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Note from Tom: This is a special guest post brought to you by Philip Atkinson, a veteran NLP trainer and organisational psychologist who who specialises in professional relationships at work, influence and leadership and has over 25 years experience.

In this article Philip highlights how the NLP toolset can be a very powerful toolset in enabling organisational change. Enjoy.


NLP can work in business but has to be de-mystified from the therapeutic model to a business model. For NLP to be useful and applied it has to be sold as a business model. Take it from me, NLP albeit as powerful a set of cognitive and behavioural processes, it is not a natural bed fellow for practitioners of business change. For NLP to be valued it has to make sense to the business population.

Tom shared with me that the majority of readers of NLP Times are focused on enabling people and their organisations change for the better. And that many are ‘enablers and facilitators of change’ who work in a huge variety of organisations from big corporates to SME’s, Education, Health and Social Enterprises. Perhaps this describes you. Either way just about everyone who works in or with companies today have to deal with adapting or directing change. Fortunately for those of us with an NLP background we can help be enablers for change.

Interestingly although most attempts at organisational change fail to meet their objective.

Yet the reality is in the right hands, NLP can enable successful implementation of change. Central to it’s success is how it is packaged and delivered to all the various actors in the change process.

NLP De-Mystified

Although my personal belief is that NLP can be a major contribution to change in companies large and small – I am wary of how it is perceived by business. Sometimes, NLP purists fail to create a positive impact with business people perhaps because they come over too “touchy-feely”. At an NLP presentation on ‘building customer relationships’ the audience was confused. The presenters used too much NLP jargon. The local business audience left knowing about ‘eye accessing cues’ but not how NLP could build their rapport with their customers.

Wider Context of Change

NLP can be of real value, but only if it appeals to your target audience in the change triad. In any business change arena you tend to have three sets of people. The Sponsor is ultimately responsible for the change, the Change Agent (facilitator, coach, trainer) – who presents the vehicle and process for change, and the recipients, the Targets for the change have to shape, accept, own, live and implement it.

Change Working when you Bring the Triad Together

Change frequently does not work because these three groups of people don’t communicate and gel. Their respective ‘maps’ occupy different territories. The reason why things don’t work out is that the triad of folk in the ‘change arena’ have not discussed, shared and agreed desired outcomes, potential obstacles, have mutual expectations and are not committed to make that change stick. In the larger scheme of things, they have not developed a giant TOTE for the organisation.

Further, most change people do not realise that some of those people they are helping change may have their own agenda, their own resistance and are unable to see the benefits.

Pre-Loading & Developing a Preventative Culture

In any organisation large or small you will have folk who resist change more than others. If you are lucky you may have a few change champions and early adaptors who align with you straight away. Overall you will probably experience some resistance simply because we are not very good in this culture at managing organisational change. Sooner you later you will experience the resistors and the terrorists – so get them on board sooner.

90% of Change Fails

Our research indicates that 90%+ of major changes initiatives in all sectors fail. Did you know for instance, that at least 70% of Mergers & Acquisitions fail to achieve the synergies for which they were brought together? The reason being that when merging the businesses, there was too much focus on the ‘hard’ elements: strategy, structure, reporting relationships, systems and processes – to the detriment of what really makes a business work: the people and the culture.

In reality, what drives business success is leadership, engagement and team motivation. And this is what is often missing when the accountants, tech specialists and IT guys get together to create a solution. They forget about the people. Now that is where NLP can help – but not the therapeutic or counselling model! It has to be a business model that makes sense to the recipients of that change.

