Leading to Here with Steve Britton

This latest episode of Leading to Here is a must-listen; Steve Britton shares his story, his journey to here that includes a life-changing experience as he turned up to a football match looking forward to seeing his beloved Liverpool FC in the 1989 FA Cup semi-final that quickly descended into a tragedy.

Listen to how Steve navigated life in the immediate aftermath and how another life-changing moment meant he had to take a job before embracing every opportunity that came his way. Hear how he transitioned from ‘old-school’ into a modern people-focused leader who leads with passion and energy and someone who proudly says, “I love my job.”

Why do people underperform in Sales (and other roles)? Part 2 – Skills

People underperform in sales (and other roles) for several reasons, in this podcast we will explore the skills aspect of the role.   

Sales can be easier than other roles to spot when people underperform given the metrics available but identifying the factors behind underperformance is not so easy.   

What do we mean by skills?  It may sound obvious; in our experience, it’s not, which is why Mark Davies and Ricky Muddimer explore the topic in more detail and what we mean by skills and why looking at skills more broadly is so important.

Why leading without purpose is just managing?

We are purpose-driven creatures.  We need to understand why we do what we do, meaning creates the motivation to do whatever it is we need to do.  Yet, often, leaders leave the purpose to chance, allowing team members to work it out for themselves.  

In this podcast Rob, Rich and Paul explore why leaders need a higher purpose, something that explains why we are doing what we are doing, to drive the team forward, to allow them to priorities resources and to know when they can say no.

This podcast is part of a series about the role of leaders, exploring the nuts and bolts of what leaders need to do.  It is based on a model (we created) to help aspiring leaders work out what it means to be a leader. 

You can find the model, and details of all the areas at www.thinkingfocus.com/what-is-leadership

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash.com

Are we learning from the best role models?


Social learning theory (SLT) shines a light on how we start to learn as children and continue to learn into adulthood; we mimic and model the behaviour of others. Also, we are adept at modifying our behaviour for varying situations and within the different social groups we spend time within.

If we do learn from others and our environment; then who are your people learning from? What are they actually learning? What or who is influencing their behaviour?

What interests me is how organisations can leverage social learning for better organisational outcomes in their performance and culture.

In 2017 Thinking Focus was challenged by a global automotive manufacturer to help them to develop soft skills in their frontline manager population. They had several requirements: the solution needed to be flexible and run in short sessions to suit their operation; have minimal preparation time and use in-house skills; and it needed to be interactive, fun and without the formality of academic and theoretical references.

Our research into a possible solution led us to consider many options and it became clear that the modelling of behaviour and the effect that peers had on each other’s approach to work was a significant factor. This led to extensive market research and the creation of a solution that we called ‘What Would you Do?’ (WWYD).

WWYD has been carefully engineered with a blend of mechanisms that inspire behavioural change. It incorporates gamification to engage and motivate participants to get involved and stay engaged. It creates a psychologically safe space where participants can be vulnerable and feel comfortable openly sharing their experiences; both the good and not so good. A facilitator manages the discussion, to probe and ask questions (coach) and to help the group understand the thought processes behind the actions. It uses everyday situations (scenarios) to enable the safe exploration of implications and consequences, all in a group forum. Sessions conclude with reflection and public commitment to underpin micro-changes in behaviours.

WWYD is a learning solution that adopts the same fundamental attributes of social learning that we have all been naturally doing all our lives.

What is social learning theory?

Social learning is doing what we see, modelling our behaviours on the behaviour of others and our environment. We are like chameleons; able to adapt our behaviours in different social contexts. We learn this through observing the behaviours of others whether that be home or work, friendship, sport or social groups.

Our ability to develop and adopt new social behaviours, attitudes and emotional reactions comes from imitating the behaviours of our parents or peers. Social learning is based on the behaviour modelling theory, where people learn new things by observing others.

The psychologist Albert Bandura is Professor Emeritus of Social Science in Psychology at Stanford University. Bandura considers humans to be active information processors, able to think about the relationship between their behaviour and its consequences. Humans possess the ability to choose, to intervene without merely imitating the behaviour of others.

