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L&D – Your Most Valuable Profit Center

Learning Development Team Meeting

Video is brought into the spotlight once again with Rehearsal’s recent mention in Forbes. The author, Stephen Baer, highlights that working virtually can save companies around $11,000 per employee annually. He goes on to suggest that corporations reinvest that savings back into people, their largest profit center. This sounds straightforward, but the challenge most L&D teams face is engaging remote workers.

While video is one of the most effective means to acquire and retain engagement, is video in itself what makes Rehearsal so effective? There is no question that video is a powerful training delivery method, but that’s just it, video is a content delivery method. A prescribed workflow that facilitates practice is what makes the experience engaging and effective.

A workflow ensures effectiveness by creating structure. A place to start, a path to follow. Something to help replicate, measure against, and scale. Workflows guide the learning experience, by prompting for action at very specific moments, creating intent with every action.

Now for practice, specifically Deliberate Practice, which is an intensely engaging learning experience with lasting impact. This is where goals are set, skills are tested, performance measured, feedback provided, and tested again. The repetitive nature is where skills are mastered and confidence soars. Practice is where teachings are put into motion. Without it, training is rather ineffective and simply checks a box.

Do we want our remote teams to strive for greatness or simply check boxes? Let’s help L&D become what is undeniably the largest corporate profit center.

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The Missing Component in Role-play

A diamond in a pile of coal shows the evolution of a precious gem.

Although role-play is a widely accepted training exercise, it often delivers results far short of expectations; why is this the case? While you may be providing an opportunity to practice skills in a simulated situation, so much is lost in this uncomfortable and often rushed activity. The missing component is structure. The structure around the interaction or conversation, expectations and evaluation, and high-quality feedback.

While there are gains to be had in live role-play, the development taking place in a structured environment where learner and mentor can both focus on the scenario at hand is unbeatable. Distractions removed, unnecessary nerves put at ease, and an opportunity to perform with unparalleled focus provided.

While the structure discussed thus far may seem obvious, the hidden gem in structured role-play is how it facilitates repetition. With a structure in place, learners not only respond to scenarios, but review their submissions, reflect, re-record, review again, and submit once they feel they have put forward their best work. Repetition and the opportunity to quickly review is impractical if not impossible in a live role-play environment.

Even with the greatest of intentions, live role-play cannot deliver skills development equal to that of structured practice and coaching. This structure facilitates deliberate practice and deliberate practice leads to mastery.

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Employees Choose Video First

According to Forrester Research and others, employees choose video as their preferred media format. This was even the case prior to 2020 when everyone was forced to dust off their webcams and get comfortable with video in the new virtual world. Video is a powerful medium for not only one-to-one communication, but for one-to-many as well. It’s engaging and more personal than a phone call. Video brings emotion and body language into consideration. It also requires that participants focus more intensely on the conversation at hand rather than the occasional “okay” or “I agree” heard only audibly over the phone and intended to convince others that you are still on the line and listening to every word.

When it comes to training and skill development, video wins again for many of the same reasons. Video creates a more engaging experience. It can also create a learning environment more closely resembling that of the real job. By reducing the figurative distance between learning and actual environments, skills application happens faster and with more knowledge retention. More effective training with greater impact on the business is the ultimate result.

There’s no better time than now to bring video into the classroom, whether virtual or in-person. With nearly everyone’s relationship with their webcam having greatly improved over the last 12 months and it’s unlikely to slow down anytime soon, the value and adoption of video-based learning has never been more second nature.

Turn on the webcam or take out your smartphone, fire up the camera, and start becoming great.

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Good vs. Great Storytelling

The art of sales is far more than a product demonstration and a feature dump. The best sellers position their product or service without talking about their offering much at all. These sellers use storytelling to captivate their audience, stir emotion, and sometimes create urgency with a tasteful amount of fear. These stories are only effective when they are delivered in a natural and relevant way. To tell the story and tell it well, sellers must set the stage, dance around pitfalls, and carefully guide the customer or prospect to find the moral of the story for themselves.

Good storytelling requires that you step out of the sales role and into that of the customer. Great storytelling requires this and practice. Practicing each component of an effective story individually, the characters, setting, plot, conflict, and resolution. Practicing how each component and part of the story flows into the next, and finally practicing the entire story start-to-finish. Great storytellers practice well beyond delivering each scripted word flawlessly, they practice until they tell it naturally, even with unexpected interruptions or any adaptations necessary.

Practice is at the heart of everything great, even storytelling.

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The Value of Consistent Messaging

A consistent unified message is valuable in a number of ways. From company culture, approaching sensitive conversations, product positioning in the market, or messaging around business strategy and direction, consistency and accurate delivery of messaging is vital.

Companies taking a very intentional approach in defining their culture consider it important to consistently convey their ideals. From the CEO to a hiring manager in discussions with prospective hires, the ability to convey company values effectively can set the organization apart. This impacts company reputation, recruiting, retention, and more. There is typically a generally agreed-upon message, but how many people within the company can articulate it?

Consistency in company messaging is paramount when it comes to IPO, merger, or acquisition. What can be said and how it should be said are critical and can even have legal ramifications if missteps are made. Whether divulging financial information or confidential strategy, it can be permanently damaging. If everyone is clear on approved messaging and the delivery of said messaging well practiced, mistakes can be avoided.

