Social learning and the 70:20:10 model

Social learning is about the way we learn, while the 70:20:10 model concerns where we get our learning from. Both are linked and relevant, we think, to the work that we do at Thinking Focus, so we thought we’d take a closer look at them.

The social learning theory first formulated by Albert Bandura in 1977 shows that we learn best by imitating the behaviour and actions of others. It’s all about people learning from each other; picking up new skills, ideas, opinions and experiences from those around them.

This applies equally to learning in the workplace. Think about it: where do you feel you have learnt most of what you know? During formal education? Or from your own experience and the insights of your colleagues?

Social learning in the workplace is about interacting with others through good communication, knowledge sharing, discussion, collaboration, and being transparent about what you’re doing and why. Colleagues can help each other, either explicitly or tacitly, to understand ideas, experiences, systems, methods and processes. Yet most of us come into work with the rules set that tells us to do exactly the opposite, work it out on your own, don’t share, don’t copy other people’s work. These are the learning rules that schools operate by.

Most L&D professionals are familiar with the 70:20:10 model proposed by Charles Jennings. In fact, it has become a standard part of discussion regarding learning and development processes in the workplace. The model evolved from a report in the 1980s which analysed a survey of 200 senior managers. It found that they reported that 70% of what they knew had been learnt on the job or through experience, 20% had come from social interaction with other people, and just 10% had been learnt through formal education.

Although there’s been some criticism of the 70:20:10 model, some of which we agree with, we nevertheless think it’s useful in showing the rough proportions of experience, social interaction and education needed for learning. It does broadly tell us is that, to meaningfully and effectively learn new things, your experience and the input and experience of people around you is the most important thing. Social learning does tend to fit into 90 per cent of this model.

It’s all a great starting point for reflecting on how individuals within your workforce learn and what the best ways therefore might be for their personal development. It can be used as the basis for a wider L&D strategy that can have far reaching effects on the culture and mindset of the organisation as a whole.

At Thinking Focus, we recognise that we essentially offer the 10 per cent ‘formalised learning’ part of the Jennings model, but we do so as the basis for encouraging people to behave in the 20 per cent of the Jennings model by interacting with people, and to share the 70 per cent, their experience and knowledge.

In our coaching sessions and training workshops, and through our learning resources such as the Strategy Wall and our management development board game What Would You Do?, we are encouraging behaviours that enhance social learning. We create environments where the group learn from other and teach each other, generating conversations and giving people the tools to go and do the 20 per cent in real life. We are highlighting the untapped knowledge and experience that people could access from their colleagues.

We encourage meaningful face-to-face discussion and debate. We offer formalised learning elements and use them to highlight, encourage and create social learning by developing skills and behaviours that cause peer-based learning and self-reflection.

How does coaching help when leading sales teams?

Coaching can help generally in the workplace, and not just when leading sales teams. From a management point of view, it’s a great skill or ability to have, regardless of the team you are leading.

Here, Richard and Graham look at how knowing the way to coach properly can be invaluable in helping develop your people, including sales teams.

The first thing to know about coaching is that many people misunderstand what it is. Mention the word and their first thought is possibly about a sports coach, shouting at their team from the sidelines, imploring them to do better. Or they see it in a negative context, imagining a formalised session with their manager in which coaching is a remedial tool to improve their failing performance.

Although coaching can sometimes be about improving poor performance, equally it can be about helping someone who’s good to get even better. It assumes that the person has some understanding of their role, as well as a certain level of skill and experience. Coaching should unlock the potential of the individual.

Coaching helps give structure, focus and clarity to people who know they want or have to do better. It helps them to move forward by using the knowledge and skills they already have. This can be done by asking questions that cause a deeper level of thinking. If a member of your sales team tells you “I want to get better at sales”, narrow it down for them by asking “What aspect of sales do you want to get better at?”. If, for instance they reply “Lead generation”, ask “What aspect of lead generation?”

Once the questioning has helped someone find their focus, a good coach will then help them open up their thinking by asking more questions: “So now you know what you want to do, let’s think of ways you could do it.” Get creative and try not to tell them exactly what to do. It’s sometimes tempting for managers to say “When I did your job, what I did was…” or “If you look at so-and-so, what they’re doing really well is this…”. Instead, explore options and draw on what the individual knows or is good at.