In the 1960s Bandura undertook a series of experiments to understand the effects of observational learning on children’s behaviour. His findings underpin his 1977 theory, where children learn social behaviour through the observation of others. Children draw their behaviours from a variety of sources: parents and family members, friends and teachers, even fictional characters. These behaviours are interchangeable between boys and girls; they are not limited by gender.

When children observe others, they encode (the way we store information) the behaviour. They may then reproduce that behaviour later. However, the likelihood of them later imitating the behaviour is influenced by several factors.

Children are influenced by people who they consider to be like themselves; this is a factor in them being more likely to imitate behaviour modelled by others of the same gender.

Children are also influenced by the reaction of the people around them. When they reproduce a specific behaviour, how they are rewarded or punished will affect their likelihood of repeating the behaviour. Reinforcement is an important factor in influencing behaviour; this can be positive or negative. Reinforcement can be internal; a feeling of warmth when you do something that makes you happy. Or externally, from the recognition of others. Significantly though, it usually leads to a change in a person’s behaviour.

Children also consider how others are treated before deciding to model their behaviour. If they see the person positively rewarded, they are more likely to model that behaviour. The opposite is also true; if they see an adverse reaction towards a person’s behaviour, they are unlikely to repeat it. A person learns by observing what happens to others (known as vicarious reinforcement).

Children are more likely to identify with a role model when they possess a quality they aspire to have. Identification is different from imitation; imitation usually involves copying a single behaviour. Identification, however, consists of the adoption of a number of behaviours, such as values, beliefs and attitudes of the person with whom they identify.

How does SLT work?

SLT is considered by many as the bridge between traditional learning theory (behaviourism) and the cognitive approach. SLT focuses on how mental (cognitive) factors are involved in learning.

While Bandura agreed that classical conditioning (think Pavlov and his dogs) and operant conditioning (learning through reward and punishment) impact learning greatly, he also contributed two other ideas; mediating processes occur between stimuli and responses, and behaviour influenced by the environment through the process of observation.

Mediating processes are the cognitive intervention, where observed behaviour is not routinely followed but where cognitive reasoning takes place. In other words, our imitation of behaviour is not automatic. This mental evaluation takes place between the observed behaviour (the stimulus) and the decision to copy (the response) or not.

Bandura proposed four mediational process:

  1. Attention: The extent to which we notice or are exposed to the behaviour. We are exposed to many behaviours each day, and many don’t even register and therefore pass us by.
  2. Retention: Our ability to recall a behaviour. We need to form a memory of the behaviour to perform it a later time.
  3. Reproduction: Our capability to perform the behaviour as it was modelled to us. Our ability to reproduce is not always possible, for example if we are limited by our physiology.
  4. Motivation: Does performing the behaviour even register, in terms of importance? What rewards or punishments exist; do we consider it worth the effort?

WWYD was designed to meet all four mediational processes

Attention is captured in several ways:
• The format is group discussion – peers share experiences related to the debate.
• Scenarios are contextualised to the participant’s role- they are practical and not theoretical, presenting situations people can relate to.
• There is progress and jeopardy, which increases involvement. Tuning out, even briefly, could have consequences with a missed opportunity to score points or lose out entirely on the meaning of the discussion.
• Scenarios are set up to encourage debate; some have the added pressure of time constraints. An ‘against-the-clock’ feature causes cognitive conflict, self-doubt and the possible consequence of being frozen out of the round.
• The scoring range includes minus points – creating further jeopardy which increases concentration and engagement.

Strategies for retention:
• The socialising of experiences means that participants can use another’s experience to help prepare themselves for the model behaviour. They can learn from what their colleagues did well and where they struggled. Participants can also ask questions to develop their understanding further.
• The everyday situations are explored through debate. Participants test and probe ‘what if’ situations, their assumptions and biases and the implications of a course of action; as well as exploring what unintended consequences there might be.
• Each scenario offers up four options which are deliberately designed to be ‘imperfect’. This ambiguity causes cognitive conflict with the participant having to justify their choice.

