email: geoff@cultureofus.com

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Creating a coaching culture

As a keen Australian rules football (AFL) supporter, I loved this article mapping out coaching dynasty’s that exist in AFL football. The basic premise of the article suggests great coaches aren’t born, they are bred.

After reading this I thought about the challenge of building good coaching and leadership in organizations today. For the most part there is not the same public scrutiny and very visible performance data available on our companies leaders as there is with any major league sport, but there are definitely similar challenges. How do you reinforce the same themes and key messages week on week, and still keep your team engaged? How do you provide feedback, build confidence and the capability of your team? How do you make the right choices at the selection table?

Clearly there are some common themes and challenges for organization and sport. So what are the common attributes that separate a dynasty successful coach from a regular coach? Here’s three themes I believe are key:

Positive role models

Of all the key attributes behind a good coach, providing a positive role model is a prime factor in establishing a coaching dynasty. Approximately 90% of what we learn is through our experience and observation. It is then no coincidence that the writer of the AFL coaches article observed many of the top coaches in AFL had all been exposed to at least one of the great coaches that came before them. Through observation and indoctrination of successful coaching practices, they were able to learn their coaching craft and also become very successful coaches.

A winning culture

Successful coaches set up their teams for success by creating a winning culture, by reinforcing some very clear standards of behavior, which become part of the fabric of how a team behave. It is then by no means a coincidence that coaches whom are a part of and have experienced a successful coach learn the power of establishing a winning culture that builds accountability, trust and loyalty amongst a team.

Story tellers

AFL football can be a very complex and intricate game, yet teams play it best when the do the routine, basic things required by the game in a consistant and repetitive fashion. Coaches therefore need to rely on simple messages, retold and reinforced many different ways, reinforcing what needs to be done on a week in, week out basis. Like any job, football can be monatonous, so the challenge as a leader is to be able to help their team members understand and be inspired to change or maintain their behavour in order for them to become a more successful team. Consistency and quality require a fair degree of repetition no matter what the profession. Being able to learn new perspectives and new insights from great story tellers, supports not only successful teams, but role models to a future generation of coaches.

What other themes do you believe should be here? I look forward to your comments.

Leaders provide a key link to learning

Leaders play a significant role in assisting their people to learn. Whether it is to help raise self awareness of a learning need, provide ongoing coaching or to proivde an opportunity for their people to apply what has recently been learnt, as I documented in my post on sales training, the leaders role can not be under estimated.

A systems mapping analysis I worked on last year looked at some of the barriers that prevented capability development initiatives from being more successful of which people leaders were identified as a key barrier. Therefore a key goal of the ensuing capability strategy is to provide leaders with some context as to what role they play in peoples development.

The challenging part of this task is that this sort of leadership activity is currently seen as something you may complete a couple of times a year. Typically when completing an individuals development plan or maybe in a conversation regarding the attendance of a training program. Building capability for many people leaders is seen as an outsourced function to be performed by training courses and leaders role in relation to a persons capability is simply to solve any problems that come up in between those times.

‘LearnFest – People Leader Insights’ was developed as a way of engaging leaders to further develop the focus areas of the Personal Banking capability strategy we had previously created. The idea was to have a hybrid learning event. LearnFest was partly based on a world cafe style of idea generation to gain some more insights to better help people leaders execute themselves. Partly it was designed to provide some action learning experiments for the leaders to then implement with their teams. The event content was to be light and highly interactive. To achieve this we provided the heavier theoretical content via an engaging interactive portal available pre and post the event. The content on the portal was then largely delivered through short narrated slide shows.

One of the major challenges I have been trying to overcome in my organisation is the adoption of social learning tools to enhance more colloborative learning. As a enabling strategy for LearnFest, I introduced a ‘paper tweet’ functionality, whereby participants would tweet, comments, questions and key takeaway from each of the experiences they attended. These paper tweets were then logged on a live Yammer feed, which would allow participants in the room to get a feel of which of the other experiences they should consider attending. It also provided a continual feedback mechanism for analysis later and allowed other people to attend the event virtually.

Key insights gained from our LearnFest event included:

  • Keep large content dumps out of face to face events – The experience needs to provide enough insight to allow for in the moment experimentation, which can then be applied back in the workplace.
  • Integration of live events and virtual events through the use of social media tools such as Yammer is a great way to begin to build a social learning culture.
  • Be deliberate about what you want to achieve within each experience, by providing very specific action learning experiments for the participants to take back and try with their team.
  • Focus on less experiences, moving from the 5 experiences at LearnFest, to 3 – 4 experiences in the future.
  • Provide a structured check in, 30-60 days post the event, as a great way to enhance the collaboration and embedding of activities that were learnt in the event and enhance a social learning culture if targeted via collaboration tools.

