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An emerging area of educational research has found a specific quality that has a big impact on learner engagement. It makes learning more enjoyable. It boosts memory. And it can significantly improve the performance of learners, even those who are struggling.
Curious to find out what it is?
Researchers at UC Davis wanted to explore why people remember some things and forget others. And they targeted a specific factor that they thought could provide an answer: Curiosity.
In the study, they asked subjects 100 trivia questions. After answering each question, subjects were asked how curious they were to find out the correct answer. After they answered all 100 questions, they reviewed each question and were given the correct answer.
A few days later, the subjects were unexpectedly tested on the same set of questions. Those who had higher levels of curiosity performed much better on the follow-up test, scoring 18 percent higher on average.
Another study, conducted over several years, found that grade-school students who measured high in curiosity scored roughly 12 percent higher on a comprehensive assessment than less curious students. What’s more, the researchers found that activating curiosity in struggling and disinterested students had an even bigger impact, as they saw their scores increase by an average of 20 percent.
There was another twist in the UC Davis study that uncovers the full power of curiosity. During the initial round of trivia questions, subjects were shown random photos of people in between questions without any explanation as to why. When given a follow-up test on these photos, the curious subjects were better at recalling them as well.
So curiosity not only led to a better recall of the questions that were the focus of the study. It also boosted recall on something seemingly meaningless and of no significance to the subjects. Curiosity appeared to activate something in their brains that helped them remember uninteresting, peripheral information as well.
The neuroscience of curiosity
Another fascinating piece of the UC Davis study sheds light on the connection between curiosity and memory. And it might explain why the curious subjects remembered those random photos.
While the learners reviewed the trivia questions – right before they were given the correct answers – they had their brain activity monitored in an MRI machine. When learners were curious about a trivia question, the researchers could literally watch their brains light up.
Specifically, the researchers found pronounced brain activity in two areas – the pleasure/reward area and the hippocampus, which plays an important role in forming new memories.
The researchers found that the pleasure center of the brain lights up when we’re curious. And when this area is activated in the brain, it releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for giving us a little high feeling when we exercise, for example, or when we hear our favorite song.In short, curiosity feels good.
“The dopamine also seems to play a role in enhancing the connections between cells that are involved in learning,” the head researcher stated. “Curiosity really is one of the very intense and very basic impulses in humans. We should base education on this behavior.”
Some learners are curious by nature, of course, and those learners are likely already quite successful. So here are some recommendations based on the research for activating curiosity in your less curious learners and boosting their engagement in the talent development process.
Start by asking questions.
Probing, open-ended questions about the subject at hand are a proven way to engage learners at the beginning of a training session. Whether they are provided in advance of an e-learning experience or asked during in-person training, these questions will get learners thinking about the topic and activate their natural curiosity about what they are about to learn.
Create a safe environment for questioning.
When conducting group discussions during a learning experience, it’s important to create an environment where people feel safe to ask questions, be vulnerable and express their natural curiosity.
While it might be a cliché, establishing a “no stupid questions” atmosphere will allow learners to say what’s on their minds and potentially touch on important topics, questions and concerns that might not have been revealed otherwise.
Connect learning to real-world outcomes.
Sometimes it helps to draw a straight line from the subject matter to the outcome the learners will experience as a result. For example, imagine you begin a leadership discussion with, “You will become a better manager if you pay attention today,” or you begin a sales training with, “Who wants to close more deals?”
Not only will these statements pique curiosity, they will also trigger learners to think about the ultimate purpose and personal benefit of the training session, and therefore increase engagement.
Gruber, M. J., et al. (2014). States of curiosity modulate hippocampus-dependent learning via the dopaminergic circuit. Neuron, 84(2), 486-496.
Shah, P. E., et al. (2018). Early childhood curiosity and kindergarten reading and math academic achievement. Pediatric Research. doi: 10.1038/s41390-018-0039-3
Much has been written about the concept of the humble leader – most notably, in Jim Collins’ ground-breaking book Good to Great. Collins’ researchers found that one of the key attributes of a great company is a leader who doesn’t need to be in the limelight, who doesn’t hog credit, and who puts the success of the team above his or her own ego.
