Fable Friday: How would you coach this poor performer?

A sales manager shared this problem in a seminar a couple of weeks ago.  “Phil is in his 50’s, been with us for well over 20 years and is one of my top salespeople.  He’s highly knowledgeable with all that experience and customers value his advice.  Up until this year he’s always blown through his goals.  Now this year he’s struggling. He’s a bit behind goal, but what’s worse, it’s hard to talk to him.”

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedThe manager had tried to have a coaching session with Phil, but it didn’t go so well. “I told him I wanted to talk with him about this year’s performance, that he was behind goal and that I hoped I could coach him through it and see what we could do to get him on track.  But he didn’t take that well. He more or less told me that he didn’t need any coaching from me, that he knew his job better than anyone on the team and that he was just waiting on some deals to come together and he’d be okay.

To be fair, he’s only slightly behind goal, but his previous performance had been so good that just meeting goal is far less than I expect of him. I’m thinking I’m not handling this well or not seeing the solution. What do you think?”

Well, I’m going to ask you what you think, then I’m going to share my ideas next Friday.

But first let me comment on interventions for improving performance. In my background in instructional design, I learned early that there are three domains of the brain that drive performance.  One of these is knowledge: what does the performer know about how to do the job?  In this case we know the salesperson is highly competent. Customers value his advice.  The second domain is skill.  Have we seen evidence the salesperson can do the job?  Again we know the salesman is skilled.  He was once the rainmaker on this team and has plenty of experience.

The third and remaining domain is attitudinal, how the salesperson feels about the job. Something appears to be getting in the way, so if you were the sales manager in this case, your attempt to coach the performer was the right idea.

So let me give you some specific questions to address before we solve this next week.

1)      What is your hypothesis about what is wrong? Have you encountered a situation like this yourself?

2)      How would you have introduced the subject to the salesman?  What would you do that was different from what the sales manager did?

3)      What might be some reasonable solutions for the sales manager?  If you were in this position, what remedial ideas would you come up with? Use your imagination.

How did Dr. Kahneman sign that email?

Thank you to those who wrote me about the Nobel-prize winning economist Dr. Daniel Kahneman and his gracious email to me.  I gave you a multiple choice question last week asking you to guess how he signed it.

I really enjoy people with a great sense of humor who are not so full of themselves that they can’t have some fun.  The eminent Dr. Kahneman simply signed his note “Danny K.”

See you next week, and meanwhile…

Think Like Your Customer

Fable Friday: What the impatient golfer taught the conscientious teller

Years ago I played a lot of golf, as I lived right across the street from a golf course. If you’ve ever played the game you know that when you’re on the putting green there is usually a group behind you waiting to hit to the green.  Often they display discourteous body language, leaning on their clubs with a HTFU look on their faces, which is disconcerting to those on the green, who sometimes rush their putt and miss.

This scenario reminds me of when I learned how to be a bank teller.  Here’s what makes a good teller. Banks are good at conducting research with customers to find out what they value from tellers, and the responses they get are consistent over the years.  Customers want tellers to be courteous, fast and accurate, nothing more.

Gregory at Medtronic 10-2010 CroppedI was good at two of the three: upbeat and courteous, accurate to the penny, but slow as molasses.  One day when our bank lobby was crowded with customers, the teller next to me called out, “If any of you have all day to spend here, please get in Gregory’s line.” Ha ha ha.

I recall that whenever a transaction was taking a while, I couldn’t help but notice how many people were in line behind my customer, sort of like the golfers on the green who are aware of the scowlers on the fairway.  This made me nervous, and nervous workers are not happy workers.

Now keep this scenario in mind, because the reality is that all tellers feel this way.  They’re conscientious. They want to help people, but they want to move the line along.  That’s what the customers want too.

So why does bank management, knowing that the customers want only courtesy, speed and accuracy, insist that tellers work harder at making referrals and selling product at the teller line? Holding up the line to tell some customer all about the bank’s product of the month flies in the face of what customers want from a bank.

But there is a way to be more efficient in helping customers while selling more products, and the solution lies in understanding what tellers like to do and what they don’t like to do.  Tellers like to help people, and they like to move the line along.  Tellers don’t like to ask intrusive questions, face rejection and inconvenience other customers.

This means that for the bank to achieve its sales goals, it needs to train tellers in a different way. Help them to recognize possible need cues and clues.  There are just four: how the customer uses a checking account, how the customer uses credit, how the customer saves and invests, and how the bank’s services are delivered to the customer (channel management).

