LEARNING STYLES AND THE 4MAT MODEL

There are two activities that define individual learning styles: perceiving and processing. Perceiving, the first activity, can occur through sensing/feeling, or by thinking/judging about an experience. Sensing/feeling relates to the actual experience as it occurs (i.e. when faced with an orange, a “senser” will experience the act of feeling and eating the orange to understand it), whereas thinking/judging learners dive first into the information about the experience (i.e. first reading all possible articles about the orange as a fruit). There is a large difference between a sensing learner and a thinking learner.

Processing, the second activity, is defined by watching and by doing. After perceiving, the experience must be processed. A watcher will stand back, fully process the information, and consider what the next step should be. A doer, on the other hands, will spring into action immediately. These twostyles of learning are very different. A watcher will be content to sit back and learn as much information as possible before offering a reaction, while a doer will become bored as soon as they grasp the general concept.

The 4MAT Model

When a preference for sensing or judging is combined with a preference for watching or doing, four distinct preference combinations are produced. The authors used these four Learning Style combinations to create the basis for the 4MAT Model:

1. Type One: Imaginative Learners. These learners seek meaning, wish to be personally involved, learn by listening and sharing ideas, are interested in people and cultures, thrive on social interaction, and are innovative people.

2. Type Two: Analytic Learners. These learners seek facts, want to know what the experts think, learn by thinking through ideas, are data collectors, re-examine facts, benefit from formal learning, and want intellectual recognition.

3. Type Three: Common Sense Learners. These learners seek usability, want to know how things work, learn by testing theories, utilize factual data to build concepts, crave hands-on experience, and strive to find out how things will help them in “real life.”

4. Type Four: Dynamic Learners. These learners seek all possibilities, learn by trial and error, adapt to change easily, excel in situations that call for flexibility, take risks, and respond quickly when testing out theories or experiences.

An effective trainer is able to satisfy the needs of all types of learners, and can find ways to incorporate certain tools or techniques to engage each type of learning style. Each learning type contains a core question that further defines the person’s approach toward learning. Both learners and trainers can benefit from knowing what question each learner asks:

* Type One: Why?

* Type Two: What?

* Type Three: How?

* Type Four: If?

Lastly, it may be possible for a person to be a combination of more than one learner style. In these situations, the authors’ suggest pinpointing what elements of each learner type is most dominant. The most natural learning style will be the most dominant element that a person experiences.

The authors stress that while each type of learner possesses a certain set of strengths, there is not a “correct learner.” Each person’s specificlearning style is a natural strength, especially when engaging or training other learners in the same style. The key, however, to becoming an effective engager of all learning styles is to be able to recognize the different learners, and create specific techniques that cater to each person’s strengths.

THE LEARNING CYCLE

The learning cycle moves through four distinct stages of the learning process, each with a unique focus or question. In order to better understand how learning style can affect training, it is important to review the four parts of the learning process, which explains how learning occurs:

1. Engage–Experience, feel, and connect to our lives.

2. Share–Reflect deeply, and consider what experts have to share.

3. Practice–Take action based on new understanding.

4. Perform–Refine learning to make it personal, and generate results.

For each stage, the authors connect which learning style‘s core question corresponds with which part of the learning process:

* Engage–Type One Learners ask “Why?” Questions include: Why is this important? Why should I pay attention to this? Why will I need to address this in my work?

* Share–Type Two Learners ask “What?” Questions include: What do the experts think about this? What does the information show? What data exists that supports this theory?

* Practice–Type Three Learners ask “How?” Questions include: How does this work? How can I use this in my job? How will incorporating this benefit my life?

* Perform–Type Four Learners ask “If?” Questions include: What if this is really possible? What if I did this differently? If I did this, what might happen?

Type one and two learners will take longer to engage in training, as they tend to consider the reason for learning before reacting to the learning that is taking place. Type three and four will move much quicker into action, and will have the ability to overshadow type one and two learners with theirlearning reaction. When facilitating learning with an activity, the authors note that it is important to move quickly to engage type three and four learners in order to keep their interest. However, type one and two will need more time to reflect on the activity at hand, so it is helpful to give them extra time without penalty.

As a trainer, the learning process and its corresponding questions (Why, What, How, If) provide the foundation for any training design. The questions can then be inverted, and placed upon the trainer’s preparations for the classroom:

* Why do my learners need to know this?

* What is it that I am teaching them?

* How will they use it in their lives?

* If I am successful, what will they become as a result?

When the 4MAT model and four step learning process are flipped to create a training plan and design, it becomes possible to transform the learningexperience. The trick to engaging all different learning types during this process is to move back and forth between sensing and thinking, and watching and doing. By drawing upon the basic elements that comprise each learning type, a trainer effectively keeps all learners interested through all four parts of the learning process.

THE 4MAT MODEL IN THE CLASSROOM

From the training standpoint, the 4MAT model will force trainers to adapt to learning that does not correspond to their own learning type. This is when a trainer must “stretch” as a leader in the classroom, by adapting to other learner types that are foreign to their own. The authors offer the following examples for such stretching situations:

* If a trainer is a Type One learner, it will be easy to understand the need to personalize the value of the material. However, it will be difficult to move to the more practical application of the material that appeals to Type Three and Four learners. In this case, a trainer must stretch by speeding up the lesson to incorporate both.

* If a trainer is a Type Two learner, it will feel comfortable to analyze material and discuss as a group. When learners begin to spiral off into their individualized adaptation of the material, it may seem that the group is spinning out of the trainer’s control. A trainer must stretch to move past anxiety, and allow the group to take ownership of the material.

* If a trainer is a Type Three learner, it will be difficult to begin the learning process with engagement. The natural desire to take action and get the material into an activity will try to take over, but a trainer must stretch to ensure that learners are personally invested in the material before moving to action.

* If a trainer is a Type Four learner, it will feel natural to hand over the learning to the classroom early, so as to maximize the time for learners to explore possibilities. However, a trainer must stretch in this situation, and make sure to offer the proper structure for learners to grasp the concepts first.

Your Style and Your Training

Stretching to adapt to other learner styles is an essential component in any successful training environment. In order to do so effectively, it is important to analyze the strengths and the weaknesses of each type of learner as a trainer, and be able to feel confident in the ability to lead, train, and stretch as best as possible in every situation. The authors offer an overview of each learner style as a trainer in each step of the learningprocess:

Type One Learners as Trainers:

* Engage. Type One trainers excel in engaging their classroom or audience, and are able to have people connect to the opening dialogue about the material.

* Share. Type One trainers are adept at commanding the material, and staying on track. Talking and explaining is another strong point for type one trainers.

* Practice. Type One trainers are good at organizing workshops or practice sessions. However, they need to ensure that the workshops or practice transfers to understanding.

* Perform. Type One trainers are good with people, but this last stage of the learning process can cause anxiety. Things tend to move too quickly at this stage, and trainers here can get overwhelmed. It is important to remain on top of things.

Type Two Learners as Trainers:

* Engage. Type Two trainers are great storytellers, but this can be disadvantageous in the opening stage of the learning cycle. Creating an open dialogue instead of a storytelling atmosphere will be greatly beneficial.

* Share. Type Two trainers excel in the sharing stage of learning. The authors recommends creating an interactive atmosphere for sharing to take place, so that the learners are sufficiently involved in the Type Two trainer’s understanding of the material.

* Practice. Type Two trainers love to share and explore details, so this stage will work well for them. However, it is important to not get stuck in this stage as the last stage of the learning cycle.

* Perform. Type Two trainers are helpful when people need to adapt, but can pull back from the originality of learners in this final stage.

Type Three Learners as Trainers:

* Engage. Type Three trainers shy away from group learning, so this first stage will be difficult as a trainer. It can be helpful to have learners share their perceptions of the material in this first stage, in order to get everyone comfortable, and make lecturing flow.

* Share. Type Three trainers are not usually fond of lecturing, so in this stage it may be helpful to slow down, and write down a few key concepts to share with the classroom.

* Practice. Type Three trainers are patient and down to earth, so this stage will be the most natural. It is easy for type three trainers to break down material into small pieces, and make it accessible for learners in tasks.

* Perform. Type Three trainers are able to close out the learning cycle strong in this stage, with the ability to offer accessible strategies for learners to use in their own life. They should be careful not to discourage creativity for more “by the book” learning.

Type Four Learners as Trainers:

* Engage. Type Four trainers do not excel in the opening stage of learning, because they are too interested in how people perceive things. It will be most beneficial for these trainers to slow down, and allow participants enough time to become engaged with the material.

* Share. Type Four trainers know the background behind their material quite well, but they need to be careful not to breeze past this stage of thelearning cycle. It will be helpful to slow down, and let the participants share their thoughts about the material.

* Practice. Type Four trainers are fast as learners, so they are usually used to doing things their own way. Here, type four trainers will need to make sure that learners have all the help or resources they need to complete the practice stage.

* Perform. Type Four trainers strongly excel in the perform stage. They are able to create innovative projects, and inspire their audience into action.

GREAT TRAINING DESIGN: THE STEPS OF THE LEARNING CYCLE

The 4MAT Model identifies four types of individual learning styles, and guides these learners through the learning cycle. Taken in short, it is an easily applicable system that anyone can use. When analyzed closer, the 4MAT model is quite sophisticated. The authors based the model on the latest advances in neurological research, specifically in the findings between the left and the right mode of the brain:

* Left Mode–“Analysis”: The separation of a whole into its parts, or an examination of something complex into smaller, more understandable pieces. Operates in an investigative process, using language, experience, and numbers.

* Right Mode–“Synthesis”: The combination of elements to form a whole, large picture. Operates in a metaphorical process, using images, and patterns.

According to the authors, learners swing back and forth between analysis and synthesis throughout the learning process. In each of the aforementioned learning cycle stages–engage, share, practice, perform–is a two-step swing between the left mode, analysis, and the right mode, synthesis. The authors offer the following 8-step breakdown the learning cycle, with its corresponding swing step between analysis and synthesis:

  1. Engage: Connect–Create an experience (synthesize).
  2. Engage: Attend–Analyze an experience (analyze).
  3. Share: Image–Visualize a connection (synthesize).
  4. Share: Inform–Learn the expert knowledge (analyze).
  5. Practice: Practice–Hands-on interaction/learning with the material (analyze).
  6. Practice: Extend–Adapt to real-life, personal experiences (synthesize).
  7. Perform: Refine–Evaluate and take ownership of new material (analyze).
  8. Perform: Perform–Learners integrate knowledge into their own lives (synthesize).