That certainly doesn’t sound like a narcissist, doesn’t it? Yet a study from 2015 suggests that the most effective leaders exhibit a unique combination of humility and narcissism – two qualities that are often seen as polar opposites.
Why should leaders be humble?
Why are humble leaders so effective? According to an earlier study, humility is an effective leadership strategy because of how it influences team interaction. A humble leader sets an example that their followers emulate. By putting the good of the team first, they encourage their people to do the same, creating what the researchers call “collective humility.” Field research validated this idea, finding that the leader’s behavior spreads to followers, creating a team that works together. Ultimately, it’s not just about the leader being humble; the team itself is humble.
But what’s the downside of humility?
However, leaders who are too humble make their followers nervous. People worry that they won’t stand up to others – for example, their rivals in the organization, people from other departments advocating for their own agendas, senior management, or even the loudmouths and bullies on their own team. They worry that the boss will vacillate, change his or her mind based on way the wind is blowing, or fail through a lack of self-confidence.
In short, they want a leader who can chart a firm course of action and get things done. To accomplish that, effective leaders need to be able to say, “I’m right. I know what’s best. We need to do it my way.” They need to take credit where credit is due, to be dominant when dominance is called for, to know how to get what they want rather than just get along. And by modeling such behavior, leaders also make their followers more effective at getting what they want.
But here’s the distinction: The humble narcissist uses these skills not for their personal aggrandizement, but in the service of the team. For them, “we” is an extension of “I.” They understand that they win when their people win. That’s why they prefer that credit go to the team and not just to themselves, and why they see their number-one job to be helping their people succeed.
Sources: Owens, B. P., & Hekman, D. R. (2016). How does leader humility influence team performance? Exploring the mechanisms of contagion and collective promotion focus. Academy of Management Journal, 59(3), 1088-1111. Owens, B. P., Wallace, A. S., & Waldman, D. A. (2015). Leader narcissism and follower outcomes: The counterbalancing effect of leader humility. Journal of Applied Psychology, 100(4), 1203-1213.
What if I told you that a great way to get people to buy from you … is to tell them they don’t have to buy from you?
Huh? Sounds bassackwards. But it’s true.
This counter-intuitive idea comes from research done by two French academics. They recruited four young people — two men and two women in their early 20s — dressed them in clean jeans and T-shirts, and had them stand outside a bus station asking passersby for money for the fare.
The young people would say, “Can you spare me a few coins so I can catch the bus?” And, unsurprisingly, most people said no. A few said yes. But when the kids asked exactly the same question, but added this phrase – “Of course, you’re free to say yes or no” – twice as many people said yes.
There are further behavioral experiments to back up this finding. Other researchers stopped people on the street and asked them to sign a petition or give money to a tsunami relief fund. Still others asked folks in nursing homes to participate in group activities. In every case, when the solicitors added the phrase “But you are free to say yes or no,” lots more people said yes.
It’s the idea, not the words
It doesn’t take much imagination to see how this technique would work in sales. When you’re trying to close a deal, for instance, you’re asking the prospect to take an action you desire — to buy from you. If you ask for the sale, you may get the reaction you’re seeking. But the research indicates that you’re more likely to get agreement if you use the “free to say yes or no” technique. (Same holds for other things you’d like prospects to do, like demo-ing your product or introducing you to their boss.)
And you don’t have to use those exact words, according to the research. It’s the idea behind them that’s important.
You can convey it just as effectively by saying, for example, “Obviously, you are not obliged.” Or you might say, “I understand that we’re not for everyone. It’s up to you to decide.” Or “I only want you do this if it makes sense for you.” Or even, “Feel free to tell me no.”
A feeling of power
Why does this technique work? Clearly, buyers already know that they’re free to say yes or no. But when you use a “free to say yes or no”-type phrase, you remind buyers that they have agency. They have choices. They have power. And when buyers feel powerful, they’re less resistant.
Think about what happens in the opposite case, when buyers feel they’re being manipulated. What do they do? They push back. They dig in their heels. They may do something that runs counter to their interest — like refusing to buy something from you that they need — just to show you who’s in charge.
But when you acknowledge their freedom, you disarm their resistance. You signal that you’re not going to get into a wrestling match with them. You won’t be angry or disappointed. You won’t argue with them.
Result: Buyers are more open to you, for two reasons — you’ve let them feel they’re the boss, and they’re confident they won’t regret opening the door to you later on.