Building capability for reproduction:

• Each scenario debated is concluded with a reflection step. Reflection is where the participants connect to the outcomes of the discussion. There is a debrief where participants determine what the desired behaviour should be. They are coached as a group by the facilitator, to consider the model behaviour for their organisation. The group decide what is and isn’t acceptable through reasoned argument.

Motivation: inspiration to learn and apply new behaviours

• The inclusion of gamification techniques both engages players to actively participate and it motivates them to stay the course. While scoring points is a factor, their main purpose is to keep participants focused and attentive. ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) and the friendly competition makes for a high energy session.
• At the end of each WWYD session, participants are invited to personally reflect on what they have learnt, sharing any realisations they may have had.
• Each participant is invited to publicly commit to one change in their behaviour in front of their peers. This public commitment is a psychological connection, a cognitive reinforcement which increases the likelihood of follow-through.

Seven reasons why you should be more interested in SLT.

  1. It’s already happening within your organisation. Understanding how it is benefiting you will unlock best practice and result in wider shared knowledge.
  2. Find out where it might be working against you. Typical indicators of issues to be resolved can be: culture, productivity, engagement, poor adherence to policy and processes. Who do you want your people modelling – are you leaving it to chance?
  3. Test the understanding of your internal communications. How effectively is your message getting through? SLT can help to ensure the message you intended has landed, by involving your people in the dissemination process.
  4. Your people can collectively decide the ‘right’ way. Build consistency through shared discussion, debate and exploration.
  5. Develop a broader understanding, by sharing perspectives across the organisation. Help your people improve their decision-making, with a greater appreciation for the ‘system’ and how it works. As a result, you become more efficient and effective.
  6. Unlock tacit knowledge. Every organisation is flush with unwritten rules and processes, undocumented knowledge that allows the ‘system’ to work. Socialising the learning across everyday situations will surface these valuable yet hidden practices.
  7. Surface key issues. Organisational politics has a devastating impact on productivity and efficiency. Socialising learning cross-functionally in a safe environment can bring the problems into focus and will encourage your people to own and solve the issues.

There are benefits for your people too.

  1. They learn that they are not alone; they realise that issues and challenges are more common, in other areas of the business – not just theirs.
  2. They build internal networks and support mechanisms which helps them to solve problems quicker and collaborate more effectively.
  3. Their mental wellbeing improves with an outlet to vent, share and gain perspective.

What does it look like in practical terms?

Understanding the principles behind social learning is one thing; bringing it to life is entirely another. How leaders behave is crucial; your people are looking to you.

How you behave when things go wrong will set the tone. Because people learn through observation, employees will look at how you behave in every situation, and they will make a judgement. They are considering if your behaviour is what they want to copy, measuring it against their own values. How your behaviour makes them, or others, feel will impact their decision too. Your people will evaluate how others react and decide whether to model your behaviour or not. The challenge is that you, as a leader, are not in control of their thought process, or how they choose to interpret what they see. This means authenticity is vital, and the need to be a role-model is more important than perhaps any of us thought.

So, what could you do?

Build social learning into your meetings; allow for an opportunity to review your work with three questions:
• What have we learned?
• What should we be doing more of and why?
• What is stopping us from being the best we can be?

Consider how you make your sessions feel safe. Allow people to speak their minds and express their opinions – it clears the way to the problem-solving. It doesn’t matter whether you choose to run sessions face-to-face or online. Create a forum for the group to be open and to share. Invite people to commit to an action – a new, better way of doing something.

Coaching is a proven tool for developing people one-to-one. What if you could group coach? Imagine a one-to-many facilitated discussion with purpose. You could solve common problems, build soft skills through discussion of contextual situations and share experiences to develop a shared vision of what ‘good’ looks like.

Build social learning into your training interventions

Reinforcement is an essential factor for influencing behaviour. Consider what are you reinforcing, knowingly and unknowingly. Are you proactive in celebrating when people model the desired behaviours? No reaction at all can leave people unsure if they are doing the right thing. Positive feedback helps to reinforce behaviours. Similarly, when behaviours are below the expected standard, challenge and coach people to understand why the standard exists and the implications of falling below.
And I did say, coach, not tell! Coaching takes time; time you may feel you don’t have – but it will have longer-lasting effects. ‘Tell’ is just a reprimand, and we all know this has limited impact and doesn’t last.