During engage, a student swings back and forth between receiving information, and connecting to the information. During share, a student swings between listening to the information, and visualizing the information in personal experiences. During practice, a student tests out their new knowledge, while relating ways that the new knowledge will benefit their lives. During perform, a student swings between ownership of the new knowledge, and attempting to create an original version of the new knowledge in reference to their own lives.

THE 4MAT MODEL LESSON PLAN

There are four steps that should be followed when creating a lesson plan based on the 4MAT Model of learning:

1. Define the learner outcome. It is important to be clear about the specific knowledge and/or skills that a trainer wants a learner to master. The authors recommend asking the following questions to thoroughly define the anticipated results: What will the learner be able to do better? What new skills will the learner acquire? How will the learner be able to demonstrate what they learn?

2. Mindmap the content. It helps to envision the course content/material thoroughly, and with as much detail as possible. The authors suggest that a trainer’s mindmap should capture the “essence of the content,” the details that support the main ideas, and the relationships among them.

3. Determine the concept. Here, it is imperative that a trainer locates a central idea that will link the information/material to the learner’s lives. The authors recommend that trainers consider the learners, their backgrounds, the culture of the workplace or classroom, and what is going on around the world to find one “big idea.”

4. Complete the wheel. In the last part of the lesson plan, the trainer should go through the entire learning cycle, using the following steps: plan all necessary activities (lectures, maps, PowerPoint presentations), develop practice activities (worksheets, role-play), determine how learners will make personal connections to the material, consider how to help them connect emotionally/personally (storytelling, small group discussion), decide how the learners will process their personal insights, provide opportunities for learners to share their connections (portfolios, small presentations), develop an assessment tool for learners to test their knowledge (pop-quizzes, essays), and refine how the learners will ultimately reflect on the material when contrasting it with their own lives (group sharing of portfolio, essay, or group final comment sessions).

LEARNER OUTCOMES

In the first two phases of the learning cycle, engage and share, a learner is the receiver of information. In the last two phases, practice and perform, a learner becomes the producer of the information, and practices their new abilities. The power shifts from the trainer to the learner.

In most cases, the learning outcome should be immediate, and the learner should take ownership of the material as soon as it is time to practice and perform. However, there can sometimes be a “performance gap,” and the learner is not able to immediately take ownership of the new material. In these cases, a trainer should perform a gap analysis, to determine the gap between current knowledge level, and the desired knowledge level. A trainer can ask the following questions to define a performance gap:

* Are there gaps between the learner’s current skill levels and the required skill levels?

* What will the learners need to fully understand?

* What do the learners need to be able to do better?

* How will the learners be able to track their own progress?

EVALUATING YOUR RESULTS

Training evaluation can be measured in two ways: effectiveness, and efficiency.

Effectiveness relates to how well something works or performs. A trainer can measure results easily by contrasting the actual learning performance with the desired learning performance. It is important to have clear definitions of desired performance before the training.

Efficiency is concerned with the use of resources. As options for training continue to grow (e-learning, online classrooms), it becomes important for trainers to utilize the best use of resources to connect with their students. The more relevant their resources (online class forums, class PowerPoint presentations, a community blog), the more efficient their training will be in the minds of their students.

The authors note that there are always variables that trainers have no control over in learning situations, such as stressful workplaces, overcrowded classrooms, or a limited timeframe to deliver the material. The best they can do is attempt to create and deliver a powerful learning experience.

IMPROVING DELIVERY USING THE 4MAT MODEL

If a trainer sustains a high level of energy, they will be able to deliver an effective learning experience for learners. Using the four phases of thelearning cycle, the authors offer several ideas for keeping energy high in a training environment:

* Engage. Ask questions, allow for reflection, create a safe space for students, share experiences, move around the room to speak to students in their space–as opposed to standing in the front of the room only.

* Share. Divide the students into groups to discuss the material, encourage questions, validate all experiences with the material, and let people move around the room.

* Practice. Rearrange groups for new dialogue, create options to work solo or in groups for high rates of understanding, be accessible, check with the students to make sure they understand, and support the learning by being available to all students at all times.

* Perform. Change venues/locations for the learning, encourage learners to share their learning or observations, allow learners to assess other’s work, and ask for overall feedback from learners.

The best way to keep energy high in a training environment is to ask questions as much as possible. It is best to prepare a set of questions before training, so as to be as clear as possible. When a trainer asks the right questions

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CONSULTANT SKILLS

In many industries, it is a given that salespeople need business consultant skills to be effective. However, little has been done to try to define the level of consultant skills required. Some consider strategic-level discovery skills the definition of consultant skill. For others, understanding core operational strategy is required, and for others, the ability to conduct an executive-level sales call is the heart of being a consultative salesperson.Prismphil2

A study undertaken by Wilson Learning was an attempt to define different levels of sales and consultant skills and determine the relative business impact of providing these skills to salespeople. Salespeople in a large telecommunications company were divided into three groups; some received only basic sales training, some received initial consulting skills training, and the final group received advanced consulting skills training. The results showed that:

  • Salespeople with the initial consulting skills achieved a 22% higher sales quota than did salespeople with only basic sales skills.
  • Salespeople with advanced consulting skills were 21% higher than the initial consulting skills group, and over 49% higher than the salespeople with only basic sales skills.

The results provide strong support for the value of different levels of business consulting skills and the ability of an effective training process to transfer learning to job performance. By knowing their customers as a business and by understanding their customers’ success factors and processes, salespeople can position their offering in a way that links to their customers’ vision and strategy and, as a result, sell more.

Business Consulting Skills

A quick look at the literature on sales training shows many definitions for the term “consultant skills.” For some, being a consultant means having the ability to uncover the customer’s needs and expectations before presenting a solution, rather than just presenting features and benefits in hopes that the customer will respond. For others, sales consultant skills mean that salespeople have an in-depth knowledge of business processes and can hold their own in strategic discussions with CEOs and CFOs.

Such was the dilemma of a large telecommunications organization. They sold voice and data telecommunications services to other large organizations—a highly complex product in a highly competitive market. Their salespeople needed consultant skills, but having the right level of skills was critical to their success. Therefore, Wilson Learning partnered with this organization to study the relative impact of three levels of consultant skills on sales performance.

Levels of Consultant Skills

For the purpose of the study, we defined levels of sales/consultant skills and provided different groups of salespeople with training for each of the levels:

Basic Sales Skills These salespeople received sales skill training focused on questioning and listening skills for identifying customer needs, but not specific consultant skills.
Level 1 Consultant Skills These salespeople received training on the above skills plus specialized skills associated with managing the consultative process:

  • A structured process for establishing a consultative relationship
  • A model for probing clients on strategic issues and how to link those issues to the capabilities of their products
Level 2 Consultant Skills These salespeople received the Basic Sales Skills and Level 1 Consultant Skills training above, plus received specialized advanced consulting skills training:

  • Analysis of the impact of switching costs on a customer’s buying decision
  • How to analyze a customer’s value chain
  • How to determine industry and customer critical success factors
  • How to have a strategy-level discussion with senior executives

As a result, we had three groups of salespeople, two with differing levels of consulting skills. We expected that, because of the complexity of the company’s products and the strategic nature of the business relationship with their clients, the Level 1 consulting skills would benefit the salespeople, but that Level 2 skills were really required for high performance. Therefore, our expectation was that the group with Level 1 Consultant Skills would perform better than those with Basic Sales Skills, and that the salespeople with Level 2 Consultant Skills would perform the best of the three groups.

The Study

In total, 128 salespeople in a large telecommunications company took part in this study—approximately 40 salespeople in each of the three groups above. All of the salespeople represented the same types of products and called on the same types of customers. In addition, these groups were matched on a variety of performance characteristics prior to training to ensure that any differences after training could be attributed to their differing consulting skills, not to other factors.

The Performance Measurement

To prove the impact of consulting skills on the company, a strategically important performance measure was needed—not just a change in perception or attitude, but a real bottom-line outcome. Therefore, for this study we measured the percent of the sales quota achieved. The implementation of the training coincided with the organization’s fiscal year, so each salesperson started the study at zero and measures were taken every three months (each quarter).

Improving consulting skills would not have much value if performance improved for only a few months and then diminished. Therefore, for this study we collected the performance data not just for three months following the training, but over a full 12-month period. The data was grouped by fiscal quarters and represented the following periods associated with the study.

1st quarter

Pre-training Baseline period

2nd quarter

Immediate Post-training period

3rd quarter

Short-term Post-training period

4th quarter

Sustained Post-training period

By measuring performance in this way we accomplished two things. First, we have a before-training baseline to ensure that all three groups of salespeople were performing at the same level. Second, we have up to nine months of data after the training. This should be enough to demonstrate that the results are sustainable over the long term.

Findings

Percentage of Quota Achieved over Four Quarters

Results of this study provide convincing evidence that the consulting skills had a significant impact on performance. The graph at right shows the percentage of quota achieved for all four quarters for the three groups of salespeople.

Pre-training Baseline

All three groups had similar performance during the first three months before training began, as shown by the Pre-training baseline period in the graph. Thus, the groups were about equal at the beginning, and differences after that could be largely attributed to the training.

Immediate Post-training

Differences began to emerge immediately after the training. In the Immediate Post-training period, both the Level 1 and Level 2 Consultant Skills groups had achieved a greater amount of their quota than the Basic Sales Skills group. The Level 2 Consultant Skills group had achieved 11% more of their quota (43% of quota) and the Level 1 Consultant Skills group 4% more (36% of quota) than did the salespeople who were only given basic sales skills training (32% of quota).

Short-term Post-training

By the third quarter, four to six months after the training, the three groups were distinctly different. The Basic Sales Skills group had achieved about 50% of their quota for the year. While year-to-year comparisons are difficult to make, this was ahead of the previous year’s performance, possibly due to the new sales skills.

In contrast, the Level 1 Consulting Skills group had achieved 63% of their quota for the year. Clearly, the Level 1 consulting skills were having a positive impact on performance, with the Level 1 Consulting Skills group outperforming the Basic Sales Skills group by over 25%. Even more impressive, the Level 2 Consulting Skills group had achieved 73% of their quota by the end of the third quarter, exceeding the Basic Sales Skills group’s performance by over 45%, and exceeding the Level 1 Consulting Skills group by over 15%.

Sustained Post-training

By the fourth, and final, quarter of the study, the value and impact of consultant skills is clearly evident. The Basic Sales Skills group achieved about 86% of their initial quota. This was not uncommon for this organization, which at that time typically set initial sales quotas high relative to the previous year’s performance. Quotas were viewed more as “stretch goals” for salespeople, and 75–85% of quota achieved at the end of the year was typical.