And the best part? Really, you’re not giving up a thing when you tell a buyer he or she is free to accept or refuse. As we noted, they already were before you said so.
Why don’t people do it?
You’d think that if this kind of phrase is so effective, more salespeople would use it in more situations.
The problem is that it’s hard to do. Because salespeople are people too. The idea of surrendering control — especially when it’s your livelihood on the line — can be tough. You want to stay in control. And you don’t want to plant negative ideas in your buyers’ heads.
But the lesson of the research is that we have to trust our buyers — and we can. When we try to control them, we drive them away. When we let them go, oftentimes they will reward us.
Countless studies have shown that e-learning works. That’s not up for debate. But it’s still early days in its widespread use, which means there’s room for innovation and for improvement.
As e-learning spreads to larger audiences, researchers and learning professionals have more case studies and more data to pull from. And this helps uncover what works and what doesn’t – and what to watch out for.
For example, a recent study out of the University of Chicago found a pitfall in e-learning that could negatively affect your talent development program. Fortunately, they also discovered how to guard against it.
The researchers wanted to investigate e-learning and skill acquisition. Specifically, they wanted to see whether watching someone else perform a task in a video (think how-to videos) could lead a learner to become overconfident about their own ability to perform the same task.
The researchers divided subjects into two groups. Both groups watched a quick instructional video on playing darts – specifically, how to hit the bull’s-eye. One group viewed the video once while the other group was shown it 20 times.
Both groups were then asked to predict how many points they’d score by throwing a single dart at the dartboard. Then they actually did it.
The one-time viewers’ predictions were pretty accurate – they overestimated their score by about 20% on average. But the group that watched the video 20 times was staggeringly overconfident. They overestimated their performance by a full 100%.
“The more that people watched others, the more they felt they could perform the same skill, too – even when their abilities hadn’t actually changed for the better,” said the lead researcher.
The illusion of knowledge
Why would people think they were suddenly a good dart player just by watching someone else play darts? This type of irrational overconfidence is not unique to e-learning – in fact, it’s a phenomenon that’s been chronicled long before e-learning existed. Researchers call it the “illusion of knowledge.”
Apparently, once we get a little bit of information, we are extremely likely to overestimate what we know. A recent study found that people who recently searched the internet for information on a topic vastly inflated how much they knew about said topic. What’s worse, they also inflated how much they knew about a variety of other topics they didn’t even research.
We seem to have difficulty differentiating what we know with everything there is to know on a certain subject. Obviously, this phenomenon isn’t limited to learners who get their information from the internet or online videos. It’s been shown to occur with every type of media and with every type of learner, from novices up to near-experts.
So how can talent development professionals ensure that this common phenomenon doesn’t negatively affect workplace learning? Past and present research has revealed some effective ways to keep your learners from overestimating what they know.
Have learners engage in active learning.
It’s easy for a learner to overestimate their knowledge and skills after passively watching a video. So make learners actively engage with the material and utilize what they know through activities like group discussions, writing exercises or role playing. Not only will this help expose learners’ blind spots, but it will help them make the mental transition to consider how they will apply the new information on the job and in their specific role.
Use assessments to keep things real.
Consider building tests or quizzes into each new learning experience. Assessments are a powerful tool for showing learners what they actually know and what they need to improve. An assessment doesn’t need to be deflating to learners – in fact, it can be a powerful tool to reveal what areas they need to improve so they can specifically focus on those areas and boost their performance.
Practice, practice, practice.
The University of Chicago researchers found something that made learners reassess their inflated predictions – practice. Once learners were faced with the reality of successfully performing the skill, they could no longer live in their overconfident bubbles, and they revised their self-estimate accordingly. So practice makes perfect, but it also helps overconfident learners come back down to Earth.
Source: Kardas, M., & O’Brien, E. (2018). Easier seen than done: Merely watching others perform can foster an illusion of skill acquisition. Psychological Science. https://doi.org/10.1177/0956797617740646
Conventional wisdom in HR circles suggests that money isn’t the most important thing on employees’ minds. That conclusion is backed up by reams of studies in which employees consistently rank other factors ahead of compensation when it comes to job satisfaction.
