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Employees have a lot of demands on their time: meetings; email; their actual job. Adding something else to the mix — namely, workplace learning — can feel daunting. In fact, “not enough time” is one of the most common excuses for putting off a workplace learning program.
But research suggests that when an employee procrastinates and puts off training, it’s not really an issue of time. It’s not laziness or obstinance either. Procrastination comes from a different place altogether.
Think about a situation where you put off a task or project that you knew was important. Sure, you probably had other priorities that took up your time. But was it really because you couldn’t possibly find the time? Or was it because you didn’t feel like finding the time?
This is procrastination – we know we’re putting something off, we know there will be consequences, we feel bad about it, and yet we do it anyway. Why?
Research into procrastination reveals it’s actually a way to cope with negative emotions around a task – typically emotions like anxiety, frustration and self-doubt. So, for example, if employees feel anxious or insecure about training, they will likely choose to put it off. It’s simply a pushing away of the negative emotions associated with the task. “If I don’t take the training, then I won’t feel anxiety about failing at it.” But the more we put off a task, the more negative emotions are associated with it. It becomes a negative feedback loop.
Procrastination is also a perfect example of a cognitive bias that we all share: prioritizing short-term needs over long-term ones. We sacrifice tomorrow’s benefits for today’s comfort. And this difference between how we perceive the present and the future is even more dramatic than you might think.
Researchers at NYU asked participants to think about their future selves while in an MRI machine that monitored their brain activity. The researchers found that, for many participants, “thinking about the future self elicited neural activation patterns that were almost exactly like patterns that were associated with thinking about another person.” So we actually think about our future selves almost like a stranger – it’s their problem, not mine.
How to overcome procrastination
So if procrastination is really based on negative emotions and because we think a stranger will suffer the consequences, how can you help your employees defeat it? It’s not easy, but research has an answer: By giving them the tools to overcome their negativity.
If you think of the negative emotions associated with procrastination as self-criticism, then the antidote is what researchers call self-compassion. Self-compassion asks that you take a kind and accepting view toward your challenges and failings instead of fixating on the negatives.
For example, while a negative procrastinator might think, “I feel anxious about training since I’ll probably fail, so I’m going to avoid it,” a self-compassionate person would think, “Training can help me in my career and if I fail at first, that’s okay. I’ll improve with time.”
Researchers at Bishop’s University in Canada surveyed over 750 people regarding their attitudes and behaviors regarding procrastination and self-compassion. They found that people who scored high on self-compassion very rarely procrastinated. And they found the opposite was also true — those who scored low on self-compassion were frequent procrastinators.
So if your learners are putting off workplace learning, research suggests that they harbor negative emotions regarding training. Providing them with information about self-compassion and its positive effect on procrastination — as well as on overall motivation and positivity — could help them get engaged.
Here are some other suggestions based on the research that can help your learners overcome the root causes of procrastination and engage in workplace learning.
Create short steps forward.
Learners often have negative emotions associated with training because it appears intimidating and difficult. Workplace learning is a process, sure. But help learners focus on the single step in front of them instead of worrying about the entire journey.
Here are a few suggestions: Provide training in short bursts that don’t take up a lot of time. Give them access to e-learning material that they use anytime, anywhere. And celebrate the small accomplishments achieved by learners. It will motivate them and help engender positive feelings about the learning process instead of negative ones.
Reframe the problem.
If a learner is constantly putting off workplace learning, redirect their negative thoughts to the positive benefits of training. Instead of it being a difficult challenge, help learners see it as a way to grow their skills and further their career. Organizations can do this on a large scale by instituting a communications program where training success stories are shared and accomplishments are celebrated companywide.
Sometimes a learner needs help overcoming their self-doubt and fear. That’s one of the reasons why workplace learning works best when learners receive coaching and mentorship from a manager or leader. Individualized coaching and feedback can help a procrastinating learner put aside their fears and invest in training. When a learner is assured by a mentor that failure is part of the learning process, there’s not much left to be afraid of.
Hershfield, H. E. (2011). Future self‐continuity: How conceptions of the future self transform intertemporal choice. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1235(1), 30-43.
Sirois, F. and Pychyl, T. (2013) Procrastination and the priority of short-term mood regulation: Consequences for future self. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 7(2), 115-127.
Sirois, F. (2014). Procrastination and stress: Exploring the role of self-compassion. Self and Identity, 13(2), 128-145.