In contrast, both consultant skills groups exceeded 100% of their initial quota. The Level 1 Consultant Skills group achieved about 105% of their initial quota, or about 22% over the performance of the Basic Sales Skills group. The Level 2 Consultant Skills group achieved 128% of their initial quota, about a 49% performance improvement over the Basic Sales Skills group and a 21% improvement over the Level 1 Consultant Skills group.

Conclusions

The results show that, for this organization, the Level 2 (advanced) consultant skills had the greatest and most sustained impact on sales performance. With just the Level 1 (consulting process) skills, sales performance was greater than the Basic Sales Skills group, but the level of improvement was relatively flat after the 3rd quarter (short-term post-training period).

In contrast, the advantage of the advanced consultant skills continued to grow through the final quarter of the study, relative to the performance of the Basic Sales Skills group. The advanced consultant skills group performed 34% better after the 2nd quarter, 46% better after the 3rd quarter, and 49% better after the 4th quarter. In other words, the value of the advanced consultant skills continued to grow through, and probably beyond, the end of the study.

The results suggest that the consulting process skills gave the salespeople a greater ability to discover clients’ needs at a deeper level. They were also better able to apply the consultative process to more effectively guide clients to a decision and an implementation of the solution. However, the value of these skills leveled off relatively quickly; the Level 1 salespeople lacked the advanced skills needed to understand their clients’ strategic needs and bring solutions that address their critical success factors.

In contrast, the salespeople with the advanced consultant skills had skills to analyze their clients’ underlying business objectives and bring solutions to the table that address strategic operational goals of the organization. Further, they were able to bring their analysis of the client’s strategic needs to the CEO and CFO and enhance their credibility with executives by addressing their needs and expectations. As a result, the advanced consultant skills allowed their performance to continue to accelerate throughout the entire 12-month period. In fact, the trajectory of the performance curve suggests that their performance continued to climb well beyond the 12 months of this study.

The consultant skills allowed salespeople to do a number of things that the basic sales skills did not prepare salespeople for. Consultant skills allow salespeople to establish a consultative relationship, uncover more strategic needs and expectations, develop deeper business-to-business relationships, link their product to the client’s underlying process and value chain, and more effectively conduct strategic-level discussions with senior executives. The data from this study provides strong evidence that consultant skills—and especially the more advanced consultant skills—are powerful tools for improving sales performance when addressing the complex selling environment.

Affinity for Ideation

Affinity Clustering and Ideation.LATERAL THINKING

  1. Evaluative OVOC
  2. Generative OVOC
    1. Affinity Clustering
    2. Using Affinity Clustering with OVOC Data
    3. The Ideation Session

1. Evaluative OVOC

For an evaluative OVOC, it can be straightforward to integrate your findings into your next prototype iteration or develop design ideas for offering improvements. Follow the following steps:

  • Print out your prototype or current solution: If your evaluation is of a prototype, print it in large format so you can hang it on the wall of your ideation room. For websites or apps, print each screen. If it’s a business process like order-to-cash use the as-is process map instead. If it’s a physical product, print a large format picture of it.
  • Print out your Roses, Thorns and Buds: Print out the output of your debrief sessions on post-its. For a small project you can hand write them, but for larger projects, purchase printable post-its and print them as outlined in the executing OVOC section.
  • Group the Roses, Thorns and Buds on the prototype: Stick each Rose, Thorn and Bud on the prototype printout next to the section each pertain to. Overlap duplicates to give yourself more space on the wall.
  • Create a separate affinity with the system-wide Roses, Thorns and Buds: As described in the last section, you likely have a set of Roses, Thorns and Buds that aren’t specific to a particular part of the offering, but pertain to system-wide or work practice observations. Use these to create a separate small affinity (se next section for details).
  • Address design changes: Gather your design team and have them read through the system-wide affinity first. Then, address each section of the prototype or process in turn, deciding on design changes that you will make. Record each design change. Since each Rose, Thorn and Bud is uniquely numbered via the template, you can optionally track exactly which customer data points motivated each design change.

 . Generative OVOC

Like OVOC interviewing itself, there are a variety of ways to analyze the data that is produced. And like OVOC, for our implementation is PMT, we are simplifying the analysis process for standardization and ease of teaching. We will adopt the following progression of tools:

  • Affinity Clustering
  • Optionally,Personas and Experience Diagramming
  • Concept Ideation

 

2.1       Affinity Clustering

 

Affinity Clustering (or Affinity Analysis) is one of the most versatile and useful data analysis tools in the HUE toolbox. Affinity is a process to meaningfully cluster observations and insights from qualitative research and draw out common themes. The affinity diagram organizes all of the key issues and visually shows the scope of the problems and opportunities.

The original idea harks back to the Japanese quality movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s – you may hear it referred to as “KJ Analysis” after Jiro Kawakita, who first developed it. Affinity features prominently in both the Six Sigma and Lean UX movements.

A sample section from a small affinity is shown here. Each of the post-its represents data points – in your case they will be individual Roses, Buds and Thorns from your OVOCs.

Note that the individual data points are grouped together and labeled by some aspect of their meaning that is important for this team: “Organization,” “Error Handling and Prevention,” “Language,” etc.  These are the threads of meaning that emerged in this analysis – as will become clearer below, this team did not start the analysis with these groups, the groups emerged from the affinity analysis process itself.

For small affinities having fewer than about 50 data points, this kind of single-level analysis works well. For larger analyses—especially analyzing OVOC data, the affinity needs extra layers of hierarchy.

An example portion of one of these multi-level affinities is shown here, taken from a UOP project on contractor use of UOP’s Schedule A engineering package. Here, each yellow post-it came from an OVOC debrief session. Note that each data point is uniquely identified with a user number and a note number within the debrief session (e.g. “U14-9” in the middle column is the 9th note captured in the debrief from User 14’s OVOC). Your notes will look the same, except each post it will be prefaced with “Rose”, “Bud” or “Thorn.” In this affinity, the individual first-level clusters are labeled by the blue post-it text. Likewise, the blue post-its are also clustered and are labeled by the second-level pink post-its. Typically, a third level is also included in these larger affinities.

You can think of the resulting affinity as a giant upside-down tree, with the third-level labels representing the trunk, the second-level pink labels representing large thick branches, the first-level blue post-its representing the small branches, and the individual data points as the leaves. The main point of the analysis is the threads and patterns that make up the first-, second- and third-level labels. These explicitly show the issues and opportunities contained in the OVOC data you collected and how they’re tied to individual groups of direct customer observations.

Note that the label post-its are written in first person. For example, as shown here, “We use the ‘live’ aspect of Smart Plant over the life of our project” is written as if it were the users speaking to us off of the affinity. Writing the cluster labels in the voice of the customer increases the impact for your stakeholders who will use the affinity for ideation later.

Using Affinity Clustering has a number of advantages. When constructed in teams, like the debrief meeting, it is a social innovation mechanism. The process of going through the analysis in a team setting often leads to innovative insights that are a product of both immersion in the data that’s been collected and the team interaction around it.

In addition, creating the affinity is inductive reasoning process that drives systemic thinking and helps the team identify opportunities that are not obvious. The affinity diagram is created from the bottom-up, and the threads embodied in the first-, second- and third-level labels emerge as part of the analysis process. Affinity is an exercise in recognizing patterns from individual points – inductive thinking. It is not a deductive exercise in sorting individual observations into predetermined categories. Encouraging inductive thinking is a key tool for helping teams identify and explore new opportunities.

Lastly, the affinity is a powerful tool for idea creation and communication. It plays a key part in grounding your later brainstorming in the actual customer observations as described in the section on ideation. It can also be used as an easily digestible summary of your team’s observations and findings for stakeholders. Many teams hang their affinity in their work areas or conference rooms as a handy reference to go back to over the life of their project.

2.2       Using Affinity Clustering with OVOC Data

Whether you are conducting a quick, small affinity or a multi-level affinity from OVOC data, the process for constructing the affinity is similar.

Follow these steps to create the affinity:

  • Reserve a room with enough space: You’ll need a conference room-sized space with plenty of wall space. Make sure you are allowed to tape or affix paper to the walls in this room. Take into consideration the number of team members and make sure the space is large enough to accommodate.
  • Creating an affinity with more than about 250-300 notes will take more than a day, so make sure you can leave your work in progress in place overnight.
  • Print out your Roses, Thorns and Buds: Print out the output of your debrief sessions on post-its. For a small project you can hand write them, but for larger projects, purchase printable post-its and print them as outlined in the section on Executing OVOC
  • Collect materials and prepare room: Make sure you have the following materials:
    • 1 roll of 36” wide white butcher paper
    • 1 roll of blue painter’s masking tape
    • 5-10 packages of 3×3 blue post-its for first-level affinity labels
    • 3-5 packages of pink post-its for second-level affinity labels
    • 1 package of green post-its for third-level affinity labels
    • 1 box medium blue Sharpies

To prepare the room, cover the walls with the butcher paper, tacking each sheet vertically with the masking tape. Overlap the paper an inch or two but don’t tape the individual sheets together.

Build the affinity: A three-level affinity is built in three stages. First, you will get all of the notes on the wall and grouped. After all of the notes are grouped, you will write first level labels. Then, you’ll cluster these first level labels and write second and third level

Stage 1: Get the notes up and grouped

 

Get the team together and hand each participant three sheets of post-its. Have each team member familiarize themselves with the sheets they have.

The first part of the affinity is done out loud. Start with any random note – a team member puts it on the wall and reads it off. Then, all team members look at their post-its to identify if they have another post-it that seems to be similar. When a team member finds one, s/he reads it off and sticks it directly beneath the first one. Repeat until no other post-its seem related. Then start a new column and repeat. Do this as a team and start slowly until the team gets the hang of it – it might take 20 or 30 post-its in 5 or 6 columns or so. During this start up period, make sure you’re placing one note at a time and the team member placing it reads it aloud.

At this point, do not worry about whether the post-it is a Rose, Thorn or Bud – just group them without regard to the type of note it is. You can look at the patterns of where the different types of notes end up later.

 

For small single-level affinities, this “out loud” mode can continue until all of the notes are placed. In this case, after all notes are placed, you can rearrange the groups until the team is satisfied, then simply label the groups. For fewer than about 50 or 60 notes, this is probably all you need to complete the affinity.

