To Improve the Leadership Training Experience, Think Like a Marketer

Marketers’ timeless obsession is “getting the right message to the right person, at the right time, through the right channel.” As a consumer who is bombarded by marketing messages on nearly every visible surface during every waking hour, you know intuitively that some messages resonate strongly and most are just background noise. Research backs this up: referrals consistently generate the highest conversion rates, while direct mail, email, phone, and display ads can be hundreds or thousands of times less effective (see Marketo, Marketingcharts, MarketingSherpa for details). When Carla (the happy customer) recommends a widget to Sam (the shopper), Sam is much more likely to make a purchase than if the same brand shows up in Sam’s mailbox or browser.

Why do referrals perform so strongly? Two main reasons:

  • The message is timely and relevant. Sam and Carla know enough about each other for Carla to understand what Sam’s needs are, why her experience with the widget would be meaningful to Sam, and when to bring it up so that Sam will listen and take action. This is the classic “why me, why now” message that sales and marketing experts like Jeb Blount and Mark Roberge reinforce. Perhaps even more importantly, Carla knows what Sam doesn’t need right now and doesn’t waste both of their time pushing irrelevant widgets.
  • The source is trusted and credible. Again this relies on a minimum strength of relationship between Sam and Carla such that Sam is more likely to act on Carla’s advice than another person’s. Right now, we won’t explore the psychological dynamic and value exchange going on between these two, but it’s fascinating stuff that Daniel Pink, Robert Cialdini, and the Heath brothers (among others) have written about in detail.

What does this have to do with leadership training? Let’s assume that the organization’s objective is to accelerate the leadership capabilities of their mid- and senior-level staff. This starts with the necessary and insufficient step of achieving high participation in training activities. So here’s how to map the two marketing principles above to your leadership training challenge.

Segment your leaders based on prior experience

Some training content is about compliance; this is mandatory for everyone. For the rest, each of your staff will have either high or low experience along these dimensions:

  • leadership skills: providing direction, inspiration, coaching/mentoring, etc. to a build a great team
  • management skills: prioritization and “load balancing” to enable a group of resources to complete their work on time, at high quality, and efficiently
  • navigating your company’s HR systems: understanding the processes and tools for talent planning, recruiting, performance management, compensation, etc.

By segmenting your leaders based on these attributes, you will find a better match between audience and content, which makes the message more relevant. Then, by scheduling the training events based on the events in the leaders’ lives (e.g., around hiring, performance review or promotion cycles, etc.) the message will be more timely.

Send the message from a respected, successful leader

Personal trainers who are less fit than their clients won’t stay in business for long. Yet many organizations tolerate leadership training to be run by employees who are not successful leaders, not effective training facilitators, or both. Ensure that the people in your organization who send the call to action for leadership training, and the people who deliver the training events, can “walk the talk.” These might be the senior leaders within your organization’s business lines, or from external non-competitive organizations. This ensures the message comes from a credible, trusted source.

The best marketers and the best leadership trainers have a common motivation: they are passionate about their widgets and believe their customers will be better off with the widget than without. So try thinking like a marketer to improve the outcomes of your company’s leadership training experience.

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Have More “Right Side Days” in the New Year

If you aren’t yet overwhelmed with end of year review articles and new year prediction posts, here’s one practical exercise that I hope helps you live each day with a deeper sense of purpose and clarity. And pssssst, here’s a secret: you can start doing this any day of the year!

What do you want more of in your life?
What do you want more of in your life?

Whether we spend 5 minutes thinking about it or 5 days, each of us can list aspects of our life we’d like to experience more, and those we’d like less. This time of year is filled with ambitious intentions and aspirational resolutions that typically vanish in a few weeks. Chip Heath’s books (such as Decisive) are full of methodologies and examples to counteract this phenomenon: anyone visiting a gym or yoga studio in January vs March has seen it come to life.

So here’s a technique that will get much more longevity and traction towards making a positive change in your life than a few champagne splattered resolutions. By first reflecting to create the list, and then reviewing it often to hold ourselves accountable, and lastly using a brief “mantra” or trigger phrase to make the desirable aspects more memorable, this technique will help us follow through with good intentions. And let’s be honest: actually doing something feels way better than resolving to do it and forgetting!

