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Category Archives: Leadership Development

Every Great Conversation

by Randy Sabourin

I believe that the most important things that happen at any organization are conversations. They are the reason we innovate, collaborate, sell, lead, coach, change, succeed, or fail. A salesperson who struggles to have meaningful customer conversations, a leader who is misunderstood when implementing strategy, or a manager who prefers to avoid coaching conversations are all negatively affecting their organizations. Given its significance to success, why is it that most organizations and individuals take their ability to execute a great conversation for granted? Understanding how we communicate with each other and how we influence and collaborate should be discussed, taught, and – most importantly – practiced.

The fundamentals of a good conversation remain consistent across a variety of business and personal situations. Training programs in sales or customer service, negotiation, coaching, and leadership all contain the same foundational elements. These are often re-taught or re-invented by providers to package a complete solution. These programs require a detailed list of skills for participants to master. For example, when learning how to coach it is critical to understand many steps – or skills – such as establishing trust, setting an agenda, observing behavior, giving feedback, gaining commitment, and many more. It is important to receive feedback on these individual skills so that they can be understood and leveraged. In each program, the number of measurable skills to learn and practice can range from ten to thirty.

During an actual conversation, it is unrealistic, complicated, and even a distraction to try and recall every step within each process and program we have learned. Brain-based learning research tells us that when we are engaged in a conversation – listening, understanding new ideas, and adapting our opinions – we require a much simpler model to simply recall the various skills associated with the exchange.

There are four foundational elements that can be applied to business or personal conversations, and that are simple enough to stick. They act as an effective foundation for any communication-based program.

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Strategy – Check. Execution – Needs Practice!

By Randy Sabourin

“A lot of thought and consultant dollars were spent to create a new set of seventeen leadership competencies. Those seventeen competencies should be manifested through our four core values. This strategy will drive a culture change throughout our organization starting with our Leadership team. The competencies and values should be evident in the behavior of our people throughout the organization.  Due to the lack of integration over the last two years, we have simplified the number of competencies to nine. The CEO believes that if our Leadership adapts and displays these values and competencies, it will effect the change in our organization we require to be successful.”complex

This opening statement led to a robust discussion that explored the common challenges of bringing a strategy to fruition.

Organizational change, Leadership Development, or any learning initiative, requires three very fundamental components in order to be successful. The first is strategy which has spawned a multi-billion dollar consultancy industry. There is no end to resources to help any organization figure out where they are, what they are doing wrong, and what they should be doing to get where they want to be. An overwhelming amount of complexity gets built into the process disguised as value, due mostly to the amount of budget being allocated. It gives us a clue to why the above statement of a leadership-driven culture change failed and will continue to fail. It’s far too complex. Years of research shows that changing one or two behaviors is very difficult. The complexity of remembering thirty-six behaviors let alone applying them to real situations is doomed to failure. Complexity is not the only reason this initiative will continue to flounder. Continue reading

Learning to Make Mistakes

“You know nothing Jon Snow” – Ygritte, Wildling, Beyond the Wall (George RR Martin)

I’ve made a lot of mistakes, and I will continue to make them in the future. Although it’s very hard to accept at the time, the more mistakes I make, the better I become. No one is an expert, or even any good, after the first or even after several attempts at a new skill. Failure and mistakes are the way we learn and develop skills. This is particularly true of interpersonal business skills that require an improvisational approach such as leadership, sales or coaching conversations. “Learning from our mistakes” is a common concept that most of us believe in, but do we put it into action? Is it part of our corporate culture, L&D (Learning and Development) or Talent Development strategy? I’d say not very often. In fact, I’d say that most organizations have a very low tolerance for failure and mistakes and perhaps understandably so, considering that mistakes often cost money.

If you see a star in your organization that is a better salesperson or coach than you are, that means they have had the time and opportunity to fail more often than you have. The star salesperson held up as an example of how everyone on the team should be executing the sales process is the star because they have had more opportunities to fail. Put another way, the scope of your success is based on how many mistakes you’ve made, assuming of course that you’ve learned from your mistakes and don’t make the same ones again and again. If you believe that some people are just naturally gifted salespeople or leaders, think again.  Geoff Colvin in Talent is Overrated (2008), and Andres Ericsson in Peak, Secrets from the New Science of Expertise (2016) both make a compelling argument through research that whether it’s sales, business, music, or athletics, individuals that work hard and practice far longer and more effectively than their peers are more successful. No one is born a great investment banker, coach, or salesperson – they’ve had the opportunity to survive the consequences of their failures and have taken advantage of them by learning and improving.   

