Episode 11: Understanding the Science of Behavior Change
Driving behavior change can be inherently challenging. Research shows that B2B sales reps forget 70% of the information they learn within a week of training, and even worse, 87% of that knowledge is forgotten within a month of training. So how can you drive lasting behavior change among sales reps through learning programs? We have Mary Rose Debor, the Training Content Specialist at LIXIL, on the podcast today.
Shawnna Sumaoang: Thanks for joining, Mary Rose! I’d love for you to tell us about yourself, your background, and your organization.
Mary Rose Debor: Thank you so much for having me. I’m so glad to be here. As you said, my name is Mary Rose Debor, the sales training content specialist at LIXIL, which is a global plumbing company. I’m working with our direct sales force to help really make sure they have the skills and the tools they need to succeed as they go out into the field.
A little bit about my background is I kind of fell into this role almost by accident because my original path was education. When I went to college I didn’t know what I wanted to major in at first, but I eventually landed on early childhood special education and I actually stayed with that for a while up until March 2020. I was a classroom teacher in an early childhood setting and then when the pandemic hit, I was briefly furloughed. At my previous organization, I had the chance to do a stint at HR where I got to do some learning and development-related topics also while I was at my previous organization, it was a university and I had the chance to pursue my graduate degree in management with a focus in educational leadership. It had kind of been poking around my brain for a while about transitioning outside of teaching children into using those similar skills in a different setting, in a business setting, and I was very fortunate to have this opportunity at LIXIL come up and I’ve been loving it ever since.
SS: Well we’re excited to have you here. Given your extensive background in education, I’d love to understand how that type of background set you up for success in developing training programs in a business setting.
MRD: Great question, Shawnna. I think the main way this has set me up for this role and to bring a lot of different ideas to this role is just the overall idea that the how of learning matters. I think outside of formal classroom settings, outside of academic institutions, we kind of take it for granted that learning can be more effective when delivered in certain ways. For example, instead of just giving people the information and expecting them to almost by osmosis remember it and retain it, there’s really a lot of thought intentionality behind cognitive science and educational psychology, so many different things you can use to really make sure that this information is delivered in the most effective way possible and to ensure the success of your employees. I think just that really overall drive and passion to make sure that content is given in the most engaging way is how this has set me up for success.
SS: That’s awesome. Now, you mentioned in your intro that you have a background in child development and obviously you have expertise in adult learning. What are some specific ways that adults learn and change behavior and how can training programs incorporate these components?
MRD: I think this is a super interesting question because there are of course differences between how children learn and how adults learn, but I actually think those differences are fewer than most people realize. I like to think of those in terms of more instructor-led learning versus learner-centered instruction learning. That’s the perspective I like to have because I think in either of those contexts that apply to children or adults. To your original question, there are of course some differences with adults and one is the fact that they bring their own skills and experiences to the table more so than children, especially in a business setting where people might have been working there or in the field or the industry for many years.
Another important thing is that versus having subject-oriented lessons or content for adults, it’s much more effective to usually have more task-oriented or behavior oriented. I think we all remember in school when you have math, language arts, or science and for adults, it’s really much more effective to have it centered around tasks or behaviors that are more specific and relevant to their roles. They want to know the why behind what they are learning, which I think will actually talk more about later, but this is super important for adults. I think just really infusing that throughout your instruction is key.
The final thing I think is really important for adults, and this is going to get a little neuroscience-y, and I won’t get too bogged down in the details because I am not a neuroscientist by any means, but your neural plasticity as an adult, it actually is less than as a child. Your neural plasticity is your ability to kind of learning new skills and that’s actually much easier for children to do with an adult, so the repetition for adults is another really major factor to consider because you want to really have that consistent reinforcement to help support the building of those new neural pathways you’re building as you are gaining a new skill or information or trying to implementing something new into your workflow. I hope that answers your question. I know those are kind of long-winded but there’s just so much to talk about.
SS: I love that. When you’re going about creating training programs, I’d love to understand how you identify the gaps between current behavior and desired behavior.
MRD: So for this, I’m going to refer back a little bit to my previous question where I kind of talked about instead of like adults versus children, that instructor-centered versus learner-centered, and this is where I think that learner-centered comes into play. At LIXIL what we’ve started doing and it’s been probably one of the most meaningful things that I’ve done professional development-wise since I’ve started is get training in human-centered design approaches.