For more information view the event set up slides and look at the following 3 minute video summary of the event.

 

3 Tips to Improve Employee Engagement

If you work in a large corporate, you may be familiar with the following pattern. The annual employee engagement survey is announced, which you are encouraged to complete and sometime later you are debriefed about the results. You hear about areas that your business unit is doing well on and some areas leaders want to focus on. Plans are made to address area’s of concern for employee engagement, which are often in addition to what everyone is doing in their day job and then some of those changes are implemented. Leaders at some point in the future will remind everyone what was done since the last survey, a new survey comes along and typically there is still a to do list to work on, which may look pretty similar to the last employee engagement to do list.

So why didn’t things change? Chances are as an employee you may not of been part of the workgroup designated to work on the employee engagement issue, so not much personally changed for you. You may of been on the working group, but too busy doing your day job to do much, so you effectively said ‘*insert other department* is doing that, we will just let them do it’. Or you just may have had too many other things to worry about other than all that employee engagement stuff.  Sound at all familiar?

So how do we improve employee engagement? The key is a mindset shift when thinking about employee engagement. To increase employee engagement the following mantra’s are a good starting point:

  • Employee engagement is a part of everything we do – not an additional ‘to do’ list.
  • Employee engagement is everyone’s responsibility – not just leaders, senior leaders or the working group ‘fixing the issues’.

Following are some tips to improve employee engagement that embrace these mantras:

1. Regular conversations about what people are working on, discussing inputs and lessons learnt.

In an era of quarterly reporting, half yearly financials and metrics to measure anything that supports better financials, it is really easy for people in a large corporate to get fixated on the outputs.  But when you are constantly focussed on the output measures, you often neglect the most important thing -the inputs required to get the outcomes you are chasing.  Inputs, consist of the activities and the behaviours required of the people in order to achieve the results.

Leaders often ask ‘how do I motivate my people’, or ‘how do I get the best out of them?’. A good place to start is by listening to how people are going about their job, understanding what gets them excited and reinforcing efforts that are directed in the right place.  If people leader conversations are focussed on what’s working and exploring where things haven’t worked (& options to improve this),  then the dialogue will become more much more about personal learning. Allowing people to experiment, try, fail and then try something else, will ultimately provide a more powerful and engaging experience, instead of applying pressure to team members whose outcome measures are not stacking up.

2. Provide constant feedback to others reinforcing what has been done well. Be specific and targeted on areas of improvement.

I once had a team leader who constantly focussed on what was wrong with my work and rarely mentioned anything that was right. It was de-motivating and depressing. I managed to shift this around with a simple conversation that went something like this.

‘If you want to get the best out of me, tell me what I am doing right and I will keep doing that.’

Things improved a lot after that.

Whether you are a people leader or a team member, an environment when feedback is freely given and embraced, will be an environment that is far more engaging to work in. The key to fostering such an environment is to give a disproportionate amount of positive feedback. As a leader, you should be aiming for at least three positive points of reinforcement, for every developmental area you identify. The development area identified should also be unrelated to what is going well. The effect of a more constant and positive feedback environment is that it encourages people to behave in the way that is most supportive of achieving the groups goals. Positive reinforcement promotes positive energy, which leads to more positive engagement.

3. Shared problem solving, rather than relying on leaders to solve everyone’s problems.

An easy trap for leaders to fall into is the one that finds them the chief problem solver for the team. Everyone who has a question, issue or crisis comes to the team leader to have it fixed. The issue with this approach, is that it reinforces to the leader that they are the centre of their employee’s universe and thus employee’s can not act with out the guidance of the leader. For employee’s they may think that the leaders role is to set the direction and ‘solve any problems I have’ in order to achieve the goals set out by the leader. But here’s the rub. As a team member I begin to lose any sense of empowerment, enablement and eventually engagement, if I just believe I’m there to do ‘what the boss tells me’. As a leader, I find I end up blaming and resenting my employees for their lack of ability to successfully execute what I need them to do.

A better approach is for leaders to facilitate mutual problem solving. This could be on an individual basis, for example encouraging employees to solve their own problems through carefully selected coaching questions. Or it could be on a team level, through conducting meetings where barriers to progress are identified and actions are put in place to address the issues that will promote improved team performance. In the later exercise, the key is obviously to focus on the issues the team has control over and can be empowered to do something about. Anything that requires the team to modify their own behaviours is usually a good place to start.