Once this is understood, help the tellers learn a set of “quick questions” to see if help is welcome. Here are a few:

“Would you be interested in a quicker way of getting that information?”

“Have you considered the alternative of financing that purchase? I can get someone to help you.”

“Yes, you can have your new checks sent here. Are you concerned about identify theft?”

The advantages of doing it this way are that the customer can quickly opt in or out, and the teller can help or not help without fear of rejection, and the line moves along quickly. There is seldom a need for a teller to make a sales presentation; just a quick referral to the platform.

Train your tellers based on what you know about them. It’s just another way to…

Think Like Your Customer

The number one rule for an effective sales meeting

With so much pressure on sales managers to conduct frequent and regular sales meetings, there’s a risk that your team will have to attend frequent and regular meetings that are highly ineffective, unless you design them well.

So let’s agree that you conduct a sales meeting for one critical objective:  to improve sales performance. And to improve sales performance, you are looking for a change in your sales team’s behavior. It’s that simple.

Now let’s look at behavior change. For those of you who are trainers, you know the three premises of behavior you use in instructional design, so you always ask these three questions:

  1. What do I want the learner to know, that he doesn’t already know?
  2. What do I want the learner to do, that he isn’t already doing, or not doing effectively?
  3. In what way do I want the learner to feel differently about what he does on the job?

That’s all there is to it.  So it follows that if you are designing a sales meeting you can simply make three columns, then create activities from there.

But here’s the finer point. For your team right now, which of the three performance areas is most important?  Let me make a guess.  It’s either two or three isn’t it? In other words, you have a team that either needs to polish or enhance its skills, or you need the team to be self-motivated to put more positive energy into the job.  There’s seldom content that an experienced sales team needs to know, but here are two examples:

  1.  You select a top performer from the current month. He’s having a heck of a good time bringing in new business and leading the team in sales. As a reward, you call on him to talk about some of his best practices, how he prospects, great questions he asks in uncovering needs and so on.  The other team members glean a lot of new information from him.  That’s a good knowledge piece.
  2. There’s some logistical or time management problem within the team, or some obstacle to be worked out, so you call a meeting to resolve it, giving everyone a chance to speak: What do we need to do? What gets in the way? What should we do about it? And you reach a conclusion and agree on best steps. A good outcome from this meeting will have everyone knowing what to do that they didn’t know before.

So as a meeting designer, when you are looking at the first of the three performance areas, what you want people to know, ask yourself this question: If there is information I need my team to know, is it logical that I could tell them in an email? Or do I need to say it in a meeting?

You can see that in my two example meetings, the outcome is increased knowledge, but there is also a motivational component too. In the first, team members are encouraged by hearing a peer describe success, and the speaker is rewarded for top performance, which is itself a motivator. In the second example, team members feel empowered to solve a problem. In both cases, there’s good reason for having a meeting.

But for all other areas where you need only to provide information, save yourself and your team time by sending it out in an email, and use meetings for skill enhancement, or motivation.

That’s a powerful rule to remember, as it will help you…

Think Like Your Customer

What happens when the employees think their way is better?

More often than you might think, you’ll run into situations where your employees don’t do what they’re supposed to do, simply because they think their way of doing things is better than the way you would like them done. This doesn’t mean they think your way won’t work, just that in their minds they know more about it than you do.

Fournies writes of this non-performance issue in chapter 5 of “Why Employees Don’t Do What They’re Supposed to Do,” and gives a number of examples and ideas for solution, but today I’d like to offer a couple of my own that come from the training world in which I work.

The professional training designer knows that a proper needs assessment must take place in order to deliver optimal training, and this TNA (training needs assessment) includes a number of key tasks, including interviews with incumbents, managers and others affected by the learners’ performance.  It may also include observation of the performance, an analysis of the job descriptions, and of course the obstacles in the way of performance, so that certain training may be eliminated as a solution.

But that is not always the way training is designed.  Whether because of time constraints, budget limitations or just plain stubbornness, many training departments when told that some training is required, will immediately begin constructing a course map and agenda for the training, without conducting any formal TNA.  This is a dangerous practice. 

So why do they do it this way?  In my experience it’s because they feel they know the job, they have “been there” and they understand what the learners need.  And as a result, training is developed that does not meet the needs of the organization.