I never heard of human-centered design before joining LIXIL, but I’m now obsessed with it. In a nutshell, it’s making sure that you are solving the right problems so you can solve the problem right, and I feel like the best way to do that is by going to the learners and using a variety of techniques like focus groups. Kind of like priority diagramming, there are all these great little techniques you could use to actually talk to learners, and observe what they’re doing during the day or how they do a task, do a focus group around specific problems or issues or part of their workflow, and that way you can really meaningfully see where the gaps might be and how you can design training effectively, because you want to make sure that your training solves the right problem and that you’re just not throwing stuff to the wall to see what sticks.
You really want to know what the gaps are, and I think the best way to do that in most cases is to use some techniques, some sort of focus group or survey to try to figure out what the gaps are. If you could do that in a way that’s as relevant as possible and by that, I mean if you can really see a person do their workflow that helps so much, because sometimes people don’t know what they don’t know right. I’m sure working in software, you might have seen that people might think they have a great grasp on something, but it’s hard for them to articulate exactly what the problem might be. When you can be alongside them and actually see what they are struggling with and where those gaps might be, I think that’s such an effective tool. It’s not always easy to do, of course, and there are going to be times when you have other objectives that are important that you have to do around, but I do think, generally speaking, when you can engage with learners directly to try to identify those gaps that are super impactful.
SS: Absolutely, I agree with that. Now, another thing that we’ve heard from enablement practitioners is that over-communication and repetition are important to drive change. How do you remind and maybe even incentivize reps to demonstrate the change you wish to see?
MRD: I think this is a really great point because it’s really at the core of making sure your training once it’s delivered is successful. It’s rarely going to be a one-and-done thing. So, first, to the point of over-communication and representation, I wholeheartedly agree those are important and I think that you just have to really be conscious of embedding them as much as possible. If you have a concept that you want to drive, you want to make sure that you don’t just have it in one lesson, try to put a nugget about that in other lessons, even if it’s not directly about that. If it applies somewhat and you want to reinforce it, see if you can weave it in.
An example of this is with our sales team, we have an overarching sales philosophy of sales training that we do and originally it was just the reps who went through that sales training then it was done and we realized the importance of reinforcing this new kind of sales philosophy that we wanted them to work on. We started doing a little reinforcement module, actually within our Highspot training. I’ll talk more about specifically how we use Highspot Training and Coaching later, but just again finding the ways where you can really embed little nuggets of reinforcement throughout.
There are a couple of other points I want to make because you do talk about incentives and motivation. I won’t go again into the whole science of motivation, but in terms of extrinsic, so external rewards, and intrinsic, which is kind of your self-motivation, your internal rewards, I think that with adult learners and with certain, especially higher level skills, that internal motivation, so that feeling of autonomy and mastery that you’re accomplishing something is super impactful. Now, of course, extrinsic is valuable. Our company has a swag shop where people can earn what we call LIXIL Bucks, and that’s kind of a nice little training incentive, but using extrinsic rewards sparingly and really just focusing more on how you can have people grow their sense of time, mastery and purpose. Those are ideas that I am completely stealing from Daniel Pink, just to give credit where credit is due.
With intrinsic and extrinsic motivation, when it comes to extrinsic you need to keep a few things in mind. Especially with sales thinking of pay, you just want to make sure that the pay does not outway the intrinsic motivator. You need to ensure that the intrinsic motivators are much more impactful because that can help them succeed. The final point I’ll make is that you have to rethink failures and mistakes because I think with behavior change, it could be really difficult to implement behaviors as a sales rep if you’re worried that there’s going to be a little bit of a learning curve. Maybe you’re not going to do as great with attracting clients while you learn a new sales system because you’re learning it and there are going to be some little kinks and bumps in the road as you’re trying to figure it out. I think it’s really important for management, for leadership to be understanding with that and not to penalize if somebody is using, or learning a new skill or system, but they’re not great at it yet. As much as you can be understanding and supportive if they’re using it. That’s the key thing and it’s going to pay off in the long run.
SS: Absolutely. Now to dive in deeper, ensuring changes are relevant and actionable is also important. What do you do to ensure that your reps understand the why behind the behavior change?
MRD: I’m really glad you brought this up, Shawnna. The why is super important and as we talked earlier with the principles of adult learning, that’s something that can really help motivate them to engage in their training and to be very purpose-driven behind it. I think it goes again, as we said before about over-communication and repetition from as many different sources as possible. By sources including whatever ways of communication you have at your company and I also mean people. I think it is so important if you have not just your trainer but your manager and your leadership reinforcing that purpose and that why as well. That can go miles in terms of helping people really invest their time and their energy into learning.