Your customer has just paid you a compliment. And not just about your product or service. She’s given you positive feedback on the relationship. “I always know I can count on you,” she says. “You’re not like those other salespeople.”
What’s your reaction? Most salespeople, being human, would bask in the praise. They’d thank the customer. They’d spend the rest of the day feeling good about themselves.
What they probably wouldn’t do is try and do some business. And rightly so, to some extent. If you try to sell the customer something in that moment, it could come across as crass and manipulative, and cause harm to the relationship itself.
But what won’t harm the relationship, research suggests, is if you ask for something else: a referral.
What the research found
Professors of sales and marketing at Western Carolina and Georgia State universities surveyed more than 400 customers of a B2B service. They asked questions about such factors as satisfaction with the salesperson, trust in the salesperson, potential conflict with the salesperson, and positive appraisal of the overall relationship.
These same customers were also asked about their willingness to provide sales referrals to their salesperson.
Then the researchers ran a correlation check among the various answers, and found customers who expressed a positive appraisal of the overall relationship also felt good about providing a referral to the salesperson.
Go ahead and ask
So any fears about asking for a referral in these circumstances appear to be unfounded. When customers feel good about the sales relationship, they want to share the good news. It’s a triple win for them: They want to do something good for you. They want to help their colleagues and contacts enjoy the same benefits they’re getting. And they want people to know that they’ve chosen a vendor wisely.
Which means that one of the best times to ask for a referral is when the customer has a positive overall appraisal of the relationship, and signal it with a compliment. As examples of positive relationship appraisal cues, the researchers cited customer remarks like these: ‘‘I really appreciate what you’ve done for me,’’ or ‘‘Thanks for helping me out,” or “Most salespeople I know aren’t as responsive as you.’’
So when your customer gives you positive feedback, go ahead and enjoy it. You worked hard to earn it. But don’t leave it at that. Initiate a conversation to explore who they know who might benefit from what you provide.
Source: Johnson, J. T., Barksdale Jr, H. C., & Boles, J. S. (2003). Factors associated with customer willingness to refer leads to salespeople. Journal of Business Research, 56(4), 257-263.
Research reported in Harvard Business Review confirmed what most people understand intuitively: Remote workers worry about being out of the loop. Offsite employees report that they often feel that decisions affecting them are made without their input, that they’re at a disadvantage when it comes to office politics, and that their contributions are often overlooked or ignored.
Seven best practices
The research study also asked more than 1,100 remote workers to describe a manager who was good at managing remote teams. From their responses, the researchers identified seven best practices for managers:
1. Frequent and consistent check-ins
It’s tempting for busy managers to take an out-of-sight, out-of-mind approach. After all, if an offsite employee needs something, they’ll let you know, right. But respondents said that successful managers check in often. Some check in daily, some once a week, some every two weeks. The key is to do so consistently. One way is by establishing standing meeting – for example, a virtual team meeting every Tuesday at 10.
2. Real-time dialogue
Email and texting are quick and efficient. They also create a paper trail so managers and employees can go back to confirm details and expectations. But real-time dialogue – face-to-face meetings and phone calls — helps reinforce a sense of connectedness, and contributes to success. Once again, regular contact is essential, so don’t leave these encounters up to chance. Put them on your schedule.
3. High-level communication skills
That’s a basic requirement for managers, of course. But it’s even more critical for virtual teams. In many encounters, you don’t have the benefit of body language to help you figure out what’s going on and create a sense of connectedness. So managers need to be good listeners, ask detailed follow-up questions and go out of their way to communicate trust and respect.
4. Explicit expectations
When someone is in the same location as you, you have many chances to make sure the employee is doing what you want and redirecting their efforts if necessary. With remote employees, you don’t have the same opportunities for midcourse corrections. So you need to be direct and clear about your expectations.
With far-flung teams, managers can’t work a 9-to-5 shift. They need to be available to employees whenever they’re working. Effective managers let employees know that they can reach out however and whenever they need to (subject to some reasonable limits, of course). And in an emergency – or any situation that requires the manager’s immediate involvement — employees need to know that they’re not only encouraged, but expected, to keep managers in the loop.
6. Comfort with tech
Virtual teams depend on communications technology, so managers need to be fluent in tools like Skype and Slack. Those who rely only on the phone and email will have trouble maintaining cohesion and focus among team members. If you’re not comfortable with the latest tech, set aside time to master it – and insist that your people do likewise.
