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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.
Workplace learning is an extremely valuable employee benefit. But not everyone sees it that way. Some employees will be skeptical of training. Perhaps they’ve seen it fail before. Maybe they think they’re too busy to make time for it. Or maybe they’re just resistant to change.
Whatever the reason, it’s difficult for a skeptical employee to get any real value out of training. Their negative mindset will almost guarantee that they almost certainly won’t put in the requisite time and effort, which will in turn lead to failure. Which just perpetuates the employee’s belief that training doesn’t work.
So how can you convince such employees to change their attitude and buy in to workplace learning? Recent research may provide the answer.
Researchers from Stanford University wanted to explore the effect of negative attitudes on learning. Specifically, they wanted to see if an intervention could both change learners’ attitudes and improve their performance.
Naturally, they chose a polarizing subject: math.
The study included over 1,000 students, divided into two groups: the experimental group and the control. The experimental group was enrolled in a free online course over three months. The course was intended to improve participants’ understanding of math as well as their attitude toward the subject.
The control group, meanwhile, simply took their regular classes.
A growth mindset
An important piece of the experimental group’s online course was to instill in the students a growth mindset — the belief that they could improve at math if they work hard and challenge themselves. This concept was layered throughout the lessons in the course.
At the end of the course, both groups of students were given a math assessment. It should come as no surprise that the experimental group — which received additional math instruction — performed better than the control group. The most striking results, however, were related to the experimental group’s changes in attitude.
The students’ belief that they could improve and learn math at a high level (i.e., adopting the growth mindset) went up nearly 50 percent. Their fear and discomfort of math dropped significantly. And their belief that math was an interesting and creative subject went up over 30 percent. What’s more, their teachers found that, after taking the course, students from the experimental group participated more in math class, were more engaged in the material and more persistent in solving problems.
For such a brief intervention, the study showed a significant change in participants’ beliefs and behavior. As the head researcher stated, “The online course changed students’ ideas about mathematics and their futures in the subject. This is the first online class that has had such an impact.”
Beliefs can be hard to change
The participants in this study were coached on how to change their beliefs about learning and given the tools to learn effectively. This approach can be applied to any subject and in any organization. Many other studies show the effects of instilling a growth mindset, and this research proves that it can be achieved through an online course just as successfully as an in-person intervention.
That’s all well and good. But when certain people make up their mind, they don’t tend to change it easily. So what if you’re dealing with a particularly stubborn or resistant learner?
Another recent study — this one out of Princeton — suggests an additional tool for turning around such employees: Spin their incorrect belief into a positive fact.
For example, let’s say a particularly negative learner tells his manager, “Workplace training doesn’t work. I’ve seen it fail before and I’m not interested in doing it again.” According to the research, an effective response could be, “You’re right, workplace learning doesn’t work — if it’s not done properly. But we have implemented a training program here that has been effective for many of your coworkers and will work for you too.”
By redirecting their false belief into an accurate, positive statement, the research suggests that the employee will be far less likely to argue or dismiss your message. It’s a simple approach that has powerful results.
Here are some recommendations for how to apply the research in your organization:
If learners enter the training process with a negative or skeptical attitude, they will almost surely fail. It’s important for learners to engage in training with the belief that they can grow and improve. Consider presenting success stories of the training program. Show how it’s improved results or helped employees achieve their goals. Also, consider having an employee who’s excelled because of training speak to your learners — this could work for new hires as well as skeptical employees. Hearing information directly from a peer resonates.
Discuss the growth mindset
…especially during challenging moments. For employees who may be stuck in their habits or routines, infusing the growth mindset into the training program could have significant results. While change can be uncomfortable at times, it is possible. Challenge and struggle are natural parts of the learning experience and employees will benefit if they stay positive and put in the effort.
Redirect negative beliefs into positive facts
If an employee has a negative or erroneous belief about workplace learning, use the approach from the Princeton study to open their mind and, with the help of the other takeaways from this article, hopefully change it. Connect their erroneous belief to a true fact.
Boaler, J., et al. (2018). Changing students’ minds and achievement in mathematics: The impact of a free online student course. Frontiers in Education, 3(26) 1-7.
Vlasceanu, M., & Coman, A. (2018). Mnemonic accessibility affects statement believability: The effect of listening to others selectively practicing beliefs. Cognition, 180, 238-245.
Everyone has an idea of what they think a good leader looks like. But ask ten people and you’ll get ten different answers. And that leaves you where you started.
If you’re looking to take your leadership skills – and your career – beyond where you are today, what really makes the difference? What do you need to focus on?
An analysis published in Harvard Business Review may offer some guidance. Researchers at the executive development consultancy Egon Zehnder studied data from executive development programs going back some 30 years to see if they could identify factors that predicted success in top executive roles.
First the bad news: Executives themselves have a dim view of such programs. In organizations that have programs to identify and cultivate “high pots” – high-potential employees – only 24% of executives think they work. Only 13% have confidence in the leadership at their own organizations.