Please respond to this post with any suggestions or approaches you have found valuable in increasing employee engagement.

Image: jscreationzs / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

5 Key Insights to Improving Your Sales Training Results

If profitability is not where we want it to be and cost cutting is the order of the day, then often employee training is an easy target. This is usually due to a poor track record of demonstrating a proven return on investment from past capability development attempts. In contrast, sales training is often seen as that gold jackpot at the end of a rainbow – the allure of ‘increased sales productivity’, is often the only incentive needed to encourage some further investment in sales training. The business case is pretty simple really:  Customer satisfaction not where you want it? Sales per sales full time equivalent down? Total sales returns not meeting expectations?  More often than not, new and improved sales training is the trusty tool that is called on to fix these sorts of problems.

What’s the reality though?

“87% of training content is forgotten within 30 days or people attending training course.”

(Sales Executive Council – ‘Boosting Sales Training Stickiness’ – 2011, see upcoming conference details at end of post).

Note, that says ‘forgotten’. Let us not assume ‘remembered’ equals ‘successfully applied’ either. A lot of attention is focussed on delivering better and more engaging sales training (which is great) but the most powerful catalysts of making the training stick, are factors occurring outside of the sales training room.

Within the last seven years I’ve been involved in six sales training related interventions, at two companies, including both complete new processes and refreshers to current processes, in a large scale retail and wholesale banking environments.  Following are five of my key learning’s from this journey, with some ideas on what I see to be crucial elements to achieving returns from sales training interventions.

What is the problem you are really trying to solve?

Drawing conclusions from facts about your revenue and customer satisfaction being not where you want them to be, then linking those facts to the conclusion ‘we need our people to connect better to our customers’, often result in one of the next two statements; ‘we need a better sales process’ and or ‘we need new/improved sales training’.

Often the response to this is to start shopping externally for sales training vendors, looking for solutions to solve your problems.  Of course, every vendor has a unique sales proposition and can wheel out a long list of successful clients, but the one commonality with most vendors is that they will not be there when the you require long term application of your new sales processes.

Some questions that may help you to better understand what you actually need, include the following:

  • Are my sales leaders role modelling and coaching the sales practices we have asked them to?
  • What systems / processes do we have in place today to reinforce good sales conversations / practices?
  • Do our people have role clarity in what is expected of them?
  • Do they have capacity to execute on what we require them to do?
  • Do our reward structures reinforce the sales behaviours we are trying to achieve?

These thought starters may provide you some guidance as to whether you have an execution issue (i.e. lack of guidance, coaching and reinforcement) or there is legitimately a behavioural issue (i.e. lack of ability to effectively execute on what is required).  You may find you have both. An important point to remember here, is that introducing a new sales process may temporarily give you some uplift in sales performance from the flow on energy generated by the new sales training, but if you are not also addressing the systemic reinforcers of effective sales behaviours (leadership, coaching, role clarity, rewards etc), then you are likely to get back to your original starting position pretty soon after you have implemented your new process.

Key Insight 1 – Focus efforts on ways to support consistent execution

Recently, I was involved in a capability systems mapping exercise to understand the systemic issues surrounding what it was about the ‘way we develop our people that hinders us in meeting our business goals’. This sort of systems thinking diagnosis was a good way in understanding what other reinforcers need to be considered in order to deliver more consistent execution of the capabilities we are trying to instil in our people.  Key levers identified in the capability systems map we built included:

  • Clarity of strategy and purpose – of both the organisational strategy and the capability strategy to support that
  • Coaching and embedding – of leaders supporting their people ensuring they have the chance to practice and reflect on what they learn
  • Right people participating – in the training, to ensure that it is best placed for their needs
  • Range and quality of training – of available training to address identified gaps
  • Workforce planning – to ensure people have capacity to attend training and follow up learning
  • Collaboration within the organisation to support effective learning (both for those facilitating learning and for leaners)

Tweaking a sales process or implementing new sales leadership routines will not stick if you don’t have the systemic reinforcement to make them happen consistently. If you are going to go down the path of a new sales process, you need to consider some of the broader system issues at play and ensure the levers available are set to reinforce what you are trying to achieve.

Is your sales force ready for the change?

What is initiating your sales training intervention? An incumbent vendor’s contract expiring? A new leadership perspective? A revised strategy? Some poor customer satisfaction or sales results?