For example, a scientific literature review conducted way back in 1957 concluded that pay ranked sixth in importance, behind things like job security, interesting work and opportunities for advancement. Subsequent studies found that pay ranked anywhere from second to eighth in importance. And many HR experts concluded that even these studies overestimated the importance of money, because by asking the question researchers were prompting employees to think about pay.
Guided by these studies, the HR profession has traditionally focused most of its attention on the softer side of job satisfaction. You needed to pay people a fair wage, of course, but the real key to recruitment and retention were factors such as engagement, sense of purpose, work-life balance and career development.
What they do vs. what they say
Meanwhile, a provocative (though widely ignored) review published in 2004 pointed out a key flaw in all of these studies: They reported what employees said, not what they did. Meanwhile, a slew of other studies, which looked at employee behavior, painted a very different picture. For example:
A 1980 meta-analysis (an examination of multiple individual studies) concluded that introducing individual pay incentives increased productivity by an average of 30%. Job-enrichment activities, by contrast, boosted productivity by less than 9 to 17%.
A 1985 meta-analysis found that “financial incentives had by far the largest effect on productivity of all interventions.” They were four times more effective than efforts to make the job more interesting, for example.
A 1994 meta-analysis found that individual pay incentives increased productivity by an average of 44%.
Other studies have teased out the importance of money in job candidates’ willingness to take a job. In some studies, for example, people are presented with various “packages” of job characteristics such as pay, location, type of work, average time to promotion and so on, and asked which offer they’d be most likely to accept.
This indirect approach finds that pay is by far the most important factor in determining whether someone will take a job – nearly twice as large as any other attribute. Yet when candidates were asked directly about which factors were most important in making their decision, they consistently ranked other factors ahead of pay.
Why the discrepancy? The authors conclude that social pressure makes people downplay how much they care about money. They don’t want to think of themselves as crass money grubbers, and they certainly don’t want others to think of them that way. That’s especially true when it comes to their current or potential employers. Since “everyone knows” that pay isn’t what matters most, who’s going to say “I’m mostly here for the money”?
Implications for managers
If you’re trying to hire and retain the best people, it’s important to understand this disconnect between words and actions. Of course you should consider all of the factors that make a job attractive. And these findings don’t necessarily suggest that you need to throw heaps of cash at people to hire or retain them.
But you do need to be comfortable talking about money with your people and recruits – to find out how they feel about their compensation, to make sure they understand why they’re paid what they are, to explain why you believe their pay is fair, and to find out whether they think otherwise. In fact, the research suggests that you need to be proactive about these discussions, because people will underplay how much money really matters to them. And that could lead to some nasty surprises.
Source: Rynes, S. L., Gerhart, B., & Minette, K. A. (2004). The importance of pay in employee motivation: Discrepancies between what people say and what they do. Human Resource Management, 43(4), 381-394.
If you were the manager of a non-Sales department, you might find that some people don’t mind attending a meeting even if it doesn’t get much done. After all, it represents time away from the grindstone, a chance to relax and even — if they’re at the back of the room or the lights are out for a video presentation — catch a little nap.
But salespeople think differently. Because their paychecks depend at least in part on carrying out sales activities, they’re likely to have little patience with low-value meetings that cut into their sales time. And so the sales manager, usually the one organizing the sales meeting, has to get it right.
Two boxes to tick
The key, I think, is to find things to do at the sales meeting that (1) are intrinsically engaging and (2) give salespeople a chance to learn and/or practice important skills. It’s not good enough to think up fun activities if they don’t have a payoff in terms of skill transfer. It’s also not good enough to offer dry-as-dust training that fails to stimulate the imagination or get the attention of salespeople.
With all of that said, here are 10 ideas for sales meeting activities that tick both the excitement and the utilitarian boxes:
#1: Sell your favorite
Pick a topic – movies, books, TV shows, big moments in sports, etc. – and have each participant give their favorite in the category. Then have each person try to “sell” their favorite to the rest of the team. The exercise lets people practice formulating an effective pitch on the spot.
#2: True or false
Buyers often don’t tell the whole truth about their situation or their needs, for various reasons. To help your salespeople sharpen their nose for little deceptions, try this exercise: Each person tells two truths and one lie about themselves, and the rest of the group tries to figure out which is which.
