage the people issues first.

I know I am asking for a belief change from you, so here’s a Facilitative Question: What would you need to believe differently to be willing to first tackle the human, ‘emotional’, and systems side of decision facilitation before addressing the data and information side?

A CASE STUDY

The sales process runs into similar dynamics when sellers focus on needs assessment and solution placement first and fail to help buyers navigate through the change management and systems issues that occur behind-the-scenes. For the buyer, the choice of a solution becomes personal as it may require job shifts, ego issues, or partnership requirements. Until or unless these idiosyncratic systems issues are managed, no purchase can happen (the system is sacrosanct); a high percentage of sales are lost or delayed because the system resists.

In my sales-based decision facilitation practice (my Buying Facilitation® model is a generic, scalable model to help people recognize and mange the behind-the-scenes change management/systemic issues necessary to make a change decision [to purchase]), we manage the human issues first, before gathering information or seeking a need/solution fit. Here is an example of how a client almost lost a sale by ignoring the messy people-elements.

I was on a client site in Edinburgh, UK. My client sold a Just-In-Time software solution that the Director of L&D in a large university had trialing for 11 months. While I was there, she called and apologized that she couldn’t purchase the solution. Didn’t she realize after trials one or two that the solution wasn’t appropriate??

We had a conference call at my client’s request. Here’s the conversation:

SDM: Hi Linda. Peter sends his regards. I realize you must be very sad that you weren’t able to purchase the solution.

Linda: I am very sad. I LOVE your solution.

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

Linda: When I first contacted you, I had the budget. Then they hired a new HR guy, did a bit of restructuring, and the HR guy and I ended up sharing budget and responsibility for all implementations. This guy is a jerk. I get migraines whenever we speak. I decided to not work with him again, and a few of us actually met with the boss to get him transferred out. I was waiting for him to go, but it seems that’s not happening. So I must decline the purchase.

SDM: So I hear you saying that unless you are able to manage the solution implementation in such a way that would enable you to maintain your mental health while working with this guy, you are unwilling to make a purchase.

Linda: Right.

SDM: What skills would you need to add to what you’re already doing, to figure out a way to work together with him without getting sick, just for those times your employees might need some additional support?

Linda: Could you give me some of these great questions?

I sent her two lists of Facilitative Questions (Facilitative Questions are a unique form of question I’ve developed that facilitate choice through unconscious, subjective beliefs and systems): one to help her mange her own mental health; one to ensure healthy collaboration with her HR colleague. Some weeks later she called back and purchased the solution.

What happened here?

  • The selection of the final solution, using data gathering, data analysis, and needs analysis, was accurate. But the salesman started at the information end, missing important systemic, idiosyncratic, and unspoken people issues.
  • A purchase couldn’t occur because of an interpersonal issue.
  • The salesman did not address the behind-the-scenes human and systems issues that biased the entire process and held up the sale.

When Linda requested the second trial, the salesman should have recognized a potential problem. If he had started facilitating her through her process of discovery – very separate from his agenda of placing a solution – by asking What are you missing from your first trial that you hope to get from a second trial? he could have closed the sale eight months earlier.

WE MUST ADD NEW SKILLS TO FACILITATE CHOICE NAVIGATION

I suggest you start your work by facilitating people through their subjective, unconscious biases – add a change facilitation process with a wholly different mind set. By adding Buying Facilitation® skills – listening first for systems, managing subject experience and change first, and using a new form of question that facilitates unconscious agreement – it’s possible to facilitate early buy-in, address the systemic change issues, and avoid resistance, regardless of the industry or initiative.

And note: while skilled decision facilitators attempt to address the people side, the type of questions that have been used to date often attempt to

  1. define the type of information needed during the decision analysis phase,
  2. disregard the subjective, systemic change facilitation necessary for buy-in at the people side.

To add new skills requires a different mind set – focus on managing people issues first and delaying the conventional information-based practices to stage two. Take a look at this chart:

Right side: you do a fine job of decision analysis. But you build in bias and resistance when slighting the human portion or leaving it until the end.

Left side: the messy people issues must be handled before buy-in and implementation and accurate, unbiased data gathering can occur.

When you begin with the people side first, and apply a different type of curiosity and focus:

  1. everyone who will touch the final solution (everyone!) is on board and a partner from the beginning;
  2. resistance issues – fears, job loss problems, relationship issues, management issues – get recognized and facilitated immediately and learn to buy-in;
  3. a collaborative path to buy-in keeps the system elements sacrosanct.

Will this take time? Yes, and no. By doing it from the people-end first, you will get better data, easier implementations, and more robust decisions. The time you lose on the front end will be made up on the back end.

What do you need to know or believe differently to be willing to add a new set of facilitation skills to the front end of your current skill set?

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