A good coach encourages people to think for themselves, rather than telling them what to do, which will limit their thinking.

The next essential part of coaching is to ensure that the person is going to take ownership of what’s been discussed. How are you going to make sure they will put things into action, that they have bought into it? Check their motivation and confidence. Ask when they are going to start? What’s the first action? What specific things are they going to do?

Finally, always offer follow-ups: “What can I do? How can I be of help to you?” And remember, coaching doesn’t have to be formal. It can be as simple as a five-minute chat after a meeting, or in the canteen over coffee. If someone starts a conversation with you and you’ve asked them some questions which have helped with their thinking and their actions going forward, then you’ve coached them.

Cognitive disfluency: What does it mean for your organisation?

In our work helping business teams to become more engaged and active with learning, time and again the concept of cognitive disfluency comes up. The idea that we process information differently depending on how much effort it requires is a fascinating one, so we thought we’d take a look at it in more depth here.

What is cognitive disfluency?

Cognitive disfluency is a term that was first coined by the psychologist Adam Alter, assistant professor of marketing and psychology at New York University’s Stern School of Business.

What it essentially describes is the idea that people process information differently, and that some of it is easy (fluency) and some of it requires effort (disfluency). An example of how this works was shown in an experiment that presented a printed question in two different typefaces – one hard to read and one easy – and asked people to spot the mistake. The proportion of people that noticed the error in the hard-to-read font was higher than the easy-to-read one. Alter suggests that a harder-to-read font makes us put more mental effort into reading, and we are therefore more likely to retain the information.

On a wider scale, fluent processing allows us to take in key information quickly but not necessarily to retain it or even understand it in a meaningful way. The whole experience becomes meaningless, less engaging and unsatisfying. Conversely, we process disfluent information more carefully and deeply, and this naturally results in us understanding it better. This is why the idea of cognitive disfluency has been suggested as a great way to assist learning.

Why is cognitive disfluency important in business?

Think of all the data and information that is presented before us – or our teams – within the workplace. Most organisations now offer their people key decision data in an easy (fluent) way, whether through dashboards, reports or search engines. While these tools can be invaluable, they can also make the data meaningless and hard to retain because they allow people to get to the specific number, target, forecast or performance data whenever they want to. This often means we don’t have to think about, generalise or extract the data.

So why is that a problem? Well, if people don’t have that data with them when making key decisions, or if they don’t have an intuitive understanding of the information and what it means, they will be unable to incorporate it in their decision-making. They will also be unable to learn from it. Data creates knowledge, and knowledge creates understanding – but when there is too much fluency in the information, it reduces this second step.

So should we make information more disfluent?

A lot of the data that we use day to day needs to be fluent.  We need to be able to access and use it quickly, so it should be easy to digest.  However, information that is easily consumed is also easily forgotten.

In almost everything we do there are a few key measures that tell us how we are doing against our goals and targets.  Data such as production data, sales information or financial projections need to move beyond abstract numbers and become more intuitive, becoming much more central in our awareness, moving from organisation knowledge to personal understanding. It is this data that needs to be deeply understood so that it can underpin the decisions we make.

How should organisations present their people with important details and data to ensure it is meaningfully understood and retained?

It’s a good idea to look at the fluency of key data or information within your organisation. If it’s being presented to people too easily, make it more disfluent so they have to think about it. You can do this by:

  • Asking for reports that require some small amounts of manual work to create, such as looking stuff up
  • Ask people to interpret data, not just produce it
  • Change layouts so people have to search a little, or read more carefully, to find things

But beware

A word of caution, though: Disfluency should be used sparingly. We’re not suggesting that you should make your people work hard for every piece of information they need. After all, not all data needs to be retained or fully understood.

In addition, too much disfluency can be draining. It uses up more energy, increases complexity and heightens stress levels. Instead of continuous disfluency, there should be brief moments of it when appropriate for processing essential data and information.

How should we bring the (sales) number to life?

Bringing the number to life is vital, whether you’re working in sales, managing a project, leading a team or running a production line.