#3: You’re good at…
Praising a buyer without resorting to transparent flattery is a skill that needs developing. In this vein, have each person in your meeting pay someone else a sincere compliment. It can be about something they’ve done in the recent past, or a positive trait they display. Bonus: Not only does this exercise build a useful skill, it helps create a positive team environment.
#4: Who am I?
Before approaching a new prospect, a salesperson needs to know something about them and their business. To drive this fact home, divide meeting participants into groups of two or three and have each group come up with 10 or so avenues, on- and offline, for prospect research.
#5: Appropriate rapport building
This exercise builds off #4. Each participant makes a list of information they’ve dug up about a new, fictional prospect. This might include alma mater, sports teams supported, clubs, marital/family status, socio-political interests, seniority with the company, list of jobs held, etc. Then do partnered role-plays where each person tries to use one piece of information to build rapport with the “prospect,” without making the latter feel they’ve been stalked.
#6: 30-second commercial
Have each attendee write and read aloud a 30-second script, suitable for a broadcast commercial, about your company, your team or a product. It’s a good exercise to focus your reps’ minds. Also, it will let you know if there are any misconceptions or gaps in their understanding of what you do and sell.
#7: Success story
Reps bring in an example of how they overcame an obstacle to make a sale. Pre-assign one or two people to do this, so you’re not putting them too much on the spot. Success stories motivate and also convey new information about how to handle objections and snags.
#8: Worst customer
Describing a “buyer from hell” provides reps a chance to vent. It also gives their colleagues and manager an opportunity to point out where a rep might have done something better or different to defuse a tough situation.
Salespeople need to be able to ask probing questions to elicit information about buyers’ needs. Participants each get a box with a random item inside, then pair off. Each player has 5 closed-end questions – “Is it made of plastic?” “Is it bigger than a wristwatch?” – to guess what’s in their partner’s box. If they don’t get it, they can ask 3 open-ended questions – “How might you use this object in an office?” “What emotions does the object elicit?”
#10: Notice one thing
Building rapport with a new prospect may depend on observing something about them or their environment that naturally sparks conversation. To drill reps on this, have each person notice one thing about the person next to him/her – like a tie bearing a college emblem or a keychain with an automobile logo tag – and ask a question about it. Then reverse the process so that everybody gets one question. Review the kinds of information elicited and the conversations that resulted.
The power of a positive attitude: It’s been heralded as a key to success in many areas of life, from learning to athletics to just about any profession you can imagine. But is there any evidence that positivity affects results or is it mostly mumbo jumbo?
In reality, it’s difficult to separate a person’s attitude from other factors that can affect performance. For example, a major league baseball player may have an incredibly positive attitude about hitting a baseball, but that could be simply because he’s really great at it.
The same question comes up with learning. A positive attitude has long been believed to directly affect learning achievement. It’s easy to envision how a negative attitude can derail a learning experience, but can a positive one actually improve results? And if so, how?
Researchers from Stanford University recently uncovered how impactful a positive attitude can be. And the study didn’t produce fuzzy or touchy-feely conclusions. In fact, the researchers present some pretty solid evidence – one of the first glimpses into the neuroscience behind positivity and learning.
The study looked at how students’ feelings about math might shape their performance on a math-related challenge. The subjects were all given a survey about their attitude towards math and their self-perceived ability. They were also given a questionnaire designed to capture student demographics, IQ and working-memory capacity.
Subjects were then given a math assessment to measure their knowledge and problem-solving abilities. After analyzing the results, the researchers found that a positive attitude contributed to high performance in math even after statistically controlling for all other factors, including IQ.
“Based on our data, the unique contribution of positive attitude to math achievement is as large as the contribution from IQ,” stated the head researcher [emphasis supplied].
There could be many explanations for why a positive attitude might lead to better results, so the researchers dug deeper. Specifically, they wanted to find out if anything significant was happening in the brains of those positive high performers.
As a follow up, the researchers asked subjects to solve math problems while in an MRI scanner so their brain activity could be monitored while engaging in the learning process. What they found was groundbreaking: For the first time, scientists found a link in the brain between positivity and achievement.
The results showed that a positive attitude was connected to greater activity in the hippocampus area of the brain – an area that is critical to learning and the formation of new memories. The results suggest that the hippocampus mediates the link between a positive attitude and retrieval from memory, which results in better problem solving and higher performance.