7. Focus on relationships
Virtual teams lack the water-cooler moments where managers learn about their team members as people. So don’t limit your encounters to task-related calls and meetings. When you’re checking in with individual team members, take time to ask about their families and personal interests. Likewise, encourage team members to do the same on a peer-to-peer basis. Let them know that they’re not wasting time on idle chitchat; the team’s success depends on everyone knowing each other as people.
Source: Grenny, J., & Maxfield, D. (2017). A study of 1,100 employees found that remote workers feel shunned and left out. Harvard Business review, November 2.
E-learning has plenty of advantages. But it’s also delivered over the internet, which means your learners are sitting in front of an expertly designed distraction machine. Email, chat messaging, social media — you name it — are all at their fingertips.
Learning, as your grade school teachers probably told you, requires you pay attention. So how dangerous is multitasking while e-learning – and how can you help your learners stay focused?
A recent study out of Kent State University explored how problematic multitasking is among learners using e-learning compared to traditional classroom learning. It may come as no surprise that the researchers found that multitasking was significantly more prevalent during an e-learning experience than in the classroom. But the extent of the learners’ multitasking was startling.
The researchers found that learners were often using two or three devices at once (e.g. laptop, phone and tablet) during an e-learning course. Learners were also typically found to have their attention divided by multiple tasks outside of the course, such as texting, email, social media, off-task internet searches, listening to music and talking to others — sometimes all during the same e-learning lesson.
What’s worse, learners’ own beliefs about multitasking don’t match the reality. For example, learners who have positive beliefs about multitasking don’t put any constraints on their distractions. So left to their own devices, their multitasking skyrockets during e-learning courses. If that wasn’t bad enough, learners who measured high in self-motivation and self-control, or what the study calls “self-efficacy for self-regulated learning,” weren’t any better at resisting the temptation to multitask than their less disciplined peers.
With these discouraging findings, is there any way to win the battle against multitasking? Another study out of a South Korean university may have some answers.
How to keep learners on task
To explore the effects of multitasking during e-learning, the researchers divided study participants into two groups – a “low-distraction” group and a “high-distraction” group. Both groups were told they had to complete an e-learning course as their primary task. But the high-distraction group was told they were permitted to do whatever they wanted while completing the course, like surf the web or use web chat messaging. On the other hand, the low-distraction group was warned against multitasking during the course.
Using eye-tracking technology, the researchers found that the high-distraction group only intently watched the e-learning video about 75 percent of the time and spent the other time multitasking. As a result, when both groups were given a quiz on what they learned, the high-distraction group scored 15 percent lower.
See if you can match this
In a follow-up study, the researchers tried something different.
Instead of using the same e-learning video, they gave the participants a pattern-matching test. The rest of the study remained the same. And something interesting happened – the low- and high-distraction groups scored exactly the same on the quiz.
So why the dramatic change? The task was different, of course, but that wasn’t the true cause of the increased performance, according to the researchers. It was something that changed within the learners themselves: motivation.
The matching test engaged the learners, causing them to pay more attention to the task at hand and less time distracted by the temptations of the internet. Because the pattern-matching test felt more like a challenge, they felt invested in the outcome and motivated to perform well.
Now, this doesn’t mean you need to run out and “gamify” your e-learning content. But it does mean that motivation and engagement can focus learners in the face of countless distractions. Here are some recommendations based on the research for how to motivate your learners to invest in workplace learning and keep their eyes on the prize.
Make it personal.
A proven way to get learners engaged with learning material is to stress how applicable it is to their daily lives. Therefore, your organization’s messaging around workplace learning should emphasize how these new skills will help them be more successful, which can lead to more recognition and more opportunities for growth. Workplace learning is a benefit, not a chore. When learners see how training benefits them personally, it motivates them to invest.
Ask learners to engage with the material.
A comprehensive workplace learning program asks learners to engage with the training content in a variety of ways. It can take many forms, from quizzes and assessments to discussions with peers to mentoring sessions with their manager. The key is to get learners to think deeply about the material and how they can use it to grow and improve.
Focus on results.
Nothing inspires learners like a small win. Once a learner applies a new skill and accomplishes something positive, it builds momentum, engagement and trust in the training program. So encourage learners to celebrate the big and small successes they achieve through learning – it will keep them focused, motivated and committed.
Lepp, A., et al. (2019). College students’ multitasking behavior in online versus face-to-face courses. SAGE Open. doi: https://doi.org/10.1177/2158244018824505
Song, K. S., et al. (2013). Analysis of youngsters’ media multitasking behaviors and effect on learning. International Journal of Multimedia and Ubiquitous Engineering, 8(4), 191-198.