For larger affinities, you’ll continue the grouping portion, but once the team is comfortable, switch to more of an individual approach. Notes no longer need to be read out loud, and everyone can put notes up in tandem.

Some rules and guidelines for this stage:

  • Put up post-its in groups without too much justification or rationalization. This is where the word “affinity” comes in – it’s just like when you say you have an affinity with someone. You don’t know why, you just get along. We’re doing the same thing with the post-it notes at this stage.
  • No one owns a post-it or group, and anyone can move any post-it for any reason. In this way, groups constantly form and re-form. The team’s collective understanding gets baked in this way, and the clustering becomes truly owned by the team.
  • If two team members are moving a Post-it back and forth, stop and talk about it. If moving the Post-it helps to create a new group, then move it. If not, it doesn’t matter where the post-it goes, because ultimately the labels are what capture the new understanding anyway. There is no “right” place for any one post-it.
  • Hold off labeling the columns as long as you can – as soon as labels go up, our brains move too easily into category-sorting, deductive mode. For very large affinities, if you have to write temporary labels before you get all of the labels on the wall, go ahead and do so.

Stage 2: Write first-level labels

 

Labels tell the story of the data in the columns – they concisely capture the distinction that ties a group of notes together. And as described above, we write them in the first person, as if the customer or end-user were speaking to us from the affinity.  The next step is to write these labels.

At this point, you should have all the post-its on the wall, some in very long columns, some in shorter ones. Start by breaking very long columns up into groups of no more than 4-6 notes. Usually the longer columns that form in the first stage have several thoughts or distinctions buried in them. Break these out first, then write labels for the resulting groups.

Here are rules and guidelines for writing labels:

  • Common practice is to use blue post-its for first level labels.
  • Write labels in the first person, as if the customer or end-user were speaking.
  • Good labels create a story relevant to design.  The affinity is created to support design thinking. So the labels should be written from that point of view. Capture issues that are important to the user and that have design significance—in other words, that change the way you think about designing your offering.
  • Good first-level labels capture the issue that ties the individual notes beneath them together with enough detail so you don’t need to read the individual notes themselves. So don’t write “About” labels, like “This is about Smart Plant.” These labels force you to read the individual notes to find out anything interesting. Instead, move the meaningful distinction up into the label itself, like “We all use Smart Plant because we think it’s the industry standard.”
  • Aim for a maximum of 4-6 data points per labeled group. Singles are allowable if they carry a very significant point that is design relevant that you don’t want lost. But try to limit these “singletons” as much as possible.

It sometimes helps teams that are new to affinity to break apart the groups and write labels in pairs, but the usual practice is to do this individually. If you notice a teammate really struggling with a part of the affinity, you can switch sections with them.

Stage 3: Second- and third-level organization and labels

 

The next stage is simply a repeat of the clustering-labeling process, but this time with the blue first-level labels as the things to be clustered. In practice, this is much easier than the first level labels because many clusters that are similar are already near each other on the wall.

However, there is always the possibility that similar issues have arisen in separate areas of the emerging diagram. So your first step should be to have the team read through the first-level labels looking for clusters of blue first level labels that should go together but might be far apart on the wall.

After this, write second level labels that cluster and call out distinctions in groups of blue first level labels.

And lastly, write third-level labels that group entire sections of second level issues.

Many of the rules from first-level labels apply to second- and third-level labels, with just a few differences:

  • Common practice is to use pink post-its for second-level labels, and green post-its for third-level labels.
  • Aim for no more than 8 blue first-level groups per pink second-level label, and no more than 8 pink second-level groups per green third-level label.
  • “About” labels are okay at the second and third levels, as your constituents will already have read the first level labels.

Once your affinity is completed, you can capture the entire diagram in a Microsoft Word document. The biggest manual task involved is typing in the handwritten labels – cutting and pasting the individual notes goes surprisingly quickly. Once typed in, using Outline View, Word will allow the user to expand and collapse specific labels, and also allow display of the entire affinity at either first, second or third level.

2.2.3       Personas and More Advanced Models

Personas can also be constructed from your OVOC debrief notes and the affinity. There is a separate PMT Workshop and Handbook for Personas.

You should also use your OVOC data and affinity diagram to update the Touchpoint, Stakeholder and Experience Maps you created during the Kickoff Workshop. By this point, you have likely validated many of your predictions, but likely also discovered new touchpoints, stakeholders and details about both.

There are also a set of separate Contextual Design models that can be used, but we are not recommending them for PMT at this time.

 

2.3       The Ideation Session

This section gives a quick overview of Ideation – the process of creating and prioritizing ideas from your collected data. It’s a quick summary; for more information, there is a separate PMT Workshop for Ideation.

There are many ways to run an Ideation session, but this section summarizes a few important best practices.

Whatever method you use for Ideation, careful planning is crucial for a successful session.

Selecting a stakeholder team:

 

Make sure you have the right stakeholders in the room for the session. “The right stakeholders” means several things.

First, make sure you get the right expertise. This means having the right mix of development, engineering, finance, marketing, etc. to cover the kinds of ideas you’re looking to generate in your session. This mix will be project dependent. For example, an iterative project on a website will require design, development, marketing and IT, while an order to cash project might need credit, collections, sales, customer service, etc.

You also need the right personalities. Be realistic here. Ideation requires suspension of disbelief, an ability to withhold criticism until the proper time, and thinking outside the norms of current convention. There are those in your organization who can do this, and there are those who simply cannot. You know the difference. Take this into consideration.

Finally, you need the right political mix. Again depending on the project, make sure you have decision-makers who can commit to taking the next step, and make sure you don’t exclude people who can kill forward progress with a word.

Aim for no more than 8 or so people in an Ideation session. More people means it’s usually harder to manage and less creative overall. Resist the tendency for people to just forward the meeting notification to everyone they think might be mildly interested.

These constraints can all conflict, so realize that there is no perfect mix. But it definitely pays dividends to think about your invitations ahead of time.

Preparing the Room:

 

You want all of your OVOC data in the room, so like in the OVOC case, make sure you have a room with enough room for the participants to move around, enough wall space to contain your data, and that you can tape things to the walls.

At minimum, hang your affinity and personas (if you have them) on the walls of the room. Optionally, you can hang your stakeholder map, touchpoint map and/or experience maps as well, but usually affinity and personas work well by themselves.

Gather the following materials for your session:

  • 1 package of 3 x 5 yellow post-its per participant
  • 1 box blue medium Sharpies
  • Sticky flags or adhesive dots
  • A flipchart with flipchart paper

 

“Walking” the OVOC data:

 

The first step in Ideation is to immerse all of the participants in the OVOC data that your team collected. Do this by “walking the wall,” giving the entire team a chance to review the affinity and personas.

We take the time to read the data before brainstorming because we want the ideas that come out of the session to be grounded in the reality of what we found. Some people will still come into your session with their own pre-conceived ideas about solution direction, but at the very least you want to sensitize participants to what was found.

Give each stakeholder a pack of 3 x 5 post-its and a Sharpie to record design ideas, insights and questions while they read the affinity and personas. Write ideas, one per post-it, and stick them to the affinity and personas next to the part of the data that spawned the idea.

It should take your stakeholders about an hour to read through your affinity and personas, but this will obviously depend on the scope and number of your OVOCs.

These are best practices for “walking the wall” and immersing the team in the collected observations:

 

 

  • Try to create ideas that address higher-level labels in the affinity. It’s relatively easy to come up with one-off ideas that can “fix” any particular Thorn, but these low-level ideas are usually not high value, breakthrough innovations. Instead, try to think more systemically and drive your design ideas to address larger issues in your collected data. The affinity supports this holistic thinking explicitly – by driving up the label hierarchy, you’re forcing yourself to be more systemic with your ideas.
  • Do your reading in silence – think of this as an “art gallery” like experience. This respects the diversity of thinking types that you may have in your group. Some people think by talking, but many more need to concentrate to weave the threads together in their minds about what they’re reading and responding to. The brainstorming step that is coming next is where we discuss – right now it’s more of an individual exercise.
  • After the wall walk, summarize your team’s impression. Have a moderator stand in front of the flipchart and have team members offer the big issues they saw in the affinity and the personas.
  • In addition to summarizing the big issues in the customer data, you may also want to remind the team about the technological and business model capabilities that you can bring to bear as well. Technologies can be business-specific (e.g. “modular equipment,” “Aclar”) or generically available (e.g. “voice interface,” “Bluetooth”). Do this immediately after the customer data summary.

Brainstorming solutions – The diverge step:

 

Once your team is immersed in the data, you’re ready for brainstorming. Good brainstorming is a distinct two step process – the first is to create as many ideas as possible and the second is to evaluate and prioritize these solutions and narrow them down to the best and most actionable ideas.

The easiest and most straightforward way to brainstorm is to assign a moderator to record the team’s ideas. The moderator stands in front of the flipchart and records ideas team has. Standard brainstorming rules apply here – add to others’ ideas, don’t criticize or evaluate at this point, etc.

 

The PMT Workshop on Ideation also sometimes makes use of two other LUMA tools, Round Robin and Creative Matrix.

Prioritizing solutions – The converge step:

The simplest and most straightforward prioritization method is multivoting – LUMA calls this Visualize the Vote.

To run multivoting, follow these steps:

  • Give each stakeholder a small number of post-it flags or dots (typically 3 but can vary)
  • Tell them to decide on the ideas they think best meet these criteria: fit with the organization’s capabilities, fit with the organization’s business model, and fit with the organization’s cultural safe zone.
  • Once everyone has decided in their heads, each person places the flags on the flipchart next to the ideas they want to vote for.
  • Tally the votes.
  • Optionally, do successive run-offs.

Importance/Difficulty Matrix:

You can also plot your ideas on a flipchart against two axes. The horizontal axis represents how large an impact the solution would have on the customer experience, and the vertical axis represents how difficult that solution is to implement.

Exploring relationships between the ideas on this landscape can help the team prioritize solutions as well as create a roadmap for which ideas to address in which order.

More detail on Round Robin, Creative Matrix and Importance/Difficulty Matrix are given in the PMT Ideation Workshop.

Sales Management

Creating effective sales managers has been a long-term problem for many organizations. Promoting highly effective salespeople to the role of sales manager seems to fail as often as it succeeds, and there is little documented evidence of sales managers’ independent contribution to organizational value.IMG_6678

This paper reports on research Wilson Learning has completed regarding the role of sales manager skills in predicting the performance of a company’s sales force. Our research shows a 29% increase in top-line performance due to the skills of sales managers, independent of the skills of their salespeople. This research was done in cooperation with five separate organizations who, like you, share a concern for the impact and effectiveness of sales managers.