If you understand and internalise the number, it allows you to monitor your progress and your tracking, intuitively know where you are and what you need to do, inform your decisions, understand how you need to react in real time, and see the bigger picture.

Otherwise, it’s just meaningless data to you.

Here, Paul and Rob discuss why many people are looking at the numbers but not really thinking about what they mean. They discuss the importance of bringing the number to life, and how we can do it.

What’s stopping us from bringing our number to life?

  • There is too much information at our fingertips.
  • Think of the wealth of reports, dashboards, BI systems and other technology that we can extract data from
  • It’s too easy.
  • We can easily look up the number we need at a particular point in time, and therefore we don’t need to retain the information in our head
  • The desire to measure everything.
  • You simply can’t retain every single piece of information put before you – which leads you back to relying on dashboards or systems

So, how do we bring the number to life?

  • Keep it simple.
  • If you have a wealth of data in front of you, focus on maybe the three or four core measures that really tell you something. Break down the number to give you something tangible about what you need to achieve each week/month
  • Engage with the data.
  • Too many people just input numbers into a system or sales platform without recognising the importance of thinking what those numbers mean. The idea of ‘cognitive disfluence’ is key here – the fact that we retain information and learn more if we actually interact with what we’re trying to learn
  • Start with the goal.
  • Instead of looking at the data and feeling that we have to do something with it, look instead at what you’re trying to achieve. What numbers do you need to pull out and understand to reach your goal?
  • Leaders. If you’re a leader, help your people to work with the data and think what the number really means. Give them the raw information they need and ask them to compile a report about some of the core data. You could break it down and ask different people to look at particular bits of the data. Ask them: Help me understand what’s in your figures and what does that tell you? Are you seeing what I’m seeing? Why has this bit changed? What does that mean?

Why do some sales people only think about the sale?

In our work, we usually tell people that having focus is a good thing. But when it comes to sales, just being focused on the sale and nothing else is not so good. Sales is part of getting your service to your customer, but you can’t just be focused on that – you’ve got to have a bigger purpose as an organisation.

In this podcast, Richard and Graham discuss why some salespeople only think about the sale – and how such tunnel vision can impact on your customers and your colleagues.

Sales people are, of course, very targeted and often very driven by what they need to achieve. But having such a singular focus can mean you forget about the other important things that sit around the sale.

If all you’re concerned about is getting that sale – hitting your targets, getting the number – then you disregard the other parts of the sales process that are really important. A company that’s all about sales creates an aggressive culture, with salespeople who are highly motivated and focused just on getting money from the customer. They’re not bothered about the end product that the customer gets, or the quality of service. And colleagues in other departments, particularly customer-facing staff, can often feel like a spare part, tasked with delivering impossible promises made by the salespeople just to win the sale, or sorting out complaints from dissatisfied customers who have been promised one thing and received another

Of course, if your job is in sales, you need to be concerned with ‘the number’. But you also need to consider the customer experience, your product, the health and wellbeing of your colleagues, and your organisation’s culture and ethical boundaries. Ask yourself: If I make the sale in this way, what does it mean for the customer and for us as a business, and how might it impact on the other departments?

Considering the culture of your organisation is particularly important if you’re the person setting the targets. Be mindful that the targets you set will drive a certain kind of behaviour so make sure that the sales process you’re encouraging reflects the culture of your organisation.

Do They Trust Us?

Over the last 15 years I have worked with many senior leadership teams that are grappling with necessary organisational changes. These are often to take advantage of market or political trends, consumer demands, or to gain first mover advantage. Having said that, in one case a number of years ago, it was because the senior team had been given the feedback that the vast majority of people in the business were unhappy.

It was around this time that I became interested in the subject of trust.

It seemed to me that the leadership team mentioned above just wasn’t trusted anymore. Nobody believed what they said. Since then, I’ve seen it time and time again. A leadership team that thinks if they make the right noises for a while, people will get on board.

A lack of trust in all walks of life makes things very hard. Do you like being around people you don’t trust? Of course not. It brings a heightened sense of anxiety and caution to everything we do. If you are in this situation on a daily basis or in your personal relationships, it makes life unbearable.