Any of these factors, or a combination of often leads to a fresh look at how as an organisation we connect and sell to customers. What is often over looked though, is ‘our our people ready for a new or revised approach?’  A key element of any behavioural change is understanding what the mindset of your target audience is. If you are changing your sales process, your customer value proposition or your sales leadership approach every other year, chances are your workforce may just be a little tired of the constant change and wait for the next best thing to come along and not bother with the current change you are trying to implement. Key questions to consider include:

  • Do our people think the sales  processes do not work or are too complicated?
  • Have our people been subjected to a lot of other change? (change fatigued?)
  • Are they ready to embrace a new sales approach? (time for change is now)

If you are going to invest the time and resources required to update a sales process, you need to ensure there is a legitimate desire of the target audience to actually accept or even embrace the change.

Key Insight 2 – Know your audience, understand their emotional triggers

Engaging your sales force to understand where they feel the gaps are and for the developers of the sales training to observe how they the sales force are currently executing on their sales conversations, is paramount to helping you improve your sales uplift. This will not only build buy in and credibility for the change, but it will provide a chance to tap into ‘the energy’ of the sales force and understand what emotional triggers could work in having them adopt a future change.

Understanding the current mindset of your sales force about their existing sales processes and tools, will also assist you determine the ‘what’s in it for me?’ benefits to sell as a part of the change process.  In 2008, I submitted two of the sales training programs I played a role in creating into a study run by the CLC Learning and Development, “Refocusing L&D on Business Results: Bridging the Gap Between Learning and Performance” (2008).  One of the key findings in this study reinforced the need for learners to have a strong understanding of the payoff for applying what they have learnt back in the workplace. Ensuring what you are changing is somehow making the life of your sales people better and they are at a point they are more likely to embrace the change will ultimately enhance the application of the learning into behaviour that increases business performance.

What is the context within which the change is occurring?

It is very easy to get focussed on the key tasks that need to be performed by sales people / leaders, and forget about all the other things that may be distracting your sales force from having engaging customer conversations.  Depending on what your sales force are trying to sell, they are likely to be engaged in a raft of other activities that may be related or unrelated as a part of that sales process; including order processing, customer servicing, problem resolution, administration, process improvement, order fulfilment, etc.  Your sales leaders often are also similarly may be distracted from their sales leadership responsibilities with their own sales, operations and servicing tasks they are trying to perform concurrently to their sales leadership tasks. Key questions  about your current context include:

  • What barriers currently exist to your sales force consistently executing on having effective sales conversations?
  • If you are asking your people to do something new or different, what are you going to ask them to stop doing that they are currently doing?
  • How will you deal with the contextual challenges your sales people have when implementing new sales training?

Being able to apply a new skill in the context of the current working environment is key for achieving ongoing behavioural change. If the new way of working is not possible due to a significant amount of current world obstacles providing barriers, then ultimately the target behavioural change will be difficult to achieve.

Key Insight 3 – Help your people understand how they will apply the new within their existing context

One of the most satisfying projects I was involved in during 2010, was building a refresher sales leadership program. It was a simulation based workshop, simulating a day in the life of a Branch Manager for a retail bank, which required them to perform key sales leadership activities, but make critical decisions about other operational tasks that were often the reason that the sales leadership tasks were not performed.  The simulation was structured within a competitive game context, which had pay-off’s and penalties for different choices made. By simulating decisions in a real world context, managers were able to gain an understanding of what the impact of their decision not to prepare for a key sales leadership task (eg. sales meeting) were and weigh up the ‘real life’ costs of not properly executing on sales leadership tasks.

By combining your target training within the contextual challenges, it provides a practice ground for helping learners to overcome the issues that will become the barriers for sustaining the change once people have completed the course and are back in their workplace.

What role are your leaders playing in the change?

I attended a great workshop in 2010, where Charles Jennings presented about “Workforce development: Moving from activity focus to tangible outputs” and one of the key facts that really resonated, was the reinforcement of the importance of the people leader in capability development. Charles referred to research (M L Broad & J W Newstrom (1992 & 1998)) highlighting the top three impacts on a learners experience are:

  • The managers discussion with a learner prior to the workshop (establishing the learning need)
  • Instructional designers and facilitators contextualising the learning within the role of the learner
  • A managers discussion with the learner after the workshop (reinforcing what has been learnt through coaching and providing an opportunity to apply what is learnt)

A key challenge for any new sales process change is getting leaders on board with role modelling and coaching the new behaviours. A key stumbling point can be ensuring that your most senior leadership believe the change is important to the point that they adopt the  tools or processes being implemented themselves and role model consistency to middle and front line management.