“Having a positive attitude acts directly on your memory and learning system,” said the researchers. “…If you have a strong interest and self-perceived ability in math, it results in enhanced memory and more efficient engagement of the brain’s problem-solving capacities.”
Based on the learning power of a positive attitude, here are some recommendations for promoting a positive learning environment in your organization.
Foster a growth mindset.
Previous research has shown that a learner’s mindset is important to successfully learning new skills. Essentially, a learner who has a growth mindset – who believes he or she can learn and improve – is usually right.
This mindset involves the belief that our skills aren’t set in stone, that we can always learn new things and change our behaviors for the better. And it’s been supported by countless studies. So ensure that this is the point of departure for all the learners in your organization. Make them aware of the research and the fact that they can always grow, learn and improve.
Share success stories.
Few things motivate and inspire learners like hearing from their peers. So consider having learners who have been successful in your workplace learning program share their stories with others. Ask successful learners to share what the learning opportunities have done for them but also ask them to share their struggles and how they overcame them. Hearing stories of positive outcomes and the ability to successfully deal with adversity will help learners envision their own success.
Focus on the benefits.
Sometimes learners can adopt a negative attitude about workplace learning when they fail to see the purpose or lose sight of the larger goal. Therefore, your learning program should consistently present to learners why they are learning a topic and how it will benefit them and their career.
Through discussing the benefits of learning a certain skill, learners will see how it directly impacts them and how it can make their work lives easier or more productive. When learners see the benefits, they are much more likely to stay positive during the learning process, knowing that they’ll reap rewards for their hard work.
Source: Chen, L., et al. (2018). Positive attitude toward math supports early academic success: Behavioral evidence and neurocognitive mechanisms. Psychological Science. doi: 0956797617735528.
When great minds come together, they can accomplish just about anything:
The Bay of Pigs invasion. The Vietnam War. Investing in mortgage-backed securities. The AOL-Time Warner merger. You name it.
What these profoundly bad ideas have in common is that they were all vetted and approved by the best brains in their respective fields — often with little dissent or discussion.
In hindsight, everybody — including those who were sitting at the table — can point to the culprit: groupthink.
Yet knowing the name of the disease doesn’t prevent you from catching it. I’ll confess that I’ve succumbed to it myself — as a team member and as a team leader.
Looking back, perhaps the most striking thing about those experiences is that they didn’t feel like groupthink. These weren’t situations where everybody was hugging and singing kumbaya. Or where people were going along just to get along. Or where an overbearing personality bullied others into accepting their ideas. These were thoughtful, honest discussions among people who knew their stuff and weren’t afraid to speak up.
And yet groupthink happened anyway.
Expect groupthink and plan for it
The point is that you can’t out-think groupthink. It doesn’t happen because people are too dumb to see what’s happening. It’s deeply rooted in the structure of teams and the psychology of interpersonal relationships.
Which means that the only way to avoid groupthink is by proactively engineering the team’s decision-making process. Here are six strategies to consider:
1. Appoint a devil’s advocate
One study found that appointing someone as devil’s advocate — whose only job is to challenge the group’s consensus — is an effective antidote to groupthink. The key is to make the role formal. It has to be someone’s explicit job to be the fly in the ointment. Otherwise, there’s too much pressure to get with the program.
2. Set up a debate
The same study found an equally effective strategy for improving the quality of group decisions. Researchers and academics call it “dialectical inquiry.” Essentially, it means dividing the group into two teams — one to argue in favor of a proposition and one to argue against it. It works for reasons similar to a devil’s advocate: The team arguing “against” will dig harder to identify logical flaws and disconfirming evidence. A team approach overcomes some of the social pressure that a single devil’s advocate may feel (even when everyone knows it’s your job to be a naysayer, it’s not a comfortable role). But it requires more planning and effort.
3. Create multiple teams
Another variation: Set up multiple teams, working independently, to explore solutions to the same problem. That way you get greater independence of thinking, and less risk that consensus seeking will shut down divergent thinking. Of course, groupthink can still happen within each team, but when you eventually bring everyone together, the effects tend to cancel out.
