First published in Rapport, journal of the Association for NLP (UK), issue 40, Summer 1998
Introducing Modelling to Organisations
Over the last few years organisations have become increasingly
interested in NLP and how it can be used to develop their people and
systems. In my work in organisations I am often asked, "What is this
thing called NLP modelling?" I usually answer by giving them an
article which contains a brief overview of the five stages of a
I believe this article may be of use to others who would like to
introduce modelling into organisations and so I am reproducing it
below. In addition, I am providing a 'checklist' of items and
questions to consider if you decide to embark on a modelling project,
as well as an annotated reading list. It is my hope this information
may stimulate you to learn more about the process at the core of NLP
and use it to enhance the skills of the people in the organisations
in which you work.
Modelling Excellence in Organisations
Whatever method an organisation uses to evaluate skills, the
results are likely to show an approximately 'normal distribution' of
capabilities. Most people will occupy the mid-range, a few are top
performers while the rest are at the other end of the scale. The
basic principle of modelling in organisations is to discover what top
performers do that is different from their colleagues and to transfer
those skills to everyone else, thereby 'skewing the curve' towards
the high-performer end. Modelling what can't be observed
To date most approaches to modelling have concentrated on studying
external behaviour. This is not surprising since external behaviour
is observable and there is a ready-made language to describe it.
However, if a person's most important capabilities are internal (ie.
thinking and feeling processes), traditional methods of modelling are
of limited value.
Most people today accept that their ability to produce effectively
is influenced by their feelings, way of thinking, beliefs, values and
sense of identity. It therefore becomes crucial to identify thinking
strategies and other 'intangibles' that are so important in excellent
managers, planners, trainers, sales representatives, and so on.
The NLP Approach
NLP emerged in the 1970's as a result of number of modelling
projects conducted by Richard Bandler and John Grinder. In order to
accurately define what their subjects were doing Bandler, Grinder and
others developed a new approach to modelling which encompassed
internal processes as well as external behaviour.
In other words, NLP has found ways of making conscious the
out-of-awareness behaviours, mental habits and beliefs of top
performers, as well as defining a code for describing these
processes. The result is called 'a model' and once specified, it can
be learned by others as part of their quest to improve performance.
The general principles and methods of modelling are independent of
the skill-set being modelled or the environment in which the
modelling takes place. Thus the approach can be applied to almost any
circumstance and is being used extensively in business, education,
health, sports, personal development and other application areas.
In the twenty years following Bandler and Grinder's original
formulation, the list of skills modelled in major organisations has
expanded at an increasing rate and the NLP model of modelling has
been refined and extended many times. Modelling projects undertaken
range from very specific behaviours to highly general competencies
Small Arms Shooting
US Air force
Chase Manhattan Bank
The Tioxide Group
Walt Disney Inc.
So, what is modelling excellence based on?
Each of us has a particular set of strategies which enables us to
function effectively in an organisation. These repetitive sequences
of internal and external behaviour include strategies for delegating,
for learning and teaching, for motivation, creativity, decision
making and a thousand other functions. Yet these skills are most
often acquired by unconscious trial and error and, because they are
not obtained explicitly, we have little idea of how to transfer them
What is more, people may succeed magnificently using one
particular strategy for a certain function (defining company policy,
for example) while seriously underachieving when they attempt to
apply the same strategy elsewhere (explaining those polices).
When you ask people who are really excellent, "How do you do it?"
the most common response is, "I don't really know" or "I just ...
sort of ... do it and everything happens naturally." This is typical
of 'unconscious competence'. By the end of the modelling project the
person being modelled invariably says "Well, I never realised
that's what I do" and often they will add "I thought everyone
did it that way!"
Even a little modelling will show that people often use widely
different internal processing strategies, and this accounts for the
gap between mediocre and top performers. Most strategies, once
they are made explicit, can be easily learned or modified to
accomplish organisational or personal goals.
Stages of a Modelling Project
A typical modelling project will go through the following stages:
1. Preparation. Preliminary interviews with the
organisation to identify: the purpose and measurable evidence for
successful conclusion of the project; those competencies most
useful to model; who are the top performers to be modelled; the
scale of the project; the budget and an action plan.
2. Information Gathering. Allocating time needed with
each of the top performers in the context within which they use
their skills as well as follow up interviews. Similarly, some
average performers will need to be studied in the same context for
comparison. Usually three people in each category is sufficient.
3. Model Building. The use of comparative and
contrastive analysis to identify what the top performers are doing
that the average ones are not. This results in the construction of
a model of effective behaviour and mental processes. Now comes the
application of Occam's Razor: to simplify the model to it's
minimum components while still maintaining the results -
discovering the difference that makes the difference.