Case Study: Engineers as Change Makers in the USA

This big Multi National company manufactures agricultural and construction equipment. It is driven by a very strong engineering culture: Logic, data, reasoning, structure and evidence based thinking. It has some challenges. Engineers tour the world selling engineering solutions to Plant managers who often don’t want to implement the engineering solutions. The VP of Manufacturing Strategy believes in NLP and behaviour change. He also knows that it has to be sold differently to appeal to the engineers, who are really the Change Makers. Working with many functional teams and Plants worldwide we devised a process of NLP as a process change tool that worked, and was implemented in Plants from Wichita to Doncaster (England), From Toronto to Paris

Training was provided with logical strategic models based on Best Practice in change management. We then focused entirely on creating and maintaining strong relationships between the Engineer (change makers) and the Plant Managers (target audience). Once the engineers realised that the application of NLP could make them more effective, they committed to the whole process of learning and applying NLP successfully.

Case Study: Legal Firms & Professional Service Businesses

Some people believe that technical expertise is the sole route to success. But we know that success is based on building relationships with ‘win-win’ outcomes as in the Engineering example above. NLP can do that. Start with the end in mind. It has worked building businesses in many Firms with whom I have worked – but only when staff and colleagues realised that their technical analytic ability was only part of the success solution. Once NLP processes are valued learning and change commences.

The use of NLP technologies such as language patterns, motivation strategies and installing new belief systems to win the acceptance of change is achieved by ensuring that Sponsors, Change Agents and targets are all aligned. This means you work with the top team first winning their commitment to drive the change. Never dilute the change by moving too fast down the business. Stay with the Sponsors until they realise they have to lead the change process. The rest is easy.

Case Study: Environmental Charity

A very large Charity adopted our approach through a Leadership Development Programme that was cascaded down through 300 managers. Many of these managers worked in local communities with large groups of volunteers. Volunteers are not employees. To manage volunteers you have to be engaging, charismatic and demonstrate vision and leadership. Control has to be replaced by mutual respect. By working with the Charity’s top team and their direct reports we used an NLP approach without using the therapy jargon. It worked and now the organisation is functioning well and growing with over 1 million members and a positive public presence.


Sure, NLP as a business change process works but only if it is tailored to the particular context of the organisation. So whether you are a retailer with just ten staff, a small bar and restaurant chain with twenty people, a GP practise with fifty, or a community group of one hundred to a large conglomerate, NLP can be a very powerful process for implementing change. And what is important is implementation of change – not the theory and the jargon associated with the therapeutic roots.

About Philip:

Philip Atkinson is a consultant specialising in strategic, behavioural and cultural change. He is a member of various training consortia and has recently focused on creating innovative business simulations through Learning Strategies. He consults in the UK, Europe and USA, has written seven business books and published many articles. He is a speaker at conferences and runs Workshop sessions for leading companies. Philip can be contacted on +44 (0) 0131 346 1276 or 07779-799286 or [email protected] or visit

4 Responses to “NLP & Organisational Change – How NLP Can Be Used To Deliver Value In Today’s Workplace”

  1. piers thurston Says:

    interesting article, and in essence i agree! do you have source/detail for those statistics on change failing you mentioned, i am interesting in knowing more…….



  2. Bally Lam Says:

    I’ve got wonderful experience in expanding my business from 10 to more than hundred staff in last 4 years after I complete NLP Trainer course in HK.

    I totally agree all the above mentioned concerns & resistances. After I vigorously to keep changing the keys members & put them in the right position, they all become my triad group. Co-incidentally, I also used the same word of “triad” in my team most of the time.

    On the other hand, i also mainly stress on People & Culture instead of system,structure, reporting & strategy etc. I gave them 100% freedom to operate the
    company for me by these key members, to responsible the structure , reporting ….. changes.

    Apart from provide NLP training to the key members, I also held hold company meeting weekly. Which allow them to understand my agenda , as well as synchronise everyone’s mental maps. It did avoid most of the resistance, and everyone can help to find out who will generate negative impact to the company.

    We are in education business providing English course for kids. I’d say we are the leading company in HK right now & will group double or triple after 2 years time. With the current team mates & holding NLP knowledge – I can see my FUTURE!

    Hope I can share more few years later !

  3. Janine Wilson Says:

    Very interesting – and food for thought in moving forward the change agenda.

  4. NLP Training Says:

    hey thanks for this post.

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