My work over the last few years has led me to talk to teams about the need for them to rebuild trust or ensure they are trusted before embarking on changes, big or small, in their organisations. As ever around the subject of change, some people get it but many don’t. Many assume that just putting a good plan in place and some positional authority behind what they are saying means that people will just come on the journey with them.

So, as I explored the topic further, I began to develop something I call the ‘Trust Index’. Although rudimental, it was based on hours of talking to people in organisations. This simple research helped me identify three key factors that are needed to build trust:  

Competence, honesty and reliability.

I would then ask people in the organisation three simple questions based on these factors.

1. On a scale of 1-10 do you think the senior team are competent as leaders?

2. On a scale of 1-10 do you think they are honest with you?

3. On a scale of 1-10 do they do what they say they will do?

I’d then take all the responses and convert the answer to each of the questions into an overall percentage. As I said, very rudimental! However, it did give me a really good guide about how much people trusted their managers and team leaders.

I then went back to senior teams that were being given a score of 50% or less by their people, and suggested that they should think twice before making any changes of significance in their organisations, and instead wait until they had won back the trust of their people.

Recently, I came across something along the same lines as my research, although rather less basic! While on a long train journey, I was flicking through Ted Talks on my laptop when I saw one by Frances Frei, a professor of technology and operations management at the Harvard Business School.

She had been working at Uber following their recent problems, and had noticed three things that were broken in terms of trust within their culture.

Her talk is funny, informative and a great watch. She puts things so much better than I had been able to with my simple research. She talks about the following three things being needed to gain, maintain and rebuild trust:

Authenticity, logic and empathy.

Firstly, I was really pleased to see that my own limited research had given results that were similar to those Frances was talking about. However, as only one of us is a Harvard professor, I am more than happy to take and work on her three factors!

We’ve created this diagram below based on what Frances says in her Ted Talk:

So, why not ask yourself the following three questions, either in relation to the people you lead or the people who are leading in your company.

1. Authenticity – Are they seeing the real you?

2. Logic – Does it (whatever it is you are proposing) or do you make sense?

3. Empathy – Do people see that you care about them? If any of these three are missing, the whole thing goes very wobbly and certainly means you don’t have the basis on which to launch a programme of change.

How can you talk yourself into the sale?

Assumptions, beliefs and past experiences are going to shape how we think about the sales process and the customer. Added to that, we also have to deal with pressure from targets and our managers.This will all condition how you behave during the sales process.

In our latest podcast, Ricky and Rob first discuss the reasons why we typically talk ourselves OUT of the sale, before looking at ways of talking ourselves INTO it.

Reasons we might use to talk ourselves out of the sale include making assumptions that our competitors are better than we are or that the customer doesn’t want what we are selling. We’ll second-guess how the customer’s going to react and what they’re going to say. We’ll ask ourselves: Why do they want what I’m selling, and why do they want it from me? Am I good enough? Is my product or service good enough?

So, how can you turn that around and to talk yourself INTO a sale?

Firstly, focus on all the great things you do, the great experiences you’ve had in the past, and the wins. Play over the narrative that was in your mind when you did well in that call, sales meeting or sales follow-up.

Get other people involved, if possible. Reflect on a sales meeting with a colleague or sales manager, look at the successful elements that you can draw upon and learn from. For the less successful parts, think what you might do differently next time.

Be self-aware. You will only improve if you can reflect and learn from what you do. Nurture a growth mindset in yourself. Ask: What can I learn from this?

Finally, during that next sale, don’t get caught up in the moment and in the pressure of having to make the sale, or the need to deliver targets or win a new customer. We might wonder if our product or service is good enough, or worry that we don’t understand the product fully. As sales people, we’ll focus our attention on the product’s weaknesses, which we may have to defend, but spend hardly any time on why the product is great. We need to think from the customer’s perspective, not our own, and see the world the other way round – after all, they are buying it for what it can do, and not what it can’t.

What you actually want is to get the right outcome for the customer rather than selling for selling’s sake. Just focus on building a great relationship, understanding your customer and what they need, and then positioning your product for them.

We got a Bronze at the Learning Awards!

Thinking Focus directors Ricky and Rob had a fantastic evening at the Learning Awards 2019, and were over the moon to pick up a Bronze award in the Start-Up Learning Provider of the Year category!