Some of your people will have aspirations to grow and develop. Think carefully about their mentor or internal role-models. We know that people are more likely to model the behaviour of others when they aspire to gain the knowledge, skill or attributes of the other person. Who do you want them to model?

The final way to build social learning into your development portfolio is through simulation and gamification. The trend towards the use of gamification has been growing. When you combine relevance, context and simulation, it really does bring social learning theory to life. The primary aim of any intervention is to create behaviour change, making things fun and exciting alone won’t cut it. Learners need to feel a sense of reward for the right behaviours or consequences for inappropriate ones. Gamification can add progress and jeopardy aligned to the desired outcomes. Decisions can be tested and explored in a safe space; participants can project the effects of certain behaviours and see how the implications would play out.


Social learning is how we naturally develop. As small children we learn through observation to mimic the values, beliefs and behaviours of others. Social norms also impact on which models we choose and whether to adopt new behaviours or not. This poses several questions for business leaders and learning professionals:

• Who are your people modelling their behaviours on?
• What values, beliefs and attitudes are they adopting?
• Who has the most influence on your culture?
• Are your people adopting your desired values, attitudes and behaviours?
• How are you, and your leaders, modelling the way?
• How do you control the narrative and the observation process?

If you are not already, you should be influencing the social learning experience. How you approach people who fall below your expected standards will have a significant impact on whether they choose to model the desired behaviour, or not. What consequences do they observe others face when they fail to live up to the values? What reward mechanisms exist when they do model the way?

Your people expect consistency; this is how they measure your commitment to your behavioural standards. Your people managers need to model the way; they need to hold others accountable and celebrate those who live up to the expected behaviours, values and attitudes. You cannot condone or accept poor behaviours just because of their perceived business performance. When you do this, you are telling your people that behaviours don’t matter, they are now a weapon to use to engineer the outcomes you really want.

Challenge your people to own the issues but consider how you go about it. You must be prepared to equip and empower them properly.
For clarity, equipping means that people are given the tools to think and plan effectively, the targeted development they need, the resources they need to execute and access to decision makers to ensure that effort is not duplicated and plans and actions are aligned.

True empowerment means giving people the autonomy and permission to go fix things. Experience suggests that whenever leaders ‘pretend’ to empower, they don’t fully let go and, when they inevitably intervene, impose or cast judgement, it almost always ends in tears.

Your people are already modelling the behaviours of others. They are constantly making choices about which behaviours to follow. Remember that their motivation might not be primarily concerned with what is right for the organisation. Their choices might be for social cohesion and the benefit of the social group. They may not want to stray away from existing group norms for fear of being outcast, driven by the fear of not belonging.

Are you prepared to leave the values, behaviours and attitudes you want to see in your organisation to chance?

Scary vs dangerous – returning to the workplace

As organisations are starting to get people back into the workplace, or at least having these kind of conversations on the agenda, we have been keen to hear what some of our clients have been saying about this. At a recent round table discussion online, it’s clear that people are feeling a wide range of emotions about returning to their place of work. It is also clear that there are things that leaders can do to help ease the transition, and the concerns.

It is probably worth starting with a cautionary note about the language we use when talking about this topic. As our client ‘S’ pointed out when the question of ‘going back to work’ was raised “It’s something that we’ve been pulled up on because people get slightly agitated with it. When we say people are ‘going back to work’, people have been working and believe me, people get really, really annoyed with you when you say that they’ve got to go back to work.” So, a simple reminder when talking about this is to refer to ‘back to the office’ – this might help you start off on the right footing!

We recognise that what is about to happen for many people is a second, significant change in the way they work. In March, and almost overnight, there was a move for people to work from home, which presented a great number of challenges. What we’re seeing now is a reversal of that change to start to bring people back in to their ‘old’ working environment, although this time on a staggered basis for many organisations. As we start to ask people to break their ‘new routines’ and start to think about re-engaging with some older ways of working – creating ‘the new normal’ we keep hearing about – it’s worth noting that some people will be nervous about this, seeing this as ‘scary’, and in some instances even asking whether it is ‘dangerous’, but we’ll look more at this a little later!