Key Insight 4 – Have your leaders actively involved role modelling the change and part of the learning process

If your leaders think they are above the change and not going to be hands on in coaching the new sales routines, your ’30 days’ of rememberance for a new sales routine, is looking optimistic at best.

In the sales leadership simulation training refresher aforementioned, senior sales leaders and sales coaches were a part of the training simulation, playing a key role in providing observation coaching feedback or simulating staff interactions. Senior sales leaders were also involved in a pre-workshop capability assessment against the Branch Manager success profile and part of a post workshop follow up ‘pledge’ conversation whereby development commitments were made based on the workshop and capability survey outputs. This ‘pledge’ (learning contract), combined with follow up scheduled observation coaching of key sales leadership tasks, reinforced the key skills and sales leadership routines the Branch Managers were required to perform.

What is the current culture of your sales force?

Im a fan of the view put forward in the HBR article “How right should the customer be?” (July-August 2008) that describes:

“The culture and effectiveness of any sales force are products of its management system: the rules that govern the way a company trains, monitors, supervises, motivates, and evaluates salespeople.”

The article goes on to explain there are two extremes of how sales forces are typically managed.  Outcome control systems, which typically sees sales people having a high percentage of their salary derived from key metrics shaped by customer results.  Versus a behavioural control system, where the sales managers are typically directing, developing and evaluating their sales force on a number of different factors.  The contrast being between a self directed more autonomous salesforce (outcome control), versus a directed ‘command and control’ type of sales force.

Key Insight 5 – Understand what your current state culture and determine the impact on new/updated sales processes

In 2007, I was working on a project to implement a new sales leadership program into a retail bank. At the time the culture was heavily a compliance / risk driven culture (pretty typical of banking), however the business strategy at the time was promoting a one of empowerment for the people. The reality at the time though was that people were still very much living in a compliance culture, to keep them from getting penalised for non-compliance. The vendor partnering with us at the time made a strong recommendation to make the new sales leadership routines mandatory, as they had seen good results from this type of approach in other banks. But the team felt, a view I supported at the time, that if our people were to be empowered, we needed to implement the new sales leadership routines in a way embrace the change .  Therefore we attempted to compel our people into action by showing the benefits, hope they would adopt was our rationale and take the risk of moving from what was a very reactive to a very proactive sales leadership approach. Hindsight shows us, the sales leaders were still too busy doing all the other things that stopped them from getting penalised, hence the uptake of the new sales leadership routines were not what we had hoped, but clearly beneficial where they were adopted.

On reflection and with my learning’s since this project, I think the easier road would of been to make the sales leadership routines mandatory (given that culture) and just apply the appropriate compliance levers to ensure they were executed upon. However easy to implement, doesn’t necessarily mean there will be any longevity or quality in the execution of the sales leadership activities (including coaching, team meetings etc).

The key here is to really be deliberate about what your culture is currently and whether you want to use it to reinforce the new sales process you are implementing. Or whether the change you are implementing, will be partly a catalyst towards shaping a new culture. The former is relatively straightforward and has a lot less risk than the later. If taking the second approach, you will need to take a much broader view on the organisational system that is influencing how your sales force behave and look to leverage more cultural levers other than a new capability program, in order to reinforce the behaviours you will require to achieve the new culture.

The way forward

I see these learning’s as a step change from a training mindset to a more wholistic change mindset, but there is still a way to go. As I continue to explore newer concepts on motivation (Daniel Pink’s – Drive) and implement further experiments around how to move from a ‘push training’ world to a ‘pull learning’ world, I will continue to post these insights here.

Please leave your comments / insights here so I can expand my learning and please follow my blog to see what happens next in my journey.

Written by Geoff Rose, January 2011.

Images: renjith krishnan / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

(Sales Executive Council – ‘Boosting Sales Training Stickiness’ – 2011)

What is the Culture of Us?

The ‘Culture of Us’ is a look inside corporate culture today, exploring the issues and the challenges, with the aim of ‘making the world a better place to work’.

I have been working in organisation change, learning and development for over 17 years, consulting to major corporations, public institutions and entities throughout Australia and the rest of the world.  With almost 10 years experience gained in top tier consultancies (Accenture and PwC Consulting) and the last 8 years spent internal consulting in two tier one Australian banks (ANZ and currently NAB), I have a raft of experiences I’m keen to share.

This blog is a reflection on my experiences, both present and past.  It provides me an avenue to structure my thinking and share with others my insights.

I hope you enjoy my posts and encourage you to respond so that I can learn from your experience also.

Enjoy,

Geoff.