Learning in the workplace is increasingly a solitary pursuit. Learners typically access new information by sitting alone at their desk, watching an e-learning module or reading an article. Often it’s really up to the employee to invest the requisite time and effort in their own professional development.
In this type of self-directed learning, is the manager’s role really that important? Or can workplace learning succeed without the intervention of managers and supervisors?
It’s true that learners can access and engage with learning content anytime, anywhere. And self-motivation goes a long way toward an employee being successful in a workplace learning program. But that’s not the end-all be-all of learning. Managers still matter.
While managers may not deliver learning content, they can play a critical role in revisiting and reinforcing that content. In fact, a recent analysis of the available research found that, yes, managers are critical to the success of workplace training – specifically because they are in a unique position to coach their employees throughout the learning process.
Just how critical is a manager’s role? One study out of the UK found that when a manager was directly involved in their employee’s professional development, the positive impact of workplace learning doubled.
Interestingly, coaching is not only critical to the success of employees but to the manager’s success as well. A study conducted by a team of international researchers looked at whether managerial success and coaching were related. They analyzed a number of studies on manager performance and found that “truly effective managers and managerial leaders are those who embed effective coaching into the heart of their management practice.”
In other words, coaching is a two-way street: It helps both managers and their employees succeed. So what specifically can managers do to be effective coaches and help their employees accelerate their careers?
How managers facilitate learning
A study out of CQ University in Australia surveyed employees within a large government agency after they’d participated in a professional development course. The employees were asked a series of questions to assess how important their manager was in supporting the course and putting their new skills to work on the job.
First, they found where managers were most critical to the learning process: after a course or learning event is completed. While upfront support for workplace learning is important, a manager’s contribution really kicks in after the learning content is delivered.
The researchers then surveyed the employees about what specific manager behaviors helped them solidify and apply their newly learned skills. Below are the most important behaviors identified in the study.
Opportunity to practice new skills.
Practice is key to honing new skills and changing old behaviors. Managers can provide opportunities for practice on the job or through training sessions, where learners can try things out in a pressure-free environment and receive feedback.
Openness to change.
When meaningful learning happens, positive change can occur. Perhaps a learner can now take on more responsibility. Or lead a new project. Or suggest a new way of doing things based on what they’ve learned.
The important thing for managers is to demonstrate that they are open to change and new ideas. When learners develop new skills, they bring more value to the organization. Managers need to recognize what their employees can contribute, give them new challenges that harness their growing abilities and support them through the process.
Mentoring and feedback.
According to the study, mentoring is perhaps the most important coaching behavior a manager can adopt. Taking the time to meet with employees and discuss new learning topics provides clarity and allows a manager to teach from his or her own experience. Mentorship gives learners constructive, individualized feedback that can make the difference between a learner adopting a new behavior and abandoning it.
As the research stated, “Regular meetings with supervisors afforded the opportunity for mentoring and encouragement. Participants valued timely feedback ‘along the way’, because it developed self-awareness, confidence, and the opportunity to correct undesired behaviours.”
Coaching helps everyone succeed.
When a manager commits to coaching their employee, it not only helps the employee lock in what they’ve learned. It also greatly increases the manager’s effectiveness as a leader. And if managerial coaching can double the returns on training, as the research suggests, it could be a enormous loss not to make it a key piece of your organization’s training program.
Post-learning support is key.
Sure, learners can go off on their own and take an e-learning course. But learning doesn’t stop there. For new skills to take hold, learners must gain a deeper understanding of the training material and work through any challenges along the way. This step of the learning process is where managers can deliver the most value. Managers’ understanding of employees’ day-to-day experiences puts them in a unique position. They can ensure that learners have opportunities to practice and refine new skills, and determine how best to put those skills to use.
Mentorship helps lock in learning.
As discussed in the research, the importance of mentorship and coaching can’t be overstated. Every learner, no matter the situation, benefits from feedback and support. When managers help learners through challenges to get the most out of workplace learning, they and their team succeed.
Hamlin, R. G., et al. (2006). Coaching at the heart of managerial effectiveness: A cross-cultural study of managerial behaviours. Human Resource Development International, 9(3), 305-331.
Beattie, R. S. (2006). Line managers and workplace learning: Learning from the voluntary sector. Human Resource Development International, 9(1), 99-119.