So, what kind of things might be going through people’s minds as they consider the return to the workplace? What we’re hearing is that there will be wide range of thoughts, which probably comes as no great surprise. As leaders though, what approach should we take?

Many organisations have recognised that people will be curious about returning to the workplace: how different will it look, what will be the same and what will be different? The messaging to get everyone to switch to working from home back in March may have unintentionally created feelings that offices (as well as many other public spaces) are not safe. That feeling is going to linger for a while. People may be going back to an office that they have visited many times, but it is not really the same place anymore, with social distancing creating new rules and expectations on how we act within the space. This all creates a feeling of a familiar place being unfamiliar and people feeling unsure of how it will work or even if it is a safe space anymore. This is the challenge that, as leaders, we need to overcome.

And there are a number of ways our clients have already been dealing with this. ‘J’s organisation has been using technology to help them “We’ve consciously kept a communication line open to all of our teams to let them know exactly what’s going on every single step of the way. And we’ve done that by making videos to send to them – we’ve brought in some animation software so we can create some short snappy animations that talk through what’s happening, what’s changing. When it comes to moving back into the office, we’ve had a company do a virtual 4D scan of the entire building. This shows all the sanitizer stations and the one way signs, and they can walk around the office virtually through all of the areas and all the floors so they know what’s where and how it’s going to look when they come in. So they understand where their desk is, the way they have to go, where all their resources are. If you look at one of the kitchenettes, it will come up with a sign to say “only one person allowed in at a time”. So we’ve made them try and feel comfortable with the fact that we’ve done everything we possibly can, plus more. And that’s gone down really well in easing some of the anxiety that people have got.” 4D scans could be a great approach, but to counter this one client also mentioned that their approach was more basic, having stickers on desks that simply highlighted which ones could be sat at and which ones couldn’t – and this was proving to be equally useful.

Another common feature of returning to the workplace is staggering how to bring people back. Again ‘J’ commented “We’re going to be slowly bringing back teams, those are at the least risk will come back first. We’ll make sure they’re comfortable in the office and they’re up and running before we bring the next back and so on. We’ve already made that announcement to them, but also said that we’ve got no date in mind. This is what we’re doing to make it as comfortable for everybody, which seems to have gone down well.”

This may be working so well for companies that, right now, not everyone wants to come back to the workplace. As ‘H’ put it “We’ve probably got about 20% who can’t wait to get back, who were missing the social aspects. We probably then have another 20% who perhaps have health concerns or relatives who have health concerns and are very nervous about going back. And then probably a whole group in the middle where it’s quite a mixed bag.”

Similarly ‘S’ mentioned “We’ve done a ‘back to the office/ site’ guide, which explains everything we’ve done, about our one way system, about using the canteen and about having respect for others. We have a little bit at the beginning of the guide that says people are dealing with this differently, so consider having that mindfulness and appreciation for how people are. And when people are coming back, we’re getting their managers to give them an induction for coming back to the office so that they don’t just slip into their normal pace.”

So, it seems that having some type of re-onboarding process will be helpful in allowing people to process their emotions and feelings and start to think about getting back into some sort of routine.

As leaders, this is really important, as it bridges the rational elements of ‘let’s make arrangements, put a plan in place, communicate’ with the emotional elements of ‘feeling unsure, being insecure, feeling tentative and wanting re-assurance’.

This is why the ‘scary and/or dangerous’ concept was mentioned earlier.
Scary/Dangerous is based on two scales and allows us to use one of our favourite ‘explainer’ tools – the four-box grid!

We feel that our reactions to situations that we feel are dangerous are hardwired into us and are a protective measure – if we do something that is dangerous it could, ultimately, cost us everything. However, dangerous is rational calculation, one that we often get wrong, as there are so many cognitive biases that get in the way. On top of that you have the hardwired reaction, whether we see something as scary or not, which is an emotional response. Our emotional responses happen almost instantly, and rarely use the facts of the situation. When you start to consider these two side by side, we have four scenarios.