But by digging into the data, Egon Zehnder found five key traits that did a good job of predicting whether someone would ultimately succeed in a leadership role. Keep in mind that these aren’t simply the traits of people who were already leaders – they’re qualities found in “diamonds in the rough” who would eventually become successful leaders.
And the winners are…
Those five traits are:
This is the squishiest of the five, the researchers note, because it’s highly dependent on context. The “right” motivation for the leader of a major social-justice nonprofit will be very different from what motivates the head of an industrial distributor. The common thread is that leaders have a deep desire to excel in their chosen field. The nonprofit leader wants to lead an organization that makes a difference. The distributor CEO wants his or her company to deliver the best service in the industry and work with the best partners.
Action step: Understand what motivates you. What is it about your job that sparks your passion? Maybe it’s the product or service you deliver. Maybe it’s your team. How can you be the best at what you do? If you pursue what matters, the rest tends to fall into place.
People who go on to become great leaders are intensely curious about everything. They want to know how stuff works, why things are the way they are, what changes are on the horizon, and more. They solicit feedback and get excited by learning new things.
Action step: Cultivate your curiosity by asking questions. Even if you think you know the answer. Ask “Why?” Or “Tell me more.” Or “What do you think?”
Egon Zehnder offers a pragmatic definition of this often-elusive quality: the ability to gather and make sense of a vast range of information; to change one’s views; and to set new directions. In other words, it’s the opposite of a “because we’ve always done it that way” mentality.
Action step: Consider whether your thinking has gotten stale. Are you seeking out new sources of information? Talking to people outside your immediate circle of friends and colleagues? Are you aware of your own assumptions and constantly testing them? Are you looking at the big picture, or just what’s right in front of you? Are you redirecting your team’s efforts to reflect changing conditions and new information?
Engagement is about how you connect to others, and how they connect with you. As you rise in the ranks, it’s easy to end up feeling disconnected, but you can’t inspire people to do their best unless they feel that you truly understand and care about them.
Action step: Get out from behind your desk. Practice management-by-walking-around. No matter how busy you are, make time for the people you lead. Ask their opinions about the business, whether they’re in the executive suite or working on the loading dock. Ask what they like about their jobs and what could be better. Ask about their families, where they went on vacation, what they do when they’re not working. Know their kids’ names.
It’s what’s commonly called “grit” these days – the ability to stick with something and see it through. In numerous studies, grit has been associated with long-term success. And it’s a quality that can be developed.
Action step: Identify times when you put your shoulder to the wheel and achieved a long-term goal – pursuing a degree, breaking into a difficult industry, overcoming a career setback. Consider what it took to reach that goal. Are you working toward a similar goal today? If not, why not? There’s never a time when you can afford to coast.
Source: Fernandez-Araoz, C., Roscoe, A., Aramaki, K. (2017). Turning potential into success. Harvard Business Review, Nov-Dec, pp. 87-93.
Think of someone who works for you – or who worked for you in the past – who is/was deeply committed to their job.
Now think of someone who is/was just going through the motions.
Easy, right? As a manager, you can instantly recognize the difference between commitment and compliance. But communicating that distinction can be tricky – especially when you’re talking to employees who sincerely think they’re doing a good job by showing up and doing what they’re told.
When such employees find out that you expect more, they’re baffled. When you suggest that they should be more like Bill or Sue if they want to get raises or promotions, they think you’re playing favorites. They demand that you tell them what to do differently, when the real problem is that you shouldn’t have to tell them in the first place.
Author and sales consultant Chris Lytle notes that it’s hard to explain what commitment looks like. So how can you paint a picture of what true commitment looks like?
The commitment continuum
He offers something called the “commitment continuum” to help facilitate this conversation. It works because it offers specific behaviors that demonstrate commitment instead of such generalities.”
Here what each level on the continuum looks like:
Noncompliance. Hopes it happens but not that much. Employee thinks they can’t or won’t be fired, or that “it’s no big deal” if they are.
Grudging Compliance. Would like it to happen. Will go along if it’s no extra trouble. Won’t volunteer extra effort.
Genuine Compliance. Wants it to happen. But if it’s not good enough, it’s not their fault. Employee thinks they are doing the best they can.
Responsibility. Needs it to happen. Is conscientious. Will go the extra mile unless it’s beyond their control.
Commitment. Will make it happen. Creates the structure needed. Owns it. Accountable. No excuses!
If the shoe fits…
A good way to use the Commitment Continuum, Lytle suggests, is to give the employee these descriptions and ask, “Where do you think you fit?”
There’s no guarantee that employees will see themselves where you see them. But that’s okay – because now you have a way to discuss that perception gap. For example, you might say, “You believe you’re highly committed, but when I asked you to get three quotes from vendors on the last project, you only came back with two. You said the other vendors never got back to you even after you left multiple messages. But a truly committed employee would have kept after them until she got three quotes. See the difference?”
Source: RLI Webinar, Sales Manager or Babysitter? Five Ways to Create Sales Rep Accountability, with Chris Lytle. June 2018.