4. Invite outside experts to evaluate the decision
Outside experts aren’t as invested in the process or the outcome as the people who developed the solution. Outsiders won’t know, for example, which ideas generated the most enthusiasm. They don’t know how much effort was expended to come up with something everyone could buy into. All they have to go on is the decision itself. And that’s a good thing. Because the quality of a decision has little to do with how much effort was put into it or how much people liked it.
5. Have each team member get outside views before the meeting
When team members discuss an issue with other people before the meeting, they’ll have more insights to share. And they’ll be less likely to get steamrolled by what happens during the meeting. They’ll be asking themselves, “How would this idea play with the people I talked to before?”
6. If you’re the leader, lay low
Your views carry far more weight than those of others in the group. Even when you invite people to challenge you, they will unconsciously look to you for signals about what you want to happen or what you think is best. As the leader, your most valuable role is to evaluate the decisions that the group proposes. If you’re also involved in developing those same decisions, you’ll inevitably end up critiquing your own ideas — a recipe for groupthink. A better approach: Stay out of the process as much as you can. Avoid the working meetings if possible. Or if you must attend, keep your opinions to yourself.
Source: Schweiger, D.M., et al. (1989) Experiential effects of dialectical inquiry, devil’s advocacy and consensus approaches to strategic decision making. Acad Manage J 32(4)745-72.
If I said, “Most salespeople aren’t very good at setting or working to goals,” you’d probably think I was crazy. Of all the professions in the world, sales is one of the most numbers- and goal-driven. EVERY rep has some kind of target or quota to aim for — often with bonuses for achieving it or black marks for failing.
So what do I mean? Simply this: Amid the dollar- or volume-denominated quotas and targets, salespeople — or their managers — often fail to set the kind of goals that drive specific types of behavior. Do you, for instance, have a hard goal for the number of cold calls you’re going to make next week? Do you have a firm target for the number of presentations you want to make in the next two weeks? Do you have a no-excuses goal for the number of trial closes you’ll attempt in the next month?
If you were able to answer Yes to any or all of these questions, hats off to you. But I bet a lot of reps wouldn’t be able to do so.
It’s about the behavior
And that can be a problem. Think about it: If you’re going to consistently meet your dollar or unit goals, you need to behave in particular ways. Those dollar or volume amounts don’t give you much help with these behaviors.
What DOES help in this area is a goal-setting system, like SMART (for specific, measureable, achievable, relevant and time-bound.) If you commit to, say, making 25 cold calls next week, you’ve got yourself a SMART goal that ought to influence your behavior. It’s specific — it’s about cold calls, not other kinds of calls. It’s measurable — it’s got a number attached. It’s achievable — just five a day. It’s relevant — every rep needs to fill the pipeline. And it’s time-bound — it’s limited to a single week.
By contrast, if you just say, “I know I need to make more cold calls, so I’m going to do that,” you’re being reasonably specific and relevant. But your goal isn’t measurable or time-bound. And who knows whether it’s achievable, because it’s so vague you probably wouldn’t know if you’d achieved it or not.
Building and sustaining confidence
It’s not hard to see how goals that are set the right way can help drive desired behaviors.
But beyond that, goal-setting has another, less evident virtue: When you have clear goals, you’re less vulnerable to discouragement or demotivation, pitfalls that abound in the often-thankless world of sales. A study done in 1990 demonstrated that people who have such goals are more persistent and have a greater sense of self-efficacy, or confidence they can get the job done.
And here’s another point: Behavioral goals can be effective even when we don’t achieve them. Huh? Yes, you heard right. Consider a person whose goal is to quit smoking for the rest of her life. She manages to quit for a year and a half. Then she relapses and starts smoking again.
Is this a failure? Perhaps, if you’re going to look at the goal as an either/or — either she stopped for life or she didn’t. But if you look at it from a different angle, it’s a success — her lungs enjoyed a tar-free 18 months that wouldn’t have been possible but for the goal.
Similarly, if you set a goal of giving four product demos next month and manage to give two — but the previous month you gave none — you’ve failed to hit your number, but you’ve succeeded more than you would have without any goal at all.
Execution or strategy
There’s one last point to remember about these behavioral goals: The reason you set them in the first place was to help you do the things you believe will lead to the achievement of your sales targets. So you need to track two things against each other — how are you doing with the behaviors, and are you meeting your sales targets?