We are so proud to have been recognised alongside some of the very best L&D practitioners in the UK. Ed Monk, the CEO of the Learning Performance Institute, which runs the awards, said they’d received over 800 entries in total – so just to get to the shortlist means we were in the top 10 per cent!

Well done to all the finalists, and we would particularly like to congratulate VirtualSpeech, who won our category, and LearnBox, who scooped the Silver award.

Learning Awards
Before the ceremony

Ricky said: “To have been nominated in such a competitive category is great recognition for what we have achieved in such a short space of time. We have a solid platform on which to build and grow our business in the future, so look out for new products and development soon.

“In less than three years, we have won 50 new clients, worked on assignments in 13 countries and across 28 sectors, and worked with well over 2,000 people. We’ve grown our team, produced a book and created a new L&D resource, the gamified learning product for managers called What Would You Do?, and a step-by-step process blueprint for developing team, department or organisational strategy – known as the ‘Strategy Wall’.”

Learning Awards
We invited two of our valued clients to enjoy the ceremony with us

The Learning Awards recognises and celebrates outstanding examples of high standards, best practice, innovation and excellence in the corporate L&D sphere. The glittering awards ceremony on February 7th took place at the prestigious Dorchester Hotel in London’s Park Lane and was attended by around 400 guests representing organisations from across the world.

Host for the evening, BBC star Claudia Winkleman, introduced the Start-Up category by saying: “This award is for organisations under three years old who have already made a significant impact on the sector. So you truly are amazing to be in this group.”

Ricky said: “Being shortlisted for this award has given us a great start to a year in which we’ll be developing our business further and rolling out What Would You Do? and the Strategy Wall. All of which ultimately leads to what, for us, is the biggest buzz of all: seeing the impact of our work and hearing our clients report fantastic results.”

He added: “Thank you to all those who have helped, inspired and supported us: We couldn’t have done it without you.”

Learning Awards trophy

Politics in the workplace: Dealing with sheep, donkeys, foxes and owls

People very rarely like to talk about politics in the workplace. Perhaps we don’t even like to admit that it’s a thing. But the fact is that everyone in your organisation is acting in a political way.

That’s because workplace politics is about how we behave towards each other, and what our motivations are in doing so. It’s all about power, authority and relationships. This power can come from different sources: It could be based on someone’s role, experience, knowledge, professional or personal network, or charisma.

The term ‘office politics’ usually has negative connotations, but is it really always a bad thing? The answer is no – but it depends what kind of politics are in play. Good politics is about doing things correctly and fairly in the interest of the group and the overall vision, whereas bad politics is about acting out of self-interest. Particularly during the process of change, behaviour needs to be driven by politics – there needs to be somebody who is able to engage people and take them on a journey. That’s what change leadership is all about.

As a manager of people who will behave according to their own politics, awareness is key. Often change leaders involve people for the wrong reasons. It’s easy to make the mistake of involving someone because of their position or their relationship with you.

Recognising the political motivations of your people will help you to assign useful, productive roles to them which utilise their skills and experience and help achieve a goal that’s for the overall good. It’s vital for those times when you need to rely on people who can lead and get things done for the good of the organisation, its people and its goals. So what political game are your people playing? A useful way of identifying the political style and motivations of your team members is using the model developed by Simon Baddeley and Kim James, as shown in this diagram:

It splits people into one of four categories: sheep, donkeys, owls and foxes. Once you understand which category a person fits into, you’ll have an idea of how they will approach things, and what kind of role they should take on a project. It can be particularly helpful when implementing change and thinking about the kind of people you can rely on to lead it successfully.

So what kind of characteristics does each animal show, and what does this mean for their role in the team?

Sheep are politically naïve but act in the group’s interest, because they think it’s the right thing for the organisation and the people. They are loyal and industrious but need to be led.

Donkeys, like sheep, are politically naïve – but the difference is that they act out of self-interest.

Owls are politically aware of the situation and the environment but ask how to do things for the overarching goal and the people. Loyal to the organisation, they possess integrity, and are respected by colleagues.