Step 1: List the things you want more of, and want less of, in your life

Take a piece of paper and draw a line down the center. Or grab a notebook and open it to two clean facing pages. On the top of the left side, write “LESS OF”, and on the top of the right side, write “MORE OF.” Now as quickly or as slowly as you wish, fill each column with “stuff” (you decide which column these examples belong in!):

  • things: donuts, kale, headaches, puppies, money, coffee
  • activities: date nights, yoga classes, sleeping, reading books made of paper, looking at screens, dancing
  • ideas to uphold: self-respect, patience, treating kids like grown ups, aligning income with purpose, judgmental language

What worked for me was to keep a small notebook with me while I was on vacation, and jot a few ideas in it whenever I noticed myself doing something I wanted more of (or remembering that I wanted less of) in my post-vacation life. But whatever method that gets the ideas from your brain to the two columns is the right method for you. Last tip for step 1: one side’s list doesn’t have to contain all the opposite items on the other side, because you’re smart like that.

Step 2: Keep the list visible, and do one thing from the right side every day

The wall next to your bed. The bathroom mirror. Your desk. The kitchen cabinet door. Any place that you see at least once per day — bonus points if you see it at a time when you can actually follow through by doing one of the things from the right side column. The death of good intentions occurs directly after the phrase “Oh! I’ll do that right after I…” So even better than a reminder of what’s on your right side list, is DOING something on the right side list. Equally valuable is immediately NOT DOING something on the left side list. Congratulations! You’ve just experienced a Right Side Day.

Build your life one action at a time, and be happy if each act you perform contributes to a fulfilling and complete life. No one can prevent you from doing this.

Marcus Aurelius, The Emperor’s Handbook

Step 3: Remind yourself of your intentions with a trigger phrase

Be prepared to mutter a few of these embarrassingly until you find the one that feels right. Something like “right side, right now” or “left side, left behind” or “today’s a right side day” will help you remember the list you created when it’s not visible, and reinforce the positive choices you make to follow through on those intentions. No one but you ever has to hear this phrase in order for it to work, and, if you choose, you can share your list and your trigger phrase with a loved one to support you in reinforcing the new set of behaviors that you’ve selected.

All of us have ideas about making changes to our lives to be happier — whatever those changes and that definition of happiness might be. Whether or not today is the first day of a new year, it can be the first day that you start living by those ideas. My hope is that these three steps will help you have more Right Side Days that bring you happiness.

Has this technique worked for you? Do you have an even better method for living by your intentions? Leave a comment and let us know!

image credit: leadertainment.com

Jury Lesson #2: When Did You Decide?

Last week I was selected to the jury for a civil trial seeking personal injury damages. My first post on this topic compared the jury’s decision in the trial to a customer’s buying process. In this post, I’ll explore when decisions are made an how they are (or aren’t) changed with additional information.

When did you decide about us?

I noticed myself making a snap decision about who should win the case–the defendant–as the judge read the case summary to us less than 20 minutes after stepping into the courtroom. This was the same decision I stuck with after two days of testimony, consideration, and discussion with my fellow jurors (more about “why people talk” in the third post in this series). While I’m far from perfect, self-awareness is a focus of my personal development, and I would consider myself reasonably aware of my biases. I consciously gave extra emphasis to evidence that opposed my snap decision. I did my best to put myself in the shoes of the plaintiff, imagining how the story of a truly terrible accident could sound implausible in the harsh light of a courtroom.

And as we, the jury, entered deliberations it seemed that everyone else had already reached a decision. Conveniently, we all agreed, and submitted our verdict in time to beat the rush hour traffic home. Driving home, I recalled other situations at work and at home where I knew I would be presented with a slate of evidence and asked to make a decision. Which CRM software should we install? Should we extend the timeline on the capital project? Can my daughter have another story before bedtime?

I’d propose that most of our decisions are made well before we’ve heard most (or any) of the evidence. Dual Process Theory suggests that “system 1” evolved to make lifesaving decisions quickly, and still dominates (see my previous post on how soak time can improve complex decisions). In their book Switch, Dan & Chip Heath characterize our belief-based decisions as an elephant with a rational rider attempting to steer it along (read a summary at Soundview). We must also be vigilant against confirmation bias when our role is to make objective decisions.

So the next time you encounter a similar situation, practice building awareness of when you’ve formed a decision, and to what extent additional evidence alters that decision. When did you decide who to vote for in the next Presidential Election??