Sales as a Source of Competitive Advantage?

It is an all-too-common story. A top-flight salesperson is promoted to sales manager, but the organization soon discovers that the skills and perspectives that made this person a top salesperson are not contributing to this person’s success as a sales manager and may, in fact, be preventing this person’s success.

In our experience, the failure to make this transition from effective salesperson to effective sales manager is in part due to some critical situational differences. As the following chart shows, the environment in which salespeople tend to thrive is vastly different from the environment of a sales manager.

Salespeople: Sales Managers:
Have clear, direct measures of success—revenue, quota achievement, etc. Have vague or indirect measures of success (their salespeople’s performance)
Have clearly defined work parameters—execute on the sales process Either have a vague sales manager process, or no management process at all
Have a clear understanding of how they contribute organizational value—revenue Don’t have a clear definition of how they add value for the organization independent of the value contributed by their salespeople
Have clear periodic recognition of performance—wins! Have no clear periodic performance recognition—it all tends to come at the end of the year
Hate rules and spend much of their time getting around them to serve customers Are required to enforce the rules they once hated

© Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc.

As a result, many sales managers fall back on old sales behaviors. The common practice of compensating sales managers based solely on their salespeople’s revenue contributes to this tendency. They become “Super Closers” or take a “Heroic Manager” role and start managing client relationships at the first sign of trouble. These behaviors and others can undermine the motivation and credibility of their salespeople. This not only lowers the motivation of their high-potential salespeople, but also makes it more difficult to identify and remove ineffective salespeople. In such a scenario, sales managers don’t add unique value to the organization and may actually take away from their salespeople’s own feelings of value and success, decreasing their satisfaction and connection to the organization.

So, what is the value of sales management to an organization, and how can you quantify the impact sales managers have on organizational performance? Answering these questions was the purpose of this series of studies. From our research, we have concluded that a sales manager’s ability to lead does contribute uniquely to the performance and competitiveness of his or her organization.

Proving the Impact of Sales Management Skills on Performance

Over the past several years, Wilson Learning has had the opportunity to work closely with a number of organizations to uncover the sources of competitive advantage residing in their salespeople and sales managers. We have also had the opportunity to collect sales performance data for many of these companies to analyze the impact of sales management skills. This paper reports on five of those organizations to independently show that effective sales management skills are improving these organizations’ financial performance and customer success.

Working with organizations to identify a core set of sales management skills for creating competitive advantage is one thing, but demonstrating the relationship between these skills and business performance is another. Verifying this relationship is essential if these skills are to become part of an organization’s sales strategy. Therefore, we worked in partnership with five organizations who were willing to:

  • Provide us with access to all of their sales force, or a complete division’s sales force, for this study.
  • Share performance data for each of the sales groups involved. For this study, we wanted a performance measure that could be applied relatively universally, so we utilized percent of annual quota achieved.
  • Administer surveys both within their organization and with their customers to measure customer satisfaction and sales management skills.

We previously reported on our work with these five organizations in our study, Sales as a Source of Competitive Advantage. This report looks specifically at the effects of sales manager skills, while the previous report examined the effectiveness of salespeople. Because we measured both salesperson and sales manager skills in the same study, we were able to isolate the effects of each. We have reported on them separately to make each paper more concise and specific.

These clients view our work with them as one of their own sources of strategic advantage; needless to say, we cannot identify who they are or where they operate. However, we can indicate that they all compete in one of three vertical markets: life sciences, professional services, or financial services.

Assessing Sales Management Skills

The skill requirements of first-line sales managers will vary according to an organization’s market and sales process. In our research, we have found that effective sales managers don’t fulfill one role, but play four critical roles within the organization:

  • Sales Tactician/Business Operations Management: In the role of tactician, sales managers use their business management skills to operate their sales group like a business, managing the sales group’s P/L, creating forecasts, and setting priorities.
  • Sales Strategist: In the role of strategist, sales managers set a vision for the sales group, define a solution strategy for their market, and align strategic resources in the organization to support sales strategy.
  • Contributor: In the role of contributor, sales managers use their business and product knowledge and experience to make needed decisions, and use their creativity and innovation capabilities to align the sales group on common objectives.
  • Facilitator: In the role of facilitator, sales managers use communication, negotiation, and team leadership skills to manage a group of salespeople.

For these studies, we developed a 35-item sales leadership survey that determined the sales managers’ current performance on behaviors associated with these four skill clusters. This survey was administered as a 360-degree feedback system. In other words, input into each manager’s performance was gathered from the manager’s salespeople, executive manager, peers, and the manager him- or herself. This measurement system is called the Sales Manager Navigator because it combines measurement with development planning, coaching, and a results interpretation workshop to help sales managers “navigate” their way to improved performance.

Measuring Sales Performance

For most organizations, sales performance is multi-dimensional. That is, they view several outcomes as important to overall sales performance. To show the full effect of the sales manager’s skills, we measured three critical components of sales performance:

  • Sales Revenue: Given the wide diversity of the organizations, we examined sales revenue through the percent of quota each salesperson achieved. This allowed us to compare equitably across the five organizations, where there was a wide range of product costs and average sales price.
  • Customer Satisfaction: Many organizations consider customer satisfaction to be at least as important as revenue. In previous research, our measures of customer satisfaction have predicted things like customer retention, repurchasing, and sales per year. Thus, while independent of the revenue measure, customer satisfaction was measured as an indicator of long-term sales performance.
  • Salesperson Satisfaction: One of the key jobs of sales managers is to motivate and retain their high-performance salespeople. Therefore, we included in this study a measure of employee satisfaction that in previous research has been linked to outcomes such as salesperson retention, job tenure, performance, and other measures that indicate important business outcomes.

The studies were all conducted in the same way:

  • We created a survey that measured core sales management skills. The survey consisted of 35 questions that had previously been assessed as reliable and valid measures of these skills. (More detail on the validation of all the measures is available.)
  • The surveys were distributed as a 360-degree feedback system. That is, the surveys were completed by salespeople, sales executives, and sales managers and their peers.
  • The organization provided us with each salesperson’s quota achievement from the previous 12 months.
  • We distributed a customer satisfaction survey to the organizations’ customers to create a Customer Satisfaction Index (CSI). This CSI had been previously assessed as a reliable and valid measure of customer satisfaction.
  • Salespeople were also asked to complete an employee satisfaction survey to generate an Employee Satisfaction Index (ESI). This ESI had also been previously assessed as a reliable and valid measure of employee satisfaction.

To prove the link between sales management skills and the three measures of performance, we used a technique known as multiple regression analysis. In brief, the analysis results in a percentage (referred to as R2) between 1.00 and 0.00. This number indicates what percent of sales performance can be predicted by knowing the skills of sales managers. The higher the R2, the more impact sales managers have on sales performance.

Findings

Results of this study provide convincing evidence that a sales manager’s skills are a strong predictor of all three sales performance measures. That is, managers with stronger sales leadership skills had higher revenue, greater customer satisfaction, and salespeople who were personally more satisfied.

Percent of sales performance predicted by sales management skills

We cannot show you actual performance measures, both because this was confidential information and there was wide variety across the five organizations in the revenue data, but we can show the general pattern of results from these five studies. The graph shows the percent difference in Revenue, ESI, and CSI for sales managers with high skill ratings when compared to sales managers with low skill ratings. The high-skill sales managers had 29% higher revenue performance, 47% higher employee satisfaction (ESI), and 16% higher customer satisfaction (CSI) than did sales managers with low skill ratings.

It is important to note that this relationship to revenue and customer satisfaction is independent of salesperson skills. Said another way, we statistically factored out the effects that could be attributed to differences in the skills of the salespeople. Thus, what this graph tells us is that, in addition to the effect that salesperson skills have on revenue performance (reported in a separate study), the manager’s skills can add another 29% on top of that. It is no surprise that the effect was strongest on salesperson satisfaction (ESI), because this is the characteristic most directly affected by a manager’s abilities to lead. It is also interesting that the manager’s skills have a positive influence on customer satisfaction, even though managers have little direct contact with customers.

Percent of sales performance predicted by sales skills by company
Study Group Revenue Employee
Satisfaction
Customer
Satisfaction
Optical Devices 64% 64% 11%
Legal Services 27% 58% 25%
Business Insurance 24% 45% 9%
Architectural Services 20% 59% 11%
Building Control Systems 11% 9% 26%
Average 29% 47% 16%

© Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc.

Differences Across Organizations

There were also interesting differences among the organizations in how much the sales manager skills predicted the sales performance measures. As the next table shows, the proportion of revenue accounted for by the sales manager skills ranged from a high of 64% to a low of 11%. Employee satisfaction ranged from 64% to 9%, and customer satisfaction from a high of 26% to a low of 9%.

Thus, the sales process, industry, and market greatly affect how much impact sales managers’ skills have on sales performance. The impact can be very great in an industry like the optical devices company, but tends to be more moderate in some of the other industries. These results show the importance of analyzing the roles and responsibilities of sales managers before providing sales management training.

What is the Cost of Poor Sales Management?

These studies demonstrate the impact that effective sales leadership skills can have on revenue performance, customer satisfaction, and employee satisfaction. The value of effective sales management is in sharp contrast to the costs of ineffective sales management. A senior sales manager in one of the companies we work with made this comment: “In my experience, the cost of a single bad District Manager promotion is in the millions!” What are the costs of making a poor manager promotion decision? Here are a few of the costs you incur when you take an effective salesperson out of the field and make him or her an ineffective sales manager:

  • Loss from transitioning the customer base: Bringing in a salesperson to handle the manager’s former accounts always results in some stalling or reduction in revenue from that account.
  • Salesperson attrition: It does not take long for salespeople to see when a sales manager will not help them in building business, and the best salespeople will move quickly to either another sales division or another company.
  • Reduced salesperson effectiveness: When managers take a heroic approach, or provide limited guidance, the remaining salespeople are de-motivated and their performance drops.
  • Loss of good will in the marketplace: As salespeople leave and customers begin dealing with a string of temporary salespeople, they lose faith in the vendor.
  • Harder to hire: Replacing salespeople who leave becomes harder and more expensive as the reputation of that sales manager gets more widely known.