Let’s take something that we know is dangerous – for instance standing on a cliff edge, leaning over. We probably know that this is dangerous (admittedly with degrees of risk) but, sitting where you are right now reading this, does this feel scary to you? For most of us, it won’t. However, if we were there, at the cliff edge for most of us it definitely would be scary. Where things are dangerous and scary too, you would really have to ask yourself why would you do that? These things we place in the ‘Crazy Zone’!

Where something is dangerous, but we don’t perceive it as scary – and there may be some people reading this who are happy standing on the cliff edge – you still wouldn’t do this in a blasé way, would you, you’d still be careful. These things go in the ‘Caution Zone’. If you’re going to do them, take care!
Sat at home, reading this, being asked to think about being in a cliff edge is clearly not dangerous (you’re not really there) and for most isn’t scary, so you’re really comfortable with this analogy – hence these things go in your ‘Comfort Zone’.

The final box is where we know it isn’t dangerous, but we still have an emotional reaction telling us it is scary – here we are nervous but can be helped to move forward – this is the Change Zone, and our role as leaders in the current situation, and in helping people return to their place of work, is to help our people ‘come back’.

Linking this to COVID19 and how people may well be feeling is worth drawing out.

Why are things dangerous right now? We have a situation that has (as I write this) taken the lives of around 46,000 people in the UK, and over 667,000 worldwide. This clearly falls into the dangerous category. Yet, there are clear steps that we can take to reduce the risks and make things safer, even if we cannot get to zero risk. We do lots of things with some level of risk, from sports to driving; the difference is that we have normalised those risks and are not constantly reminded of them as we are with COVID19.

Why are people feeling scared right now? There’s the obvious link to the dangers presented by COVID19, but also most people have been secure in their own bubbles, most have stayed safe and kept themselves and their loved ones safe. The talk about leaving bubbles and returning to the workplace is a clear change from this. There are now a range of factors people can’t control – will work colleagues have exercised the same amount of care and followed the rules, or will they have been cavalier in their attitudes? What about getting to work, will they need to be on public transport with a number of strangers? The list could go on.

It is this feeling of scary that is holding people back, and the practical plans that make things safer may have very little impact on the emotional responses of a lot of people. Think about the 20-60-20 split mentioned by ‘H’, 20% don’t perceive this as scary, 20% think this is very scary, but 60% are not sure and are looking for leaders who can help them work this out. Our aim as leaders, therefore, is to help our people to see that we have done everything we can to remove as many of the dangers as possible, and it seems our clients, amongst many others, have some practical approaches to doing this. We also need to help people with their emotions, recognising that we all view ‘scary’ differently and will need different types of reassurance.

Should all change be done quickly?

Many organisations discovered that they can introduce significant change rapidly when they had to reorganise their workforce to being home-based.  Does this mean that all change should be quick?

Paul, Rob and Rich explore why this change has worked so well, and ask what are the lessons we can learn from this for future change.

This podcast was recorded while we are still in lockdown.  Like most people, we are working from home (kids and pets may appear at any time).  Apologies for the quality of one of the mics on this podcast. The perils of working without a producer.

We are still focused on the questions that are getting in the way.

Photo by Jason Rosewell on Unsplash

Have we accidentally created two tribes?

Teams have been broken, split between furloughed and working, home-based or office-based.  Teams that were once aligned against a common purpose are now divided.  What does this mean for managing teams going forward?  How can leaders bring teams back together?

Rich, Rob, Ricky and Paul (and Paul’s dog) discuss the implications and unintentional side effects of some of the difficult yet necessary decisions that have had to be made.   How do we get back to one team and one vision?

This podcast was recorded while we are in the middle of lockdown. Like most people, we are working from home (with kids and dogs), making do and still looking to answer the questions that are getting in the way.

Photo by Mohammad Metri on Unsplash

Why are some teams more engaged in what they do?

Some teams just get it, they immerse themselves in the work or activities of the team to deliver amazing results. What is it that they have, that other teams don’t?
In this podcast, Paul proposes that this is down to a connection to the higher purpose, and along with Graham they explore what that means.

This podcast is part of a short series on productivity, where we are exploring how you can Sell More, Save More and Do More, both personally and for your team.

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.