It’s clear that you need to make mistakes in order to learn but how many mistakes can a person afford to make on the job before they’re asked to move on? The answer, like the answer to most difficult questions, is that it depends. Continue reading

Fixing Diversity Programs – Diversity, Inclusion, and Deliberate Practice

By Randy Sabourin

No one should be arguing against increasing diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Strategically, ethically, and financially it makes sense that organizations can benefit from being diverse.  The Return on Investment (ROI) for a diverse workplace has been widely accepted by most CEOs and Leaders and backed by studies with impressive statistics such as:

bubblesdiverseDespite the power of these statistics and potential bottom-line impact, the lack of success of the majority of Diversity and Inclusion Programs (D&I) has been a stellar disappointment. The needle is just not moving. Why? It’s not from the lack of trying. Most large corporations have created positions, developed programs, and spent significant funds. Most major D&I change programs begin with an awareness stage. Videos, corporate communications, and workshops are the usual delivery systems. The purpose of the awareness stage is to define the challenge and set the goal to move toward. It’s an intellectual knowledge-transfer phase that is very important, and one that most organizations have completed. Continue reading

The Competitive Advantage of Deliberate Practice

  by Randy Sabourin

One of the most critical competitive advantages for any organization is the skill level at which their people have important conversations. Interpersonal interactions, whether customer-facing, coaching, diversity & inclusion or leadership, can positively or negatively affect an organization more than a marketing campaign, a recognizable logo, a great product, or a good price. Business leaders look to Learning and Development (L&D) to deliver this competitive advantage across the organization with the expectation of a greater return on their investment every year.

deliberate-practiceWe are about to witness a fundamental shift in the way L&D organizations deliver on this mandate. To be an expert at an interpersonal skill, whether internal or client-facing, knowledge of the process is only half of the equation. Converting knowledge into a skill, or crossing the ‘know – do’ gap will be the new strategic objective for leadership and L&D.

L&D has traditionally focused on transferring knowle
dge to their learners in the form of workshops, e-learning, videos, etc. According to research from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL), 80% of L&D budgets are allocated to these traditional knowledge transfer methods, with 50% being instructor-led training (workshops). The evolution of technology has enabled L&D to deliver knowledge from a vast variety of sources to a learner’s preferred device, all at an effective cost . The art of curating content is becoming more and more valuable to organizations. For example, having access to an unlimited amount of songs becomes a burden without the aid of curated playlists. L&D organizations have become extremely good at delivering knowledge to their learners. However, knowledge is not skill.
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How to get your Coaching Program to Carnegie Hall

By Randy Sabourin

There’s an old joke that goes like this: a pedestrian in Manhattan stopped Jascha Heifetz, a famous and incredibly talented violinist and, in the mid-1950’s, a household name.

“Excuse me, ” the pedestrian inquired. “Could you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”

“Yes,” said Heifetz. “Practice, practice, practice!” Jascha_Heifetz

I think everyone would agree with the premise that if you practice something you will get better at it. Seems simple enough, but there are a few challenges in the execution of practice that deserve more exploration. How you deliver practice makes all the difference to whether you remember what you’ve been taught and how you turn that knowledge into a skill. You can read a book about how to play the violin but it takes a lot of practice to perform at Carnegie Hall. The same is true for coaching. Delivering or understanding a coaching process is not a particularly difficult task, and can be achieved by eLearning, a traditional workshop, or even reading a book. However, actually becoming a coach is much more difficult, and practice is the tool of choice.

There has been significant research about how to practice more effectively. Cementing new learning in long-term memory requires a process known as consolidation, in which memory traces Continue reading

Where The Bullets Aren’t (or – how Survivorship Bias and WWII Mathematicians can inform your L&D strategy)

 by Randy Sabourin

In order to continually improve our Learning & Development designs and deployments we frequently look to successful participants, members of our team, or the industry to try to understand what learning strategies we can glean from their success. This is a strategy I am often asked to execute when creating coaching or sales training programs for clients. Certainly there is a good deal to be learned from the most successful in any organization, however isolating them as the only source of ‘best practice’ is a very limited and potentially dangerous perspective. There are critical lessons to be learned from those who fail and those who may have moved on. It is sometimes difficult to recognize situations where Survivorship Bias affects our decision making negatively.

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I find the stories about very smart people using math, technology, and brainpower to defeat the enemy during WWII fascinating. One of the lesser known stories that has offered valuable business insights for me is that of Abraham Wald.