This study shows that effective first-line sales managers have a direct, and independent, impact on revenue. Also, because effective sales leadership leads to more satisfied salespeople and customers, this impact is sustained over the long term. The differences among the organizations studied further points out the necessity of analyzing the role of sales managers prior to implementing training and development. While the desired outcomes of effective sales management are clear, the specific “hats” that sales managers are expected to wear differ greatly from organization to organization. You need to first carefully consider your expectations of your sales managers and the skills and competencies required to meet these expectations.

Additional Resources

This additional article is available from Wilson Learning Worldwide:

Sales as a Source of Competitive Advantage

Business Performance, Employee Satisfaction, and Leadership Practices

Regaining and Regaining the Advantage: Advancing the Organization Through Sales and Sales Management

The Statistical Adequacy of the Sales Navigator

GLOBAL VERSATILITY

Perhaps the most common, and most important, forms of rapid thought we have are the judgments we make about other people. Upon meeting people, wecropped-prism-philosophy1.png make countless conclusions about what they are thinking and feeling, and make predictions about what they will do or say next. This is human nature and universal. However, when interacting cross-culturally, these conclusions can often be misleading and the assumptions we make can be wrong, sometimes with drastic effects. For example, consider the salesperson who misunderstands agreement as a buying signal, only to lose a sale that seemed a sure thing. Or the manager who concludes that he or she has made task objectives clear to an employee and later, after the deadline has passed, finds out that the employee has been waiting for more direction.

Wilson Learning Worldwide has had the great fortune to examine how people around the world make judgments about interpersonal preferences and style. In over 30 countries and cultures, our research shows that people who are skilled at identifying Social Style and adapt their behavior to make others feel more comfortable perform better and are more successful. We call this skill Versatility. For Wilson Learning, and many of our clients, Versatility is one of the key skills for success in business today.

In this report, we examine the similarities and differences across cultures in Social Style and interpersonal Versatility. The results of our research demonstrate that:

  • The four Social Styles exist and can be accurately measured in every country examined.
  • Cross-culturally, the Social Styles are similar in the behaviors and characteristics people use to define them.
  • Versatility, as well as being linked to success within the individual cultures, is also linked to characteristics associated with effective cross-cultural relations.

This report provides convincing evidence that interpersonal Versatility could be a key factor in the development of effective global business alliances, and may in fact be a determinant of the global effectiveness of different cultures.

What Is Social Style and Versatility?

There are two things almost all people know about their relationships with other people:

  • All things being equal, we really only “connect” with about 25% of the people we interact with.
  • It is easier to communicate with those with whom we “connect.”

When people say they “connect” with someone, they are referring to the similarity of their communication preferences and styles. We feel more comfortable with people who like to talk at the same pace we do, who are not too pushy or too pliable, and who want to get to know about us at about the same time we are ready to share that kind of information.

Nearly half a century of research has shown that people are divided equally across four primary communication styles. These four Social Styles are called Driver, Expressive, Amiable, and Analytical. When you find a person is easy to work with, it is often because you share the same Social Style. When a person seems difficult to work with, it is often because your styles are different.

Wilson Learning has also had the opportunity to test the validity of Social Style globally. Sometimes driven by our own desire to share the technology with other cultures and sometimes driven by the needs of our global clients, we have developed and validated the primary tool for measuring Social Style and Versatility, the Social Style Profile, in over 30 different nations on six different continents. Now we feel we have sufficient data in our Social Style Profile database to draw some meaningful conclusions about the global nature of Social Style and Versatility.

What the Social Style Profile Measures

The following is not a full description of the Social Style model; rather, it describes briefly the four dimensions that are measured by the Social Style Profile.

Assertiveness is defined as the way a person attempts to influence others’ actions and decisions. At one end of the scale, people are “Ask Assertive,” tending to use more indirect methods of influencing. At the other end, people are more “Tell Assertive,” preferring more direct methods of influence.

Responsiveness is defined as the way a person demonstrates his or her feelings and emotions when interacting with others. At one end of the scale, people are “Task-Directed Responsive,” tending to control their emotions and focus more on the task at hand. At the other end, people are more “People-Directed Responsive,” preferring to express their feelings and focus attention on relationships that affect the task.

Social Styles MatrixSocial Style is derived from the measures of Assertiveness and Responsiveness. Combining Assertiveness (Ask or Tell) and Responsiveness (Task-Directed or People-Directed) creates a matrix whose parts represent the Social Styles (Driver, Expressive, Amiable, Analytical). Social Style is a relatively stable characteristic of a person, meaning that it does not change much over time.

Versatility is defined as a person’s ability to temporarily modify his or her behaviors to make others feel that their concerns and expectations are being met. Versatility is measured separately from Social Style and, unlike Social Style, is a skill that can be learned. In fact, we have research indicating that learning Versatility will improve individual and organizational performance.

Versatility is the key skill of effective work relationships. People who have learned to recognize when others are uncomfortable or tense in the relationship, and adapt their Assertiveness and Responsiveness to reduce this relationship tension, have more effective interactions with others, resulting in more effective decisions and actions.

All of the dimensions are measured on a continuous scale. That is, no one person is all Ask or all Tell Assertive (or all Task- or People-Directed Responsive). Everyone demonstrates different degrees of Ask and Tell Assertive behaviors. Similarly, while the four Social Styles are a convenient way to describe information about communication patterns, there are varying degrees of style as well.

The Study

Since the inception of Wilson Learning’s Social Style Profiling System in 1975, well over seven million respondents have completed some form of the instrument. For this study, we used a data sample of 165,515 profiles. This sample was chosen to ensure that the analysis represented a relatively equal and unbiased global perspective. While we have profiled participants from over 30 countries, this analysis includes samples from only 20 of those countries because we wanted to ensure that each sample included participants from at least four different companies, that each profile was cross-validated by at least three observers, and that each sample was large enough from which to draw statistical conclusions.

Validity and Reliability

This report focuses on Social Style and Versatility results, not validity and reliability results for this global sample. For more detail on the validation process globally, contact Wilson Learning directly. However, for this report, it is important to address two key points:

Adapted, not Translated: The Social Style Profiles for each country were not literal translations of the U.S. English Profile. Rather, each profile was created to accurately reflect the meaning of Assertiveness, Responsiveness, and Versatility in each culture.

Independently Validated: Before engaging in this global data analysis, each Social Style Profile was validated within each country. That is, a questionnaire was developed, a pilot sample collected, and the data submitted to a range of validation statistics (including factor analysis, internal consistency reliability, inter-rater reliability, factor correlations, and demographic analysis). Finally, after validation, the accuracy of the Social Style Profiles was confirmed against observed behaviors.

Creating the Global Database

Once assured that each country’s profile was accurate and reliable, we were then able to combine the data and create the global Social Style database. This was done by examining each item that measures Assertiveness, Responsiveness, and Versatility across all 20 individual profiles and identifying items that matched in terms of meaning and statistical properties. We then standardized all of the items on a common measurement scale and conducted our analysis.

This part of the process assured us that the Social Style concepts, terminology, and statistical characteristics were consistent across the multiple cultures included in the study. For example, the meaning of a score on Assertiveness in one culture was equivalent to the same score on Assertiveness in another culture.

Findings

When interpreting the findings, it is important to keep in mind that the scores are based upon how others, in their own country, rated each other. This is not a case of “foreigners” responding to stereotypes of people from other countries.

Also, the actual score ranges are narrow because of the large size of each country’s sample. Since each country’s data set consists of more than 1,000 responses, the averages will be close together. This is the nature of averages in large data sets. However, that does not limit the usefulness of the differences we have identified. In all cases, there were statistically significant differences among countries on all of the dimensions measured.

Finally, to simplify interpretation, all of the scores were converted to a 100-point scale. This did not alter the relative scores among countries, but merely kept all of the interpretation across the measures consistent.

Global Social Style

Global Social StylesSocial Style is determined by combining Assertiveness and Responsiveness, so we will examine all of these dimensions together.

The averages for the 20 countries in the study are plotted on the following Social Style matrix. Location on the matrix does not mean that all individuals in that country are that style; however, it does show how people within that country tend to view themselves relative to other countries. For example, while the average score in Japan is classified as the most Ask Assertive and Task-Directed Responsive (that is, most Analytical), still only 28 percent of the individual participants in Japan were classified as Analytical, just slightly higher than the expected value of 25 percent.

While some of the findings of the research fit with common expectations, others might be surprising.

Many of the Asian country averages fall in the Analytical style classification. That means respondents in those countries tend to view one another as more Ask Assertive and more Task-Directed Responsive. In other words, they were more likely to be perceived as detail-oriented, deliberate, and well organized. Analyticals tend to respond to social overtures rather than initiate them and are more focused on task details, at least early in a relationship.

Many of the Western European and Mediterranean country averages fall in the Expressive style quadrant. That is, people in those countries tend to view each other as more Tell Assertive and People-Directed Responsive. Expressives tend to be perceived as fast-paced, outgoing, and enthusiastic in their interactions. Expressives take time to establish a relationship before focusing on the task at hand. Details tend to be less critical than the big picture for the Expressive.

Countries with more Amiable style averages include the United States, Canada, and Australia. This suggests that, on average, these cultures tend to emphasize cooperation and personal relationships. Amiables tend to see strong, trusting relationships as central to effective business interactions.

Finally, no countries tended strongly toward the Driver style, or high Tell Assertiveness and high Task-Directed Responsiveness. Both Sweden’s and Spain’s averages fall in the Driver quadrant but are closer to the center of the distribution and not at the extremes.

Global Versatility
Hofsted’s
Versatility Ranking Country Average Versatility Scores Uncertainty Avoidance Masculinity

Lowest — 1

Puerto Rico 64.9 NA NA

2

Spain 66.1 40 80

3

France 68.4 40 80

4

Japan 69.3 90 75

5

Germany 69.3 60 60

6

Great Britain 69.7 60 30

7

Colombia 70.6 60 75

8

Hong Kong 71.8 50 20

9

Singapore 71.8 45 5

10

Brazil 72.1 45 70

11

USA 72.7 60 40

12

Mexico 72.8 60 75

13

Australia 73.1 55 45

14

Italy 73.2 65 70

15

Thailand 73.2 30 60

16

Canada 73.6 50 45

17

South Africa 73.6 60 40

18

New Zealand 73.7 50 45

19

Finland 74.6 20 50

Highest — 20

Sweden 75.1 5 25

Correlation with Versatility

-.44 -.34

© Wilson Learning Worldwide Inc.