4. Testing. Teaching selected average performers how to use
the model and measuring how much their results improve (using the
criteria defined in Stage 1). The model is then refined and
5. Transferring. At this point, the direction the
project takes depends on its purpose. Three common routes are to:
- Use the results to supplement or streamline the
organisation's existing training programmes and retrain the
- Design and deliver a new training course to transfer the
high performers' skills to others who would benefit,
- Produce a profile of a typical top performer to be used as
part of the organisation's recruitment and selection process
(and train the recruiters).
Stages 1 to 4 are likely to take approximately 20 days if the
competency being modelled is well specified. More general skills or
qualities are usually a complex composite of behaviours, strategies
and attitudes and consequently take more time to elicit. Timescales
for Stage 5 are related to the size of the organisation and numbers
The NLP approach to modelling offers a proven method for
discovering what top performers do that makes them so effective. Once
this has been achieved other members of the organisation can learn to
replicate the effective behaviour and strategies to improve their own
Where To Go From Here?
The accompanying table (based on a Robert Dilts and Todd Epstein format) provides a summary of what is involved in a
modelling project. It considers the modelling process from the
viewpoint of the modeller, the subjects being modelled and the
'larger system' of the organisation and can be used, among other
things, as a preparatory checklist.
Who are you (what is your
identity)? Before the
modelling After the project
Who is the subject of the
person Group of
people An organisational
Who else is involved?
Recipient of skills etc.
BELIEFS & VALUES
Why are you
modelling? What is the
outcome for you? What will
Why model the
subject? What is your
outcome for the subject? What is the subject's outcome?
Why are you
modelling? What are
others outcomes? What will
the organisation gain?
How will you model (what skills are
needed for each stage)? 2nd Position Modelling 3rd Position Modelling 1st Position Modelling
How will the subject(s) demonstrate
what you want to model?
How will the competencies be acquired
by others? How will
you know they have them? What methods will you use?
What will you do at each stage of
2. Information Gathering
3. Model Building
What is to be
modelled? Behaviour Skill Thinking
strategy Belief/Value/Attitude Perception/State
What will other people need to do to
acquire the skills, strategies etc.?
When and Where
will the results of your modelling exist,
and in what form?
When and Where
will the subject be modelled?
When and Where
will you present the results of your
modelling, and in what form?
Most NLP books are about the results of modelling projects,
not about the modelling process itself. For more information on
modelling excellence and how skills development can be accelerated
you can consult:
Anthony Robbins has a very readable couple of chapters on
modelling strategies in Unlimited Power (Simon & Schuster,
For a short and clear introduction to strategies see chapter 4 of
Charlotte Bretto's, A Framework for Excellence
(Grinder, DeLozier & Associates, 1988).
Robert Dilts & Todd Epstein's Tools For Dreamers
(1991) is packed with micro and macro processes for modelling with
lots of examples of strategies for creativity. (Meta Publications,
The three volumes by Robert Dilts, Strategies of Genius
Volumes I, II & III are the definitive work on how to model
when your subject is an historic figure. (Meta Publications,
Robert Dilts has just brought out a new book Modelling
with NLP which provides an in-depth look at the modelling process
and its applications. (Meta Publications, 1998).
Leslie Cameron-Bandler, David Gordon & Michael Lebeau
wrote The Emprint Method: A Guide to Reproducing Competence in
order “to provide you with tools that will enable you to identify and
acquire (or transfer to others) desirable human aptitudes.”
Although David Gordon now says it is really about modelling emotional
competence, it is still one of the most comprehensive models of
modelling yet published. (Real People Press, 1985)
Judith DeLozier's article "Mastery,
New Coding, and Systemic NLP" in NLP World (Vol. 2 No. 1,
March 1995) has a brief description of a "not knowing" state that is
excellent for modelling. An account of her and John Grinder's
modelling project of people who have completed interesting modelling
projects can be found in Turtles All The Way Down (Grinder,
DeLozier & Associates, 1987).
For an introduction to a new form of modelling see Penny
Tompkins and my article Symbolic
Modelling inRapport Issue 38, (Winter 1997, pages 3-13)
And, if you want to go back to where it all began, the original
and highly technical work on eliciting, designing, utilising and
installing strategies is by Richard Bandler, John Grinder, Robert
Dilts & Judith DeLozier, NLP Volume 1 (Meta
Last changed 10.1.01
See also How to do a Modelling Project