SS: I think bringing leaders in is fantastic. Now after training programs are complete and changes in behavior are being noticed. What’s next? How are you able to reinforce what is learned for lasting behavior change?
MRD: That’s great because once you have momentum, you certainly want to build on it. I think the first thing to do is you want to acknowledge that and in whatever way that’s possible, maybe that’s a dashboard, maybe that’s a communication from leadership or a manager because you don’t want people to feel like there’s no cause for a little celebration or acknowledgment of that time. However that works well for your organization, just make sure you acknowledge that growth in some way. You can then focus on moving to the next thing.
Another point came up when I was learning about how to teach children, but I think it’s such a good principle of learning that it’s called scaffolding. You want to just kind of very subtly start to build on skills. So basically there’s the skill and then there’s the level of skill that somebody can reach with just a little bit of extra push, we call it the zone of proximal development. It’s probably similar to what most people think of as the comfort zone. That’s what I would encourage trainers and learning and development professionals to think of next, so what’s going to be the next skill that’s related, but just kind of that half step up, that next rung on the ladder, and how you can get them to reach for it. That way it’s still relevant, it still makes sense in their trajectory, and it’s not something totally new and super challenging, but it’s just enough of a challenge to kind of keep that momentum going.
SS: I love that, I actually hadn’t heard that term before, so that’s really interesting. What can leaders do to maybe encourage and support this lasting behavior change?
MRD: Shawnna, I’m really glad you brought this up because I think leadership has such a powerful role here. I think first and foremost, leaders can model the changes they want to see especially if, for example, say you’re a sales manager and maybe some of your responsibilities are similar to those that your sales reps are seeing. If you’re doing the behavior and your reps can see that, that’s going to be so meaningful to them. I think as much as it makes sense modeling that behavior is going to be the most important thing that leadership can do.
Another thing that leadership can do, as I mentioned before, but I’m going to say it again because I think it’s so important, is to be understanding of any kind of mistakes or trip-ups that happen as behavior change occurs. One of our organizational behaviors and values at LIXIL is experiment and learning and I love that because the crux of that value is if you try something and it doesn’t work, that’s okay, just learn from it. I think, again, with leadership there should be understanding and support when there is a behavior change knowing that there’s going to be that little bit of kind of weeds you have to hack through first until you get that beautiful garden. To use that tired metaphor of the garden of knowledge, you need to clear out the weeds first and make sure it’s all good to grow and just know that it will happen. You’re kind of investing in the long-term goals here. In a nutshell, leaders can model and be understanding of mistakes or learning curves that happen when behavior change needs to be implemented.
SS: I love that. Now, last question for you Mary Rose. How has your organization leveraged Highspot Training and Coaching to drive behavior change through training programs?
MRD: Absolutely. We’ve been using Highspot for almost a year now and we’ve had a really big chance to dive into training and coaching. That’s actually what I first started doing when I came on board to LIXIL last year. One of the things I think it’s been really cool about using the training coaching is the ability to really tailor lessons with the various response types and to pull in the content that sales reps are already using and seeing to serve as lesson content. We have these short videos that the reps can watch and also we can pull in things like sales sheets or brochures that they might want to show customers. It’s nice reinforcement too. It’s like they’re learning about the products, but they’re also kind of getting familiar with some important content that they might use in the field when they’re speaking with a showroom, for example.
Another really cool feature and I know this is a newer one on your end, but I’m really excited to use it more is the learning path. The ability to string a variety of courses together on a particular topic or for a particular role is something that really intrigues me. We started piloting this with a group of people at our organization and it seems really well received. I think that’s another really great aspect of Highspot Training and Coaching that we will use more in the future. The final shout-out I’ll give to Highspot, not to the training and coaching specifically, but just the fact that it’s integrated into the overall Highspot main pages so if we are really focusing on a specific topic, I’ll give you a good example, like a new product launch, we can have nice easy navigation right on that Highspot main page that reps will see that’s an easy link to their courses and the relevant resources. So again, we had this new product launch, we’re going to have a nice banner right on the front page, they can click into that and then they’ll see courses, their presentations, the brochures, everything they need altogether. I love how the content piece of Highspot relates so naturally to the training and coaching aspect of it.
SS: I love to hear that Mary Rose, thank you again so much for taking the time to chat with us today.
MRD: Of course. This was great, thank you so much for having me.
SS: To our audience, thanks for listening to this episode of the Win Win podcast. Be sure to tune in next time for more insights on how you can maximize enablement success with Highspot.