During her dynamic interview as part of our Social Capitalist series, Christine Comaford shared the concept of metaprograms. Created by Rodger Bailey, these are lenses through which people see the world. Knowing which lens is in use is key to making sure your message is heard and received.
“The first metaprogram is towards or away. Each of these meta-programs is polarized. So if somebody is like, “Yes, I want to launch new initiatives, I want goals, I want forward motion,” that’s a towards person. An away person is all about risk mitigation: “Let’s be cautious, let’s not go crazy and jump in.”
The CEOs, the marketing people, the sales people, are often towards people. The CIOs, maybe, the accounting people, maybe HR, are away. So if you’re trying to get a CFO on board of a certain initiative, you say, “Hey, you know what? Let’s be real cautious, let’s make sure we’ve got all the I’s dotted and T’s crossed.” They’re going to feel a sense of rapport with you. Now you’re not this crazed sales or marketing or other type of towards person who wants to mow them down.
The next one is options or procedures. Options people are like, “Wow, here’s all these possibilities. We could do this and that and that,” and everybody’s all excited. Procedures people, listening to that, are getting freaked out. Procedures people are thinking, “OK, I just need to know step one, step two, step three, because I don’t want to mess it up. Don’t give me all those choices.”
Next is general or specific. The easiest way to find out if somebody’s general or specific is to ask them how their weekend was. If they say, “Oh, it was great, I had a really good time,” that’s probably a general person. If they say, “Oh, we went boating, and then we went camping, and then we washed the dog, and then we made snow angels,” that’s a specific person.
At one of our client companies, the COO was talking to the CEO in very specific terms. The CEO, whose metaprogram is general, called me up and said, “I don’t think this guy is going to work. He just rambles on and on and on.” So I had to talk to that COO and say, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. What’s the metaprogram of this CEO?”
Now the COO just goes in, communicates the bottom line in a toward/options/ general approach, and the CEO loves him. Couldn’t stand him before.
OK next: Reactive or proactive. Just like it sounds. The reactive people watch and kind of wait and see, and then they’ll make some choices. The proactive people are like torpedoes, they charge ahead. Sometimes the proactive people can dive in too quickly without doing their homework.
Next, internal or external. The internal people gauge their success by how well they’re doing internally. They have an internal barometer. So a person who is internal often will be IT. Technology guys are usually like, “Look, I know how to do this. I did a good job, I got the code done, etc.” The external person wants lots of external validation. Salespeople often are external people. They don’t meet the quota, they don’t feel good about themselves. So if you have a lot of internal people in your sales department, they’re not going to necessarily think quotas are that important. So be careful with that.
The last metaprogram is same or different. Same people want to avoid change; different people are happy to change everything. And here’s what’s cool: 65 percent of the American workforce wants same with exception. Remember when New coke came out? It was a disaster. People were like “Coke was good, why’d you take my coke away? I don’t want New Coke.” Total marketing disaster. What did work for Coca-Cola? Cherry Coke. “Oh, it’s Coke. It’s the same, oh, but with an exception: we add some cherry.”
So to bring it to the workplace, when you have a change message, you don’t say, “Woohoo, we’re going to change everything.” You just lost 65 percent of the people. They’re freaked out by that. You say “You know what guys, we’re going to keep all the great stuff that we’re doing. We’re just going to remove all the stuff that’s really irritating.” Same with exception.”