Now let’s take it a step further and see what happens when the learners go back to the job.  In the field, they are often told, “Forget what you learned in training.  This is the real world, where we know what is best to do.”  This frustrates the trainers no end.  I have often heard from the field, “They don’t know anything in that ‘ivory tower.’”  I’ll bet you’ve heard this too, and it’s another manifestation of people who simply believe their way is better.

If you’re a sales manager or trainer, think of the number of times you see this problem in your work:

 “The blade guard on that machine slows me down.” 

“There’s no sense spending a lot of time on pre-call research.  I like to just get in the door and play it by ear.” 

“I never bother to get them to sign that waiver. It only turns them off from the sale.”

The way to overcome this is to facilitate the discussion by getting the employee to consider the possible outcomes of non-performance:

“What if you lose a finger? How would you work then?”

“How does your prospect gain confidence in you if she feels you know nothing about her company?”

“Suppose someone sues us because we failed to disclose possible loss scenarios?”

And in my training scenario above, “Why do you think this step was incorporated into the training?”

It is never right to allow an employee to do the wrong thing just to prove you are right. A better management practice is to help your employees self-discover the right way of doing things through discussion, in just the same way you sell to your customers.


Think Like Your Customer

Provide feedback: “You did a lousy job!”

Ever since you were a child, you’ve been given feedback about your behavior, from your parents, teachers and friends when you were a kid, to your managers, spouse, friends and probably even your own kids, as an adult.

And I’m willing to bet that not all of it was positive, and that it didn’t always make you feel good.  When someone says something hurtful, it doesn’t make it any better when you hear, “I was just giving you my honest feedback.”

For each of Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, I’ve given you just a few words from my own experience to explain the rationale and provide illustrative examples of these events in a training context.  But I could write an entire book on Gagne’s Event Number 7, provide feedback, because I’ve seen many instances where feedback was handled so poorly that it has had the opposite effect of what was supposedly intended, to help the learner improve.

So today I’m going to put you in a training situation that you know well.  You have small groups, four learners in each, and the assignment is for each of the learners to role play a sales call on a prospect, while two observe.  After each role play, there is a debrief discussion so the role player can receive feedback from the other learners.

In the debrief, you notice that the typical “feedback” response goes something like this:

“Overall, you did a pretty good job. You opened well and your body language was good.  But you could have paused more to let the prospect speak, and most of your questions were closed-ended. I didn’t know if you realized that. Also, you had a number of opportunities to use a summary or trial close during the conversation but you didn’t, so you might want to focus on that next time.  I also noticed that you didn’t…”

Now tell me, if you were the role player, how would you be feeling right now?  What learning are you getting from this? What new behavior will you commit to adopting in the future? Oh, wait! It’s the next person’s turn to give you feedback.

A better way to provide feedback is to reinforce the positive behaviors, and help learners self-discover what they need to do differently, not beat them up.  So I have a very strict model for this type of practice, and I encourage you to use it too.

First, ask the role player what he thought he did well, and let him talk. Discourage him from talking about what did NOT work. Just focus on the positive.

Second, let everyone else speak on the same subject, including the learner who played the prospect:  “Here’s what you did well…” using specific, behavioral language.

Third, as the facilitator, offer your own observations on what the learner did well and back it up with your written notes, thus modeling how to observe for the others.

Finally, ask the learner to comment on one area he needs to work on, and when he’s finished, the “feedback” is finished.  No additional piling on!

I take this method so seriously that I post the instructions on a flip chart and I watch every debrief to ensure it’s being done correctly.  You try it too.  You’ll find that the learners feel good about the exercise, are more willing to practice more, and come away with a focus on what to do differently.

We’ll look at Step 8, “assess performance,” on Tuesday.  Meanwhile…

Think Like Your Customer

“All a pure facilitator can do is pool all the ignorance in the room.”

I got an email from a friend who follows this blog and he joked, “Enough with Gagne and these events.  Go back to the stories and tips!”  (At least I hope he was joking.)  But I take his point; this stuff is a bit dry.  But when I started this blog I said my objective was to teach and provide stories, ideas and tips for salespeople, sales managers, and trainers, and I have been remiss in not giving enough content to the trainers.  So you’ll just have to suffer through all nine of Gagne’s events. It won’t kill you.

Today we’re going to explore the fourth event, “present the learning content,” which Gagne originally wrote as “present stimulus material.”

At some point it makes sense that the trainer ought to provide learners with new information.  You cannot simply facilitate discussions all day.  I had a boss once who expressed many great ideas in imaginative ways and one thing he said about facilitators always made me smile:  “Nobody ever learned anything from a pure facilitator.  The best they can do is to pool all the ignorance in the room.”