One of the most important findings of this study is how a culture views its own Versatility. Versatility is a person’s ability to temporarily modify his or her style-related behaviors to make others feel that their concerns and expectations are being met. Unlike Social Style, Versatility is an evaluative dimension. That is, being a particular Social Style is not good or bad—no one style is more successful than another, and no one style is better suited for a leadership position than another. In contrast, Versatility is associated with performance. Our research indicates that salespeople with high Versatility out-sell salespeople with low Versatility. Managers with higher Versatility have better performing work groups than managers with lower Versatility.

It is reasonable to think that a nation’s level of Versatility might have an impact on its ability to interact on the world stage and be a factor in how its businesses operate globally. The rank order and average Versatility for the different country samples is shown in the first three columns of the following table. It is important to note that, overall, the range of Versatility scores is fairly narrow. On a 100-point scale, all scores fell within an 11-point range. However, even this narrow range between countries is a statistically significant difference.

Looking just at the average Versatility scores column, the results show that Puerto Rico, Spain, and France had the lowest Versatility ratings. Again, that does not mean that all of the people in those countries have low Versatility. There are highly versatile people in all countries, but the averages reflect that there will be more low versatile people in the countries above the median line than in the countries below that line.

Predicting Global Business Effectiveness

Are countries with lower average Versatility more difficult to do business with globally? Our research indicates that individual people who are lower in Versatility are less effective in business, but can that finding be extended to a country’s average Versatility?

While there is no data of which we are aware that compares how easy countries are to work with globally, some insight on Versatility can be gained by comparing Global Versatility scores to other dimensions that have been known to differentiate cultures. One such set of dimensions are those identified by Gert Hofsted’s research on global values. Hofsted’s research is focused on value systems within countries, not intercultural interactions. However, certain cultural values have an impact on how countries view one another as potential business partners. As a result, some interesting comparisons can be made. These comparisons are shown in the following table.

A correlation statistic was used to assess the degree of association between Versatility and the dimensions of Masculinity and Uncertainty Avoidance. Correlations measure the strength of association between two dimensions. Correlations can range from -1.00 to +1.00. Correlations close to 0.0 indicate the two dimensions are unrelated. As they get closer to +1.0 or -1.0, the degree of association increases.

The following table also shows Hofsted’s dimensions of Uncertainty Avoidance and Masculinity. Uncertainty Avoidance focuses on the level of tolerance for uncertainty within the society. High Uncertainty Avoidance indicates the country has a low tolerance for uncertainty; low Uncertainty Avoidance indicates the country has less concern about uncertainty and has more tolerance for a variety of opinions. One would expect a country with low Uncertainty Avoidance to have high Versatility, and that is exactly what we found. The correlation between Versatility and Uncertainty Avoidance is in the moderately high range (r = -.44). The negative correlation indicates that low Uncertainty Avoidance is associated with high Versatility.

The second dimension, Masculinity, is defined as the degree to which a society reinforces the traditional masculine work role model of male achievement, control, and power. Again, you would expect a culture that values power and control would tend to have lower Versatility; again, that is what we found. In this case, the correlation between Versatility and Masculinity is moderate to moderately high (r = -.34).

Thus, a country’s low Versatility is associated with characteristics that might make global interactions more difficult—a low tolerance for varied opinions and uncertainty and a high need for control and power. The difference is that Hofsted’s dimensions are considered cultural traits, unlikely to be changed through learning and development. In contract, Versatility is a learnable skill. Companies operating in countries with lower Versatility may want to examine the level of interpersonal friction that occurs, especially cross-culturally, and take steps to increase their Versatility as a way to grow the economy of their countries.

Changing Global Versatility

In our current global environment, effective cross-cultural work relationships are critical. Global work teams have become commonplace, and while language and cultural differences create their own barrier, a potentially greater barrier is differing expectations about interpersonal communication. At a time when world tensions are high, every individual, organization, and country would be well served to seek out any mechanism possible that will ease tensions and create effective communications.

Global Versatility is not a trait or value of a country. Rather, it is a learnable skill. We have found that if people follow a simple process, they can improve their interactions globally, create a more comfortable work environment, and, as a result, conduct business and social interactions more effectively and more productively.

The first step in becoming more Globally Versatile is recognizing that it requires a mindset shift and a skill set shift. Global Versatility starts with the desire to make people from other cultures and countries more comfortable in their interactions with you and a new awareness that what makes you comfortable in interactions may make others uncomfortable.

Following the mindset shift comes the skill set shift. We have found that the primary skill of Global Versatility can be summarized in a four-step process:

  • Anticipate: By knowing the other person’s, and your own, dominant culture, you can anticipate potential barriers to communication, while avoiding the tendency to stereotype. Remember, just because one Social Style might dominate a culture does not mean everyone is that style.
  • Identify: The next step is to clarify whether the anticipated behaviors are real. Observe the other person for indications of his or her style. Is the person’s behavior more Ask or more Tell Assertive? Is the person more People-Directed or Task-Directed?
  • Reflect: After identifying another’s Social Style, reflect on what will make him or her more comfortable and the type of adjustments you need to make to increase the other person’s comfort level. Consider both Social Style-related behaviors and culture-specific behaviors.
  • Modify: Then, make an effort to adjust your Assertiveness and Responsiveness behaviors. Modifying is more than just adjusting; it also requires observing reactions. Did your efforts to modify your behavior have the intended effect? If not, re-examine your behavior. Did you adjust too much or too little? Did you modify the wrong behaviors?
Conclusions

This research suggests that one important mechanism for improving international relationships is Global Versatility. By understanding and identifying the Social Styles of others, learning new behaviors for adjusting Assertiveness and Responsiveness behaviors, and continuously improving Versatility with others, individuals can work more effectively cross-culturally and can improve organizational and individual performance. These findings will enable companies to use the concept and skills of Global Versatility to move across cultural boundaries, work more effectively globally, and better serve customers around the world.

Top 10 Tips for Remote Work Teams

As companies search for more productive and more cost effective ways of getting work accomplished, there has been an explosion of virtual work and project teams. As a result, it has become imperative for people to learn how to work together across boundaries of space, time, and yes, cultures. Driven by the need to leverage expertise located in different parts of the organization, companies are increasingly reliant on geographically dispersed virtual teams to plan, make decisions, and take action on critical business issues.Prismphil2

When such teams function at optimal levels of productivity and efficiency, they are actually a source of competitive advantage for their companies, bringing together a variety of different perspectives and experiences that have high value for innovation and problem solving. On the other hand, teams working remotely face unique challenges in communicating and collaborating efficiently and productively. Research conducted by Wilson Learning a few years ago highlights this problem. Our research showed that the most productive teams are those with a high level of diversity and high levels of communication skills. However, if the communication skills are lacking, the highly diverse teams are the lowest performing teams. Thus effective teamwork and communication skills for virtual teams are even more important than for other teams. You can’t walk down the hall or into the next cubicle to discuss a problem if some people are in New York and others are in Santa Cruz or even Bangladore. As a result, without critical skill sets, virtual teams will fail to fully engage team members, establish clear goals and standards, and establish the processes necessary to get things done.

Here is a “Top Ten” list of strategies that will help your virtual teams perform at the highest possible level and take full advantage of members’ varying skills, knowledge, and capabilities.

TIP 1: BUILD TRUST AND RAPPORT

Team performance depends on a foundation of trust. Without it, team members are reluctant to share information, offer support, and may hesitate to rely on others to keep commitments and follow through on tasks.

To build a sense of trust, virtual teams need opportunities to develop social rapport, especially in the early stages of the team’s work. Creating time for team members to identify common values, establish credibility, and foster a sense of trust is critical for virtual teams. For example, we have seen virtual teams engage in online games together as a way to establish relationships and occasionally hold meetings in “immersive” virtual environments such as Second Life, as a way to establish and build trust. The use of social media such as LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook can also be useful to help team members become familiar with one another in a way that fosters trust and confidence.

TIP 2: CREATE A STRONG TEAM IDENTITY

Even more than co-located teams, virtual teams need a sense of “teamness” based on a strong belief in a shared purpose, common inspiration, and commitment to the team’s goals. In a dispersed team, there may be individuals who are working alone out of a home office or who are otherwise the only member of the team at their location. Under these circumstances, it is easy for them to feel isolated, not part of the team, and “out of the loop.”

The team’s cohesiveness will be greatly enhanced if their purpose and goals are clear and they have frequent reminders of why they are together and what they are working toward. Managers can also help build team identity by providing recognition for team and individual achievements and opportunities for team sharing and celebrating successes.

TIP 3: DEVELOP COMMUNICATIONS TECHNOLOGY KNOW-HOW AND SUPPORT

Used correctly, contemporary communications tools can be powerful and effective—offering interactive, engaging ways to share information and stay in touch. Managers of virtual teams need to become familiar with three principle technologies. First, there are online meeting sites (such as GoToMeeting or WebEx) that allow virtual team members to do real face-to-face meetings online. Second, there are online project management sites (such as SharePoint or LiveLink) which allow virtual team members to share and store documents, plans, reports, etc. Third, there are emerging technologies, such as Google Wave, which allows multiple people to work together on presentations and documents simultaneously.

To gain all these benefits, however, team members must be reasonably skilled and comfortable in using the tools, and the technology needs to be readily available and reliable. All team members should have opportunities for training and hands-on practice, and have access to technical support whenever they need help. If there are technophobes in the group, practice and feedback from an experienced mentor will help them develop a greater level of confidence and comfort in using the technology and increasing their efficiency and productivity.

TIP 4: ENGAGE IN SHARED RESPONSIBILITY, CLEAR ACCOUNTABILITY, AND TEAM CELEBRATIONS

Like any other team, virtual teams must develop a feeling that all team members bear equal responsibility for achieving the team’s goals and have clear expectations for accountability for their individual tasks. While this will often come naturally for traditional teams, virtual teams need tools for tracking individual and team accomplishments. Of equal importance are periodic opportunities to celebrate and be recognized for team achievements. Non-virtual teams will often do this informally, in hallway meetings for example, but virtual teams have to build this into their scheduled activities.

TIP 5: ENSURE STRONG TEAM LEADERSHIP

Team members in a virtual team—more than in other teams—need to be able to exercise effective self-leadership, taking responsibility for completing individual work and participating in all activities of the team. Nonetheless, an experienced team leader can be a critical resource in helping the team stay on track and serve as a liaison with the team’s sponsors. This leader can anticipate the challenges of working virtually and help make sure communications are clear and that all members of the team are fully “in the loop” and participating as they should be in team meetings.