Lancaster, S., et al. (2013). Supervisor behaviours that facilitate training transfer. Journal of Workplace Learning, 25(1), 6-22
Every leader recognizes the risk of getting their egos stroked by the people who report to them. They’re right to worry: Consciously or unconsciously, those who provide counsel and perspective to the boss are often reluctant to raise a challenge. They worry about being perceived as disloyal or “not with the program.” They’ve hitched their wagon to the leader’s star. So why wouldn’t they see things the same way?
For all these reasons, leaders know they need to discount the advice they get from these quarters. But a recent study found that many fall prey to flattery anyway. And the consequences — for the leader — can be severe.
The study surveyed CEOs and their direct reports at 1,350 public companies, but the key takeaway is relevant to anyone in a leadership position: The bosses subjected to the most “flattery and opinion conformity” were more likely to lose their job.
“The size of this effect is substantial,” write the study authors. “For example, at relatively low levels of firm performance (e.g., one standard deviation below the mean and lower), an increase in received flattery and opinion conformity of one standard deviation (from the average level) ultimately increases the likelihood of a CEO’s dismissal by 64 percent.”
It’s about strategy
The nature of the opinion conformity was revealing as well. The people advising the boss were especially reluctant to challenge his or her strategy. Even if results were poor, they advised the leader to stay the course and expressed confidence that success would soon follow.
As a result, these CEOs were more likely to keep doing what they’d been doing, convinced that success was just around the corner.
Ultimately, however, the CEO’s constituency – stockholders, directors, analysts, journalists – would see the business continue to tank and a CEO who seemed to be unable or unwilling to take action. Time for a new CEO.
Who’s whispering in your ear?
Though the study focused on top dogs, a similar dynamic can affect leaders at any level. They may not be involved in corporate strategy, but every manager has to think about a plan for achieving the team’s goals. And that’s where you have to be careful about feedback. Your people may be telling you that you’re doing a great job providing direction. Sure, the team might be lagging on goals, but you’re on the right track. With just a little more effort and encouragement, the team will catch up.
Meanwhile, to your boss, you may look like someone who’s unwilling to face reality, make tough decisions, come up with new ideas and embrace change.
Here are four steps you can take to keep your head off the chopping block:
1. Within your team, invite people to challenge and question your strategy and execution.
Reward the ones who tell you the plain unvarnished truth, not the ones who tell you what you want to hear. You may be worried that naysayers are at the root of the low performance – that they’re sabotaging your strategy and undermining your efforts. That is a risk and it must be managed, but the greater risk is ignoring divergent opinions – or even worse, punishing people for speaking up.
2. Appoint a devil’s advocate.
Give someone the explicit job of challenging the status quo. That way you remove or reduce the perceived risk of challenging the boss.
If you’re managing a project and about to miss a deadline or other goal, the opinion conformists will tell you (1) that there’s nothing wrong with the strategy and a few tweaks will get it back on track; or (2) that your original goals were unrealistic and need to be adjusted; or (3) that certain unforeseen events set you back, but are only temporary. Listen to the data.
4. Seek outside opinions.
According to the study authors, “There is some evidence that CEOs who solicit advice on strategic issues from other top managers outside their regular network of friends are more likely to initiate strategic change in response to poor performance.” Seek counsel from other managers in your organization, people you know doing similar jobs in other companies, even people who don’t really know your business very well. Most important, don’t just rely on friends. Find people who have no stake in telling you what you want to hear.
Source: Park, S. H., Westphal, J. D., & Stern, I. (2011). Set up for a fall: The insidious effects of flattery and opinion conformity toward corporate leaders. Administrative Science Quarterly, 56(2), 257-302.
As a training platform, e-learning has plenty of advantages. But that doesn’t mean it has a 100% success rate. For example, both the quality of content and the implementation strategy can vary greatly from organization to organization – and those factors can make or break an e-learning program.
So what factors have the greatest impact on the success of an e-learning program?
A recent study out of Israel looked to uncover the success factors for workplace e-learning. To get answers, researchers interviewed workplace e-learning experts – training leaders across various industries. The leaders were selected because they had all launched and managed successful e-learning programs at large, prominent companies.
The interviews revealed common factors that led to a smooth adoption of the e-learning program and sustained success over the years that followed. The top four success factors were deemed by the researchers as “must have” factors, meaning they are, according to the study, “undisputed to learning success.”