Abraham Wald was a brilliant Hungarian mathematician, grandson of a Rabbi, son of a kosher baker, who was forced to immigrate to the United States in the late 1930s as Nazi Germany’s influence made life very difficult. Wald was invited to Columbia University and fought his war as part of the Statistical Research Group (SRG) think tank. SRG was the mathematical equivalent of the Manhattan project, but using statistics as opposed to explosions. The group of mathematicians solved some of the most important problems facing the Allied war effort: where guns should be placed on planes, fuel mixtures for optimal distances, torpedo barrages, bombing patterns, and numerous other problems that require mathematical expertise to be applied to real life situations.

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Learning While Leading

by Avtar Jagpal

Throughout my career I’ve been fortunate enough to have various leadership opportunities presented to me.  I’ve held both formal and informal leadership positions and have taken advantage of rigorous leadership development programs to hone my skills.  Part of what facilitated these opportunities and put me in these positions was a patience to observe, absorb, and experience the core (and non-core) functions of the organization from the ground up.  I believe that one form of leadership is to immerse yourself into the day to day operations, the processes, the culture, and the environment of an organization to gain a clear understanding of it… before really being able to give yourself a chance at making a larger impact.  This style of leadership can be referred to as ‘Bottom Line Leadership.’ By immersing yourself, not only are you learning but in a way you’re also immediately leading by example.  There could be a tendency to come into an organization in a new leadership position and have a need for control or immediate impact, which may not always be the right route. Especially when that opportunity is one that you are passionate about.  It requires patience.

Before joining e-roleplay, I dove into the company’s online presence to get an idea what to expect.  I visited the website and the first thing that caught my attention was the motto “Practice with us, not your clients.”  It was simple, unique, and powerful.  It all made sense.  Why would you risk making a mistake with your clients, when you can safely practice and be coached in a learning environment?  I was already intrigued to have an opportunity to lead and contribute to the growth of this practice.        

I’ve had the liberty of working at a fortune 500 company, arguably one of the top 10 tech companies in the world, IBM. I came with Leadership experience, a little bit of Talent Management, and of course a Learning and Development background.  With varied experiences and skill sets, I was still lacking a very important factor… and that factor was familiarity.  I hadn’t worked my way up the ranks here at e-roleplay and therefore I wasn’t familiar with the ins and outs of the company. 

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Article Reprint from HR.COM’s Leadership Excellence Essentials

 

3 things that can create great leaders
by Randy Sabourin

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We have all witnessed, or experienced, Leadership Development Programs at organizations that miss the mark. Although designed using valid processes- evaluate what we have today and train the gaps to create the Leaders of tomorrow- somehow the return on investment is not enough. 

Young executives who have become good leaders early in their career have an intuitive sense about how to lead. Although pragmatic about learning, they often reject a content based ‘do it this way’ approach to leadership development. They feel they are unique and haven’t gotten this far by doing everything the same way everyone else has. There is also the brash young ‘know it all’ executive leader: Full of hubris, too high on control and unwilling to consider others’ input. Their reaction to classroom training is much same, perhaps with the exception of the pragmatic approach to new learning. Leadership Development programs fail for what they don’t give new leaders, not from a lack of the right content. Increasing business acumen (reading balance sheet, cash flow, budgets, etc.) or learning a company wide system coaching process is great content to learn, however, understanding these things will not produce a leader. There are three things that can create great leaders. 

First: Know Thyself

read the rest of the reprint 

One Learner at a Time – Simplifying Learning & Sustainment

by Randy Sabourin

The complexity of deploying new training over a large number of learners can be an enormous undertaking. The challenge grows exponentially when the learners are distributed over a large geographic footprint and time away from the field negatively affects the budget and return on investment (ROI) objectives. Turning to a ‘one-size-fits-all’ e-learning program is often the solution even though the trade-off results in much lower knowledge retention and skill development.121

Rather than compromise with traditional one-to-many solutions driven by technology consider a one-to-one solution focused on people learning and practicing with people. Having had this conversation with many learning professionals the next step in the discussion is inevitably the reaction to the assumed increased costs associated with a one-to-one learning interaction. This assumption is incorrect.

The trend toward ‘bite sized’ or retrieval-based learning speaks to the awareness of one-to-one learning as a viable solution. It seems counter-intuitive to look to technology as the only path to solving what is effectively a one person at a time problem. The idea that one-on-one training is unaffordable is a common and incorrect assumption. Technology is not required to make the price point attractive. Continue reading

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