“If you think you can do a thing or think you can’t do a thing, you’re right.” Henry Ford

Since how people think has such a strong influence on their effectiveness, it helps to ensure that the beliefs and assumptions you and others in your organization hold support the results you want to achieve. For example, the clinical informatics group of a major health care organization used the following six-step process to re-examine its assumptions about how to best serve its many internal clients:

1.    Surface a current mental model. The group recognized that its current belief was that client satisfaction was the direct result of sharing an exciting vision of how its innovative products and services would benefit patient care. After all, the group had been funded on the basis of communicating that vision.

2.    Ask, “Does this mental model help you achieve what you want now?” The group acknowledged that it was now struggling with delivering on its vision with high quality and in a timely way. Group members reported that they were continuously behind on their deliverables and they were losing credibility with clients. Hence, the answer to their question was “no.”

3.    Question the validity of the mental model.  People learned that their early success in stimulating client enthusiasm had led them to over-commit and under-deliver.  They realized that articulating the vision was no longer sufficient to ensure client satisfaction.

4.    Articulate a new mental model that helps you achieve what you want now. The group created a new belief that the best way to contribute to the company was to make reliable agreements about what people could deliver and follow through on these commitments. This meant reframing what it meant to be a “good team player” from always saying “yes” to client requests to negotiating realistic expectations with each client.  

5.    Conduct experiments to test the new model. Group members also learned skills about how to negotiate – and renegotiate – reliable agreements with clients. They discovered that there were four alternative responses to client desires other than stating an unconditional “yes” or absolute “no”. They tested the full range of six responses with client requests.

6.    Learn from the experiments to affirm or further modify the new model. One member of the group reported that, contrary to her fears of being seen by clients as uncooperative, many appreciated her candor and professional opinion on what she could deliver by when. Ironically, her boss was reluctant to experiment and continued to believe that pleasing clients meant always saying “yes”. He ended up leaving the company.