TIP 6: PUT TASK-RELATED PROCESSES IN PLACE

Research from the Sloan School of Management demonstrates that virtual teams using well developed task-related processes to increase work coordination and task-related communication tend to outperform those that do not. Processes for tasks such as setting goals, making plans, solving problems, assigning specific work roles, and measuring results help the team function efficiently and effectively.

This can be especially important for crosscultural virtual teams. Different cultures have different expectations concerning processes and procedures. Therefore, it is important that global virtual teams clearly communicate the process being followed and provide training and assistance when team members are new to the process.

TIP 7: BUILD SOCIAL/COMMUNICATIONS SKILLS

Social interactions are the glue that holds the team together as a cohesive unit. Although task-oriented processes are essential to the team’s effectiveness, members of a virtual team need to be highly competent in managing the give and take necessary to exchange information, provide mutual support, and make course corrections when necessary.

When non-virtual teams meet, it is very common that the five to ten minutes before or after the meeting is spent in casual, non-work related conversations that build social relationships in the team. However, this is much rarer in virtual teams. Effective virtual team leaders understand that it is important to build this time into the process, helping team members understand and appreciate diversity in interpersonal style, model versatility in adapting to others’ preferred communications styles, and know how to give and receive feedback. Team leaders and managers should make sure team members have these capabilities and, where needed, help the team build on and enhance their communications skills.

TIP 8: ESTABLISH PROCESSES FOR MAKING GROUP DECISIONS

Every team needs the ability to make decisions and reach agreement as a group. For a virtual team, this is even more critical, as the members may not necessarily share any established common practices and may have very different experiences with decision making. Team members need to understand the different ways that decisions can be made and know how to reach agreements on issues, such as the right solution to a problem and how to break down a task and assign work. An established team decision-making process and tools will help the team avoid getting stuck when a decision needs to be made, and ensure that the decisions made are high quality and represent the best thinking of the entire team. Not every decision is made in the same way; it is important to communicate which decisions are collaborative versus which decisions are leader driven.

TIP 9: CREATE GLOBAL AWARENESS

Increasingly, virtual teams are dispersed not only across geographical boundaries within the U.S.A. or North America, but across international boundaries that span the globe. A lack of global awareness and cultural sensitivity can undermine almost every other aspect of the team’s work, making it difficult to establish trust, make decisions, and carry out tasks in a coordinated, efficient way.

To work productively and cohesively across cultural boundaries requires that team members have some insights into the cultural dimensions that can affect interpersonal behaviors and preferences. This might include awareness of differences in how various cultures perceive business relationships, view power and authority within business organizations, and value the role of the individual versus the community or group.

Team leaders and managers can help by paying special attention to how the team is interacting and providing opportunities for team members to discuss and resolve issues related to different cultural assumptions or values.

TIP 10: BUILD CONFLICT RESOLUTION SKILLS

Regardless of how well the team organizes its work or how well team members communicate, there is a high probability for occasional conflicts, either between individual team members or across the entire group. Conflicts within a virtual team can seem even more intractable and disruptive than they do when people are able to sit down and talk through the issues.

Virtual teams present special concerns regarding conflict. Because much of the communication is through e-mail or over webcast meetings where body language is missing, there is greater chance that information or intention will be misunderstood. We have known cases when a team member wrote an e-mail with the expectation that it would be received positively, only to have other team members see it as negative and potentially offensive.

To make sure conflicts can be recognized early and addressed proactively, team members need to understand what kinds of issues can lead to conflicts and recognize how unresolved conflict can get in the way of achieving their goals. They also need to know how to separate the issues from the people and reach a solution without letting emotional responses become a barrier to mutually agreeable resolutions.

Whether your virtual team is dedicated to customer service or R&D, or whether it is dispersed across the globe or only across a single state, these ten tips can enhance productivity, team member satisfaction, and effectiveness. Even a team that is working remotely out of necessity rather than choice can become a powerful asset if the group has the tools, technology, and skills required to bring their varied experience and knowledge together to achieve outstanding results. By Michael Leimbach, Ph.D., Wilson Learning Worldwide, and Carl Eidson, Ph.D., Wilson Learning Corporation

Social Style Versatile

“The more I learn about myself, the more I am able to understand others, the more I am able to bridge the gap between us.”

How has your organization responded to falling consumer demand and slower sales in the current economic climate? If yours is like most, you’ve probably experienced a variety of cost cutting measures: layoffs, downsizing, restructuring and reorganization, and hiring and pay freezes. While these kinds of changes have been necessary for survival, they can wreak havoc on overall performance in unexpected ways. Why? Because there is an inevitable increase in stress, anxiety, and relationship tensions experienced by employees who must rapidly adapt to changes in reporting relationships, work assignments, and ongoing concerns about job security. Managers suffer from similar stresses as they are asked to fill in gaps left by layoffs, do “more with less” as budgets are slashed, and take on new work teams or individual employees as a result of restructuring and downsizing. These tensions have a direct impact on organizational performance.

Although organizational leaders can do little to control the external economic factors driving the need for these internal changes, something can be done to alleviate at least one of the biggest causes of day-to-day stress in an uncertain and changing work environment—the relationship tensions that result from adapting to restructured work teams and unfamiliar colleagues and managers. This relationship tension, unless addressed, will breed conflicts, misunderstandings, and overall failures to communicate that weaken performance just when the company needs the highest levels of performance to attain the results required to thrive in a down market. Yet, there is a powerful tool available that can reduce these barriers to productivity and therefore profitability—Versatility.

VERSATILITY—THE ANSWER TO PERFORMANCE SAPPING RELATIONSHIP TENSION AND STRESS

Versatility is defined as the ability to understand differences in communication preferences and to adapt to make others more open and receptive—creating more effective and productive relationships. Versatility is a skill that can be learned, and people who have it find it far easier to work together with others toward shared organizational goals.

To understand Versatility and how it can affect relationships, consider people with whom you have regular contact. Do you know someone who is “too reserved” for your taste? Is there a manager, coworker or family member who seems to you to be “too opinionated,” “too emotional,” or “too willing (or unwilling) to compromise?” Chances are your reactions to these people are an indicator of differences in Social Style—how we habitually communicate and interact with others. When you find it easy to communicate and work with someone, there’s a high probability you share the same social style. When your communication is difficult, it is often because of unrecognized social style differences.

SOCIAL STYLES AND THE 75% PROBLEM
The Social Styles Matrix

Wilson Learning’s social style model defines four primary communication styles—Driver, Expressive, Amiable, and Analytical.

As the model shows, the four styles vary in terms of behaviors reflecting the dimensions of Assertiveness (Tell) versus Responsiveness (Ask) and Task versus People orientation. Drivers and Expressives tend to be more Tell oriented, while Amiables and Analyticals are more Ask oriented. Analyticals and Drivers are more Task oriented, while Amiables and Expressives are more People oriented. Because about 25% of people fall into each of these four categories, you likely share a social style with only about 25% of the people you meet. What are the consequences when we can’t adapt to the other 75%?

Consider the communication challenges faced by a non-versatile manager who has a different social style than three-fourths of her employees. An Amiable employee will not be comfortable with a Driver manager who seems too focused on tasks and unconcerned with personal relationships. Analytical employees don’t like to be told things they already know—but at the same time they don’t want gaps in information a manager could have provided. These kinds of misalignments create the potential for friction, misunderstanding, and lowered productivity.

INCREASING VERSATILITY

For most of us, interpersonal behaviors and preferences are habitual and largely out of awareness. Consider this scenario: A Driver, who has a more “tell” oriented style, may want to “cut to the chase” quickly. He may not even realize the source of his impatience with an Analytical who needs to ask more questions and gather more data before taking action. As the situation progresses, the Driver may push harder for action while the Analytical employee goes into “back up” for her style—withdrawing and becoming less and less responsive. The resultant mutual frustration and distrust means that projects take longer and critical information is lost. Or in another example, an Expressive employee may be put off by a manager with a strong task-oriented style who doesn’t show sufficient appreciation of the employee’s wish to explore and discuss a variety of creative options before making a decision. The result—a less creative approach to a critical solution.

Versatility comes with the recognition that people do have different styles and that each has unique strengths. Once people know their own style and understand style differences, they can learn how to modify behaviors to make it easier to exchange information and work together to make decisions in a way that is more effective for the whole team. Suppose a manager has several Amiable employees. The manager can make an effort to show a personal interest in them and offer more guidance, support, and recognition than they might provide to experienced Driver employees, who want the freedom to solve problems themselves. When making decisions, managers can adapt to different expectations and needs based on their recognition of employees’ styles. Expressives want managers to involve them in a decision when it affects the whole group, and Amiables like to have the group involved in brainstorming and problem solving. On the other hand, Analyticals are not as interested in group decision making and typically prefer to be involved only when decisions or actions affect them directly.

Over time, as both managers and employees develop higher levels of Versatility, they can quickly recognize the indicators of different styles and adapting to them becomes an integral part of how they communicate. Our research shows that a highly versatile individual is perceived as an effective communicator—someone who has “good people skills,” a trusted leader, and is a very successful negotiator, salesperson, and manager.

VERSATILITY: KEY TO IMPROVED BUSINESS RESULTS

Companies can experience dramatic, measurable improvements in performance when their people learn how to adapt to others’ social styles. In one study, building versatility skills yielded a 52% improvement in the ability to identify styles and recognize back-up behavior—the “fall back” behavior of each style when the individual is stressed. In the same organization, 46% of employees reported a moderate to large improvement in work productivity. As one manager reported, “I’ve been more sensitive to my driver/driver style and the style of others during [coaching] sessions, and as a result, I believe the sessions have been more productive and conversation/feedback has been freer flowing.”

Depending on your company’s industry, product offering, and market, increased versatility may make different kinds of contributions to the improvement of business results. What are the critical issues that are most important in your organization right now? For companies that have downsized and reorganized, a versatile leadership team can more quickly adapt to the needs of employees who have moved into new roles. Additionally, versatile employees can shorten the time it takes to become productive in reconfigured work teams, whether they are working together virtually or at the same site.

Organizations challenged by price cutting competition can better keep customers and expand their business by building stronger relationships with current customers and developing a wider range of new business partnerships. Companies seeking to increase the satisfaction and loyalty of current customers will find that versatile customer service employees are more effective communicators and problem solvers in their customer interactions. While there are multiple ways to improve communication in a given situation, the single most important factor for enhancing communication effectiveness across the board is Versatility. As more leaders are required to take on greater responsibilities for more employees in today’s business environment, and companies are fighting to retain customers and grow market share in the face of ever tougher competition, building this kind of capability provides a real competitive advantage for the individual and the company as a whole.