I agree, but I also have a problem with “presenters” and I would amend my boss’ comment to say that “few people retain anything that comes from a pure presenter.”  In fact, I have often argued that Power Point has done more to prevent learning than to aid it, simply because it is so easy to create a deck of content, display it, and read it to the audience.

I can’t think of any approach to learning that is more dangerous, boring and wasteful than reading Power Point slides to an audience, and yet I am victimized by it at least once a week.

This is why instructional designers take into account the various learning styles of those to be taught, and create a plan for instructional methods and accompanying media to achieve two ends.  First, the content has to be organized in meaningful, chewable and digestible chunks, similar to the way you learned to write letters in elementary school, writing lower and upper case, one letter at a time.  Second, to accommodate the varied learning styles, new content must be delivered in various ways.

Let me give you a quick example of a common approach that is efficient and aids retention. Suppose I have a five-step process I want you to learn.  I might have it on a PP slide, or on a prepared flip chart, concealed for the time being.  Now I ask you, “If you were going to do this (process/procedure/task), what would you do first, second and so on? Work within your group and develop a process.”

I could debrief all the group responses, then show the best practice process, revealing the slide, and then lead a discussion about what is best to do and why.  Usually the learners retain the content because they have an opportunity to contrast it with their own ideas, and to self-discover the best way. The learners can apply the material to their own life experiences and internalize the content.

When you have new material to present, do you mix it up a bit and get people engaged? Or do you present it from a deck?  You can see that this step requires some sophisticated design.

We’ll look at Step Five, “provide learning guidance,” on Friday.  Meanwhile…

Think Like Your Customer


Today I’m going to bore you to death with objectives

Without a doubt the most boring part of instructional design is writing the learning objectives, but I promised you I would take you through Gagne’s Nine Events of Instruction, and the second one is “inform the learners of the objectives.” 

 I never write a blog post longer than 600 words, but I could write a book about learning objectives. So if you want an academic treatise on them, read Robert Mager’s book “Preparing Instructional Objectives.”  It’s short, easy to read and makes perfect sense. It’s also considered by designers to be the best work on the subject and no one will ever argue with you if you say your approach is based on Mager.

 When you write learning objectives in the classical way, according to Mager, you will have some verb, such as “at the end of the instruction, learners will be able to detect a counterfeit bill.” Mager also includes the conditions under which one would detect the bill, along with any criteria if necessary.  This means for example, that you could detect counterfeits accurately ten times out of ten (criteria) without using any outside testing equipment (conditions).  When you take a design workshop, they always make you practice writing objectives, and I bet I’ve written a jillion of them. Once you catch on, they’re easy to write.

One important tip.  Make sure you write them in learner-centric language. Write what the learner will know (cognitive domain), do (psychomotor domain), or feel (affective domain) as an outcome of the training.  Don’t write “the facilitator will help the learners practice making outside phone calls” for example. If you write a bad objective like this and I find out about it, I will write to your manager and try to get you fired.

Okay, I was just trying to lighten things up.

 Here is tip number one.  In academic writing, learning objectives are stated as being important for a number of reasons, such as “guides the learner, guides the teacher, allows for analysis,” etc.  But in my work with clients, I find the two most important benefits to writing objectives are:

  1. The process of clarifying the objectives with the client helps you to gain more precision about the outcome.  For example, if the client says “we want them to be more comfortable and confident when they make prospecting calls,” you would naturally ask, “Comfortable or confident? Which? What are they doing now? Are they telling you they are uncomfortable, or is their performance suffering because you think they’re not confident?”  You can then explore what was observed, or learned from the group to be trained.
  2. Once the learning objectives have been agreed-upon, you protect yourself somewhat from complaint or criticism from management of the group to be trained. In post-training assessment you always go back to the agreed-upon objectives as a starting point for discussion. “The outcome you’re looking for was never discussed as an objective. What has changed?”  I always ask, “Is there anything else you want the learners to know, feel or do?”

Tip number two:  Never simply inform the learners of the objectives.  Engage them with the objectives, like this: “(Name), read aloud our first objective and tell us why you think it’s important.”  Then connect this reasoning to the session activities and content.  This approach is more consistent with what Gagne had in mind I think.

 We’ll look at Step Three, “stimulate recall of prior learning,” on Tuesday.  Meanwhile…

 Think Like Your Customer