1. Usefulness and ease of use.
The researchers defined usefulness as “the degree to which a person believes that using a particular system would enhance his or her job performance.” Essentially, usefulness can be seen as providing content that is beneficial to employees’ daily work life. If e-learning content doesn’t appear relevant to learners, they will not meaningfully engage with it.
Ease of use is more about the presentation of the content rather than the content itself. The e-learning system should be easy for learners to use and designed to simplify and enhance the learners’ experience. If using the e-learning platform feels relatively “free of effort,” learners will be more willing to use it. In short: Lower the barriers to entry. An important piece of this strategy, the researchers stated, was to keep e-learning courses short.
This first success factor is about the what – the e-learning platform, its design and its content. The remaining three factors are about the how – how an organization implements and supports their workplace learning program. They illustrate just how important the organization and its management is to the health of an e-learning program.
2. Internal marketing.
Marketing the training to employees was crucial to an e-learning program’s success. Effective outreach often focused on a variety of goals, including: the rationale behind why the organization has adopted the training program and what its goals are; spreading awareness of the e-learning tool and the available content; and increasing adoption by building the user base, which can help counteract user resistance and make the e-learning platform an organizational norm.
The study suggests that it’s important to use an intensive marketing strategy targeting employees that continually promotes e-learning’s benefits and content. Among the suggested marketing materials are email blasts, e-brochures, video teasers and orientation conferences to help employees get comfortable with the program and the platform itself.
3. Management support.
Management support was found to be critical to e-learning implementation. This was true on two levels: top leadership and direct managers.
As the ones who help set the tone and influence the culture of an organization, it’s important for top leadership to communicate their support for the e-learning program. That leadership is especially important if workplace learning is relatively new to the organization.
With direct managers, you need more than “buy in.” You also need their participation, because they can and should coach their employees throughout the learning process. Managers can help employees carve out time for training, help them through challenges and reinforce new learning topics while on the job. For workplace learning to succeed, the importance of a manager’s coaching responsibilities cannot be overstated. As the study states, “The role of the manager as an overt champion of the learner’s development must be extended to e-learning…”
4. Organizational culture.
This success factor boils down to creating a learning culture within the organization. The study suggests several ways to go about it.
First, celebrate the positive outcomes of workplace learning. For example, if sales went up 5% after a few months of sales team training, the organization should publicize this information across the company. Similarly, success stories that illustrate how the e-learning program helped an individual employee achieve his or her goals are also powerful. Through promoting success stories, the organization demonstrates that learning is part of the fabric of the organization.
Another recommendation from the study is to use individualized learning goals for employees. Similar to performance goals, learning goals are well-defined learning objectives for employees to accomplish within a set time frame. When learning becomes a measurable part of employees’ work life, it communicates the organization’s commitment to learning and motivates employees to take training seriously and see learning as part of their job.
Sela, E. & Sivan, Y. Y. (2009). Enterprise e-learning success factors: An analysis of practitioners’ perspective. Interdisciplinary Journal of E-Learning and Learning Objects2(1), 23-34.
We hear a lot these days about “taking ownership.” You want your people to “own” the tasks they’re working on, “own” the results (good or bad) of those tasks, “own” their careers, “own” their jobs.
It’s easy to see why leaders would want to promote a sense of ownership: When we “own” something, we assign a higher value to it – something that Nobel Prize-winning economist Richard Thaler labeled the “endowment effect.”
In a classic experiment, he gave mugs to a group of people selected at random, then asked how much money they’d accept to part with “their” mug. The average price: $5.78. Then he and his colleagues asked another group of people – who hadn’t been given mugs – how much they’d be willing to pay to get one. This time the average price was far lower: just $2.21.
In other words, the simple fact of ownership more than doubled the perceived value of the mugs. And that was for a generic low-value item that people hadn’t asked for, hadn’t selected, hadn’t paid for and had only “owned” for a short time.
Employees who feel a sense of “ownership” over their jobs make a similar judgment. They see the job as more worthwhile and more valuable. If it’s seen as a job worth doing, it’s more likely to be done right.
And, chance are, they feel more motivated to invest in what they own.
If we own the house we’re living in, we’re more likely to fix up the kitchen or paint the front door. If we’re just renting, why bother? We’re not the ones who will reap the benefits.
The same is true in the workplace. If we “own” our jobs, we’re more willing to go the extra mile. We recognize that the more we put into a job, the more we get out of it – for example, raises, promotions, recognition. People who are just “renting” their jobs won’t make those investments, because they don’t believe they’ll see a return.