Foxes are also politically aware but act out of self-interest, putting themselves before others and even before the organisation. But there’s no doubt that they can make things happen, even though they are doing it for their benefit. There’s nothing wrong with sending a wily fox into a difficult situation as long as you are prepared to manage them closely. Foxes are useful, but make sure you’re aware of their motivation, how they are likely to behave and the opportunities they may want to seize for themselves.

Dealing with these different personalities as a manager can be difficult, but the first step is to recognise who fits into each category, and to understand who should therefore be placed in a key role for a specific project, and who needs to be carefully managed. Owls are clearly prime candidates, although they may as well be unicorns as they are so hard to find! Perhaps you may like or require the ambition and drive of foxes.

The role of a leader is not to get lost in politics or to turn a fox into an owl. It’s about recognising which political ‘animals’ are in your team, and being aware of how best to manage them.

Baddeley, S. and James, K., 1987.  Owl, fox, donkey or sheep: Political skills for managers. Management Education and Development, 18(1), pp.3-19.

Improving workplace productivity, step 3: The cost of interference

If I told you that you were only performing at 60% of you, would you want to do something about it?

Once you got past the emotional reaction of feeling criticised (“Who is this guy?”, “Who is he to challenge me?”), it is likely you will feel the need to justify yourself. You’ll probably point out how hard you and your team are working and highlight your performance versus your targets and KPIs.

But this is not about targets and KPIs, this is about potential.

It is not my intent to criticise; I am instead challenging the way you see the world. I see it in every client we work with, and it sits at the heart of our Thinking Focus belief statement:

We believe that people, teams and business units underperform, not because they want to, not because they mean to, but because they can’t get out of their own way!

Every day you and your people face challenges and constraints, either self-imposed, real or perceived. Your people face systems and processes designed with the best intent yet which fail to empower them to deliver greatness, forcing compliance and restricting innovation and creativity, all in the name of consistency. Well, guess what: the only consistency is your people consistently underperforming and not reaching their potential!

In over a decade of working with clients across the world, I and my colleagues at Thinking Focus have noticed the startling reality that, when asked, people in all businesses state that ‘interference’ (the stuff that gets in our way) amounts to an average 40%. Yes, 40%! Which means that, if this is true, people are performing at an average of just 60%!

While I accept that this observation is hardly scientific, the consistency in what more than 200 clients have reported to us over all these years is uncanny. Moreover, a CIPD survey suggested the exact same number, give or take 1%. It would seem that our anecdotal findings are actually supported by an external reference point!

So we know there is a problem, now let’s look at what can you do about it.

Here are three things you can do to get started, and they won’t cost you a penny or a huge amount of time:

1. Quantify the size of your problem or opportunity

The key here is not to get to focused on the number, but instead to look for the opportunity. Dig beneath the surface. One obvious thing to do, which is rarely done, is to ask your people what it is that gets in the way of them doing their best work. So ask them:

  • What ‘interference’ do they have to deal with every day? Get them to externalise it but don’t justify, defend or seek to fix it at this point. Your goal is to understand the issues
  • Can you quantify this interference as a percentage? Ask them how much it affects their ability to perform at 100% of their potential
  • Use this as a rudimentary guide, to size your problem/opportunity

So, for example, if they suggest that the ‘interference’ is at 35%, this means that they are performing at 65% of their potential. Ask them what impact a 1%, 2% or 10% shift would have on their performance. Is it worth fixing? If yes, go to step 2.

2. Review the ‘interference’ list

Invite your people to review the list of ‘interference’ and ask them to focus on just three right now; three that could add the greatest value with least effort. In essence, identify the ‘low hanging fruit’ which will eliminate, improve or mitigate the impact of ‘interference’. Then invite volunteers to pitch up and take on the challenge to fix one.

3. Let them go!

Now, support them, provide time and resources, and let them go unlock some potential for you. This is important as you are empowering them to own the problem and fix it. It also means that any long term solution will be owned by them and will likely lead to wider adoption of their solution than any imposed by management.

There are many benefits from adopting this approach, including:

  • There is a cathartic release from sharing ‘interference’
  • Your people feel listened to
  • They feel included in the choice of priorities
  • Your people feel empowered to improve their world
  • Ownership will increase as they go fix it
  • Business performance improves

I am not sure I can see a reason not to, can you?