If you’re not executing the behaviors you laid out in your goals, and you’re not meeting your sales targets, you can’t know whether your execution or your strategy is faulty. It could be either or both. If you are executing these behaviors, but not meeting your targets, then you need to look for other behavioral goals. If you’re executing the desired behaviors, and you’re meeting your targets, then you’re a happy and successful rep. Congratulations!
It’s easy to see why your organization would conduct workplace learning for low and average performers. These employees have discernable room to grow and develop. But what about high performers?
On some level, high performers have already harnessed their potential and tasted success. They meaningfully contribute to the organization in a tangible, measurable way. Best to just stay out of their way and let them do their thing, right?
Well, research from the Center for Creative Leadership suggests that your rock star employees are uniquely in need of workplace learning. Why? Because their past successes can lead to future failure.
Researchers from the Center for Creative Leadership, in addition to conducting their own studies, looked at decades of research regarding people fulfilling their potential in the workplace. They wanted to find insights into why certain people succeeded while others failed to live up to expectations.
A key finding: A positive, open attitude towards learning could make all the difference. Research suggests that the desire and ability to learn in the workplace can be a stronger predictor of success than IQ or other traditional measures of potential.
In one study conducted at AT&T, employees who were originally evaluated as “low potential” ended up receiving more promotions on average than “high potential” employees – if those “low potential” employees embraced training and development opportunities more.
So what about the high potential employees? Why would employees with a track record of success dismiss learning opportunities to their own detriment?
Several studies suggest that high potential employees who’ve achieved at a high level in the past often decide that they don’t need to keep learning – in their mind, they’ve got it all figured out. As a result, they become victims of their own success, relying on what made them successful without continuing to develop their skills for the future.
As the study states, “Failures are usually not learning new things.”
The importance of agility
As noted by the researchers, the failure to embrace learning is also a failure to acknowledge the inevitability of change. No matter what industry you’re in, you’re bound to witness strategies, methods and/or processes change – and sometimes at a rapid pace. In the modern workplace, flexibility and adaptability are required. High performers who think they can continue to do the same things the same way and maintain the same level of success are in for a rude awakening.
A successful employee is often one who is prepared for change by committing to learning, flexibility and growth. The study refers to this important quality as “learning agility.”
The researchers define “learning agility” by breaking it down into four distinct factors.
People agility – The employee knows their own strengths and weaknesses. They can also empathize with others and embrace collaboration.
Results agility – The employee can adapt to changing conditions and priorities. Can deliver meaningful results by working well with team members.
Mental agility – The employee enjoys learning for learning’s sake. He or she is intellectually curious and relish solving problems.
Change agility – The employee is adaptable and likes seeking out new, improved ways of doing things.
Instead of viewing change as a negative, employees high in “learning agility” welcome new experiences and see change as an opportunity to learn. Again, learning culture is key to the research findings. Regardless of past performance or perceived potential, an employee is generally more successful when he or she recognizes the importance of continuous learning and enjoys developing new skills.
Below are some recommendations based on the research that can help your organization develop or enhance “learning agility” in all your employees.
Learners often assume they are doing things the right way unless they hear otherwise. By providing timely feedback, either through learning sessions or through managers, learners can identify weaknesses and work to correct them.
Managers can illustrate what needs to improve but they also provide critical coaching sessions to help show employees how they can get better once an area for improvement has been identified.
Reflect an openness to change.
Learners may not strive for positive change without signals from organizational leaders that change is indeed possible. So communicate a willingness to change and adapt as new ideas come to the surface.
For example, push learners to critically analyze the way they or their team does its work. By challenging processes and inefficiencies, employees can brainstorm new and better ways of doing things. This drive for improvement and change will keep learners “agile” in their approach to their work.
Consider learning plans for all employees.
Help employees create annual learning goals – similar to performance goals – in order to keep learners focused on developing new skills. This will also help create a more holistic learning culture, where growth is fostered and supported by the organization and therefore expected from employees.
Learning goals will ensure that all employees are given access to development opportunities and can also prevent high performers from believing that development isn’t required of them.
Source – Lombardo, M. M. & Eichinger, R. W. (2000). High potentials as high learners. Human Resource Management, 39(4), 321-329.