We also connect what we own to our own self-image.
We understand that what we own reflects on us. If our neighbor gets bitten by someone else’s dog, we feel bad. If it’s our dog, we feel responsible. At work, that dynamic is a powerful motivator to do well. If someone else’s presentation has typos, we may not even notice it. If it’s our presentation, it’s personal: We worry that we’ll look stupid.
Ownership and control
So how can you create a greater sense of ownership among your people?
Ultimately, ownership is about control. If we own the coffee mug, it means we get to control what happens to it. We can put it on our desk and expect it to stay there. We can prevent other people from using it. We can use it as a flowerpot. We can take it home. If we choose, we’re perfectly free to smash it to bits.
But it turns out that this relationship between ownership and control runs both ways. If we exert control over something, we’re more likely to develop a sense of ownership over it.
To see how control influences psychological ownership, consider another series of experiments, involving online sites that allowed people to “build” their own products. When people were invited to “design” a T-shirt, scarf or cellphone case, they were willing to pay more for it than for a similar off-the-shelf product.
Implications for managers
This and similar experiments suggest that you can increase an employee’s sense of ownership by increasing their sense of control.
For example, hold them accountable for results, but give them more flexibility on how to achieve those results. Instead of handing them a project plan, ask them to create the plan and run it by you. Instead of giving them a job description, ask them to define what they think their job should entail.
One of the findings from the “build-your-own” experiment was that even limited control can have powerful positive effects. The people in the experiment weren’t actually given free rein to build their products however they wanted to. With the T-shirts, for example, people had only a limited set of options to select from, and could make only minor modifications to the designs. Even so, they were willing to pay 44% more than for an off-the-shelf product – because they’d “designed it themselves.”
Other experiments show similar results. In one, for example, children worked much harder and longer to solve a written problem when they were given a choice of which color marker to use.
Similarly, even small choices in the workplace can contribute to a sense of control, and ultimately, ownership. Find every opportunity to offer people choices: When do they want to schedule the project meeting? What should be on the agenda? If several cubicles are available for a new hire, which one would she like to have?
“The Endowment Effect: Evidence of Losses Valued More than Gains,” Kahneman, Knetsch and Thaler, Handbook of Experimental Economics Results, Vol. 1 DOI: 10.1016/S1574-0722(07)00100-X
“Possession in Humans: An Exploratory Study of Its Meaning and Motivation,” Furby, Social Behavior and Personality: an International Journal, Vol. 6, No. 1, 1978, pp. 49-65 (17).
“The ‘I Designed It Myself Effect’ in Mass Customization,” Franke, Schreier and Kaiser, Management Science, Vol. 56, No. 1, Jan. 2010.
One of the questions we get over and over is how to document a return on investment for training. For example, if you invest in a sales training program, will you be able to validate an increase in sales that will cover the cost of the program and can’t be attributed to any other factor? If you invest in a leadership program, can you prove that it resulted in better financial performance for the organization – and if so, how much better?
Many, many studies have documented the positive financial impact of training, but these studies typically look at large populations across many organizations, because that’s the only way to get enough data to make any meaningful analysis.
When you get down to a single organization, by contrast, the sample size is small and the impact of confounding variables – noise in the data — is relatively large. If sales went up 10% last year, was it because of the training program, or because I hired a couple of talented new salespeople, or because we invested in some new functions on the CRM, or because we got better leads, or launched a new product, or something else? The mind reels.
A measurable benefit
Let’s set those concerns aside for a moment, because a new working paper from Harvard and the prestigious Rand Corporation have identified another return that is unambiguous and clearly attributable to training.
The study looked at how much value employees place on various job-related factors, including training.
That’s a complicated question. You can’t simply ask employees to put a dollar value on these factors, because that’s not how employees think, and because what people say and what they do are two different things. So, for example, if a job candidate told you that training was important, and then took a job that paid a little more money but didn’t offer training opportunities, what value did they really place on training?
To resolve these difficulties, the researchers used an ingenious approach. They presented each subject with two hypothetical job profiles. Then they asked which job they’d take.
To add to the realism of the decision, the “baseline” job profile for each subject—including duties, salaries and benefits–was based on his or her current job. Then the researchers tweaked a couple of factors to see how they affected the decision. For example, one job profile might say that the employee could telecommute, while another paid less, didn’t allow telecommutng, but included more paid time off (PTO).
By conducting such exercises with thousands of respondents, the researchers could parse out the dollar value of each perk.
