Management guru Stephen Covey said: "I don't see the world as it is. I see the world as I am." What he meant was that everyone has largely unconscious mental models that influence behavior. It follows that training and marketing programs will best succeed in altering the behavior of others-whether staff, members or potential members-when they address and change people's thinking.
Internally, the mental models of staff impact the effectiveness of new initiatives. If team members believe selling is inappropriate and pushy, the implementation of a sales culture through training cannot succeed until that mental model is changed. Externally, if consumers believe credit unions do not offer a sophisticated array of financial services, no amount of advertising will attract them until that perception is altered.
Research helps us understand the beliefs that drive behavior. To research what current and prospective members think, consider awareness surveys, member surveys or focus groups. Internally, consider a culture assessment to discover the shared mental models that make up the institution's culture. A recent culture workshop identified a particularly dysfunctional mental model at a credit union: management did not share information on projects in progress because their culture (or "collective" mental model) held that "only completion equals success." Therefore, incomplete projects were not worth sharing. This had a debilitating effect on communication because people did not know what was going on and therefore could not contribute to the process.
For both internal and external constituents, the most effective way to alter behaviors is to change the underlying belief system. Whether it is referred to as changing an individual's or group's mental models or driving beliefs, or helping to cause a "paradigm shift," remember, results come from behaviors, and behaviors come from beliefs. And understanding mental models is what effective perceptual research is all about.
Neil Goldman is President of Member Research. He can be reached at 310-643-5910 or by email at ngoldman<at>memberresearch.com