So how much is training worth – to employees?
Not surprisingly, the perk that workers put the highest value on was PTO – probably because they put a high value on their time. But they did value training at 5.1% of their salary. The average salary in the study was about $60,000, so the perceived value of training works out to a little more than $3,000 per employee.
In other words, a job that paid $57,000 but included training was just as appealing as a $60,000 job without training.
Other research suggests the reason why: People feel that they’ll be more valuable in the long run – and ultimately command a higher salary – if they’ve been trained well. So they’ll take less now in order to earn more later.
A recruitment-and-retention return
The implications for employers are significant. It means you get a two-for-one return on training investments: (1) Presumably it leads to behavior change that will make the organization more valuable – for example, by increasing sales or creating leaders and managers who are more effective—and (2) you get an upfront recruitment-and-retention benefit that helps you attract and keep good employees.
Here’s how that works out in practical terms: A candidate who receives an offer from you and someone else will be more likely to choose you – all other factors being equal – if you include training in the mix. And a company that’s trying to poach your employees will find it more difficult if your employees feel that you’re adding to their long-term value by training them in key skills.
And here’s one more stat to consider: ATD estimates that most companies spend about $1,200 per employee per year on training. So if you’re spending that and getting a $3,000 return, that works out to an ROI of 150% – even before you consider the larger impact of training on your organization. For more highly paid employees, the returns are even higher. And that’s more than just a guess – it’s based on rigorous research from two of the world’s most prestigious organizations.
Maestas K., et al. (2018). The value of working conditions in the United States and Implications for the structure of wages. National Bureau of Economic Research Working Paper.
Barron, J.M., et al. (1999). Do workers pay for on-the-job training? Journal of Human Resources, pp.235-252.
“There are only two types of speakers in the world: 1) the nervous, and 2) liars.”
That’s what Mark Twain said about stage fright, and he should know. The celebrated author was also one of the most renowned public speakers of his era, circumnavigating the globe to deliver humorous lectures as far away as Australia, New Zealand, India and South Africa.
Other great professional performers, ranging from actors to dancers to singers to ballplayers, have admitted to suffering from stage fright, or “performance anxiety,” as psychologists term it. So if you experience wildly fluttering butterflies before giving a sales presentation to buyers, it’s understandable.
OK, then, stage fright may be normal, but it still can get in the way of what you want to do. So what’s the best way to handle it before a presentation? People may advise you to just calm down, or take deep breaths, or pretend you’re talking to one single close friend or family member.
But according to recent research from Harvard Business School, what works best in dealing with stage fright is simply telling your brain that it’s something else, something positive: excitement.
Renaming the angst
The Harvard researcher, assistant professor of negotiations Alison Wood Brooks, had experimental subjects perform a variety of performance tasks. These ranged from singing to public speaking to solving a series of math problems.
Some of the participants were instructed to tell themselves “I am calm” before performing, while others were told to say, “I am excited.” A control group was not given instructions about reframing whatever feelings of anxiety they were experiencing.
Across the task set, Brooks found that the best performances – as measured by accurate delivery of a song, effective public speaking as assessed by evaluators, and the objective correctness of the math solutions – were turned in by those who had reframed their anxiety as excitement. Their degree of emotional arousal, as measured by heart rate, was also lower.
Threat vs. opportunity
She said it appeared that when the participants told themselves their anxiety was in fact excitement, what had first seemed a threat was converted into a perceived opportunity. Instead of viewing their presentation as something that was likely to bomb and embarrass them, they saw it as a chance to shine.
Significantly, when the experimental subjects told themselves to calm down that didn’t change their perception that the situation they were going into presented a threat. To the contrary: Saying “calm down” to yourself seems to validate the perception that the upcoming presentation does in fact represent a menace.
Brooks, the researcher, issued one caveat about these self-statements. They work just before a presentation, but in the days leading up to it, you may want to admit to yourself that you’re nervous. Here’s how she put it: “Saying ‘I am excited’ immediately before a performance task was beneficial, but perhaps saying ‘I am anxious’ a week in advance would motivate effort and preparation.”
This technique may seem like something of a cheap trick. But that’s OK: The brain responds to the tricks you play on it. “Fake it until you make it,” “I think I can,” and other self-exhortations have been shown to work.
And you’re not trying to trick anyone else, just yourself, by repeating that your anxiety is actually excitement. Surely that’s a good cause – especially when it results in a bang-up presentation that helps get you the sale.