Product messaging is likely the most commonly discussed, involving what a product or service is, how it solves customer challenges, its competitive advantages, and more. This messaging can be straight-forward, but depending on the industry, it can be rather technical. It can also be subject to regulations, making accurate delivery a must. Although the messaging may already be defined, can those involved deliver it accurately?

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Difficult Conversations in Diversity and Inclusion

Close up of international business team showing unity with putting their hands together on top of each other. Concept of teamwork, top view

Diversity and inclusion is bigger than a corporate policy or company culture, but rather society and humankind. Because of this, diversity and inclusion can create some of the most sensitive conversations one can experience. Charged with emotion and deeply rooted in one’s experience and perspective, a simple interaction gone wrong can set off a chain reaction throughout an organization.

While technology isn’t able to fix societal concerns, it can lend a helping hand in preparing professionals for difficult conversations related to them. You would never want to practice in the heat of the moment during a sensitive conversation. While many organizations face similar challenges around diversity and inclusion, each must weigh those unique to them and their culture and decide how best to tackle them. Regardless, no one would be at a disadvantage given the opportunity to face tough questions or situations, practice addressing and navigating them, and ultimately receive coaching and feedback to strengthen their skills.

Although difficult conversations occur across a wide array of subjects, diversity and inclusion is especially sensitive and important. While you can’t foresee every situation you may encounter, time spent honing skills in that area will always yield more positive outcomes.

Ultimately, if you are better equipped to engage in such conversations, you may gain a better understanding of each other’s perspective and experience a very fulfilling sense of growth and acceptance.

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Training at Scale While Addressing Individual Needs

The ability to adapt is what takes learning to the next level. We aren’t talking about learners adapting to a program or system, but rather the opposite. Typically, all learners go through the same program regardless of skill level or ability. Recent hires and senior team members are at very different competency levels, yet they are often trained in an identical manner. The problem with a one-size-fits-all approach is that not everyone gets what they need and overall program effectiveness is limited.

Imagine bringing a product into your company through acquisition or merger. Although it is used in conjunction with existing products, it differs philosophically. The requirement is that you bring all sales reps up to speed on product messaging, selling points, overcoming objections, and more. With a large dispersed salesforce you would simply launch new product training and make sure all sales reps complete it. This approach falls short in a very logical but often overlooked way. Experienced reps dismiss the importance of training due to their seniority and experience, yet they may need it the most. New reps tend to be green and look at everything with optimism and value any and all resources available to them. They take the training more seriously and are eager to apply it. Those more senior can struggle as they are set in their ways, almost pre-wired to deliver a certain message. It’s important to recognize this contrast and deliver a learning experience that meets each individual where they are.

This is one of many situations where one-size-fits-all training fails to deliver optimal results. An approach that adapts or adjusts an individual’s learning experience based on skill level and performance is the answer. Each learner is directed to resources based on their needs and performance. The result? Adaptive Learning, which allows you to scale training across competency levels while addressing the needs of each individual.

One’s ability to adapt is valuable, shouldn’t your training do the same?

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When in Doubt, Outwork Them

Shot of a woman posing with a chalk illustration of flexing muscles against a dark background

One’s attitude toward market position, talent, or capabilities relative to your competition may make all the difference needed to be successful. Not that one should obsess over every aspect of their competition, be aware and use that awareness to your advantage. New York Times bestselling author James Clear recently wrote:

“Before you begin, think as if you are a lazy person. Imagine the competition will work harder. Your only chance is a better strategy.

After you begin, work as if you are a dumb person. Imagine the competition is smarter and more talented. Your only chance is to outwork them.”

It’s a fascinating contrast. Strategy is key early on as the competition may rest on their laurels being larger, better funded, or further along. A better strategy could be enough to overtake them.

As business professionals, there may be a rivalry between individuals where the opposition is older or more experienced. We still have an opportunity, the opportunity to outwork them. There are countless stories of entrepreneurs, sports teams, and even small countries at war who have prevailed by outworking their opponents. So just when you think you’re not as smart, less talented, or short on funding, you’re not out of options.

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Narrow Your Focus

This year has taught us many things, likely the most important lesson is the simple reminder of what we can and cannot control in life and business. For some, this lesson ignited a shift in priorities to a more limited number of things, things that we can control, things that truly matter and make a difference. Granted the specifics differ from business to business and person to person, there is a commonality in the idea of a narrowed scope and priorities of the highest value.

In our personal lives this may mean going back to basics, taking on fewer things, only what matters most. For many this is a sharper focus on family, close friends, health, or a renewed joy in an old hobby. As for our professional lives, a narrow focus could mean limiting the number of projects or initiatives to only those with the largest impact. With greater focus comes greater concentration, great concentration equates to more throughput. We may find ourselves getting more done!

A narrow focus frees up time, what you do with that time is what matters. It should come as no surprise that we would encourage you to use that time to improve at something. Being obsessed with the power of practice here at Rehearsal, we view practice as your most powerful tool. Whether you are practicing guitar or a sales pitch, intense focus on something that brings simple pleasure or measurable impact is tremendously rewarding.

Narrow your focus and accomplish more with practice.

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The Sales Management Juggling Act

For sales management, effectively coaching reps of widely varying skill levels in different locations is nothing short of a juggling act. As a result, it’s not uncommon for coaching to occur infrequently, sometimes not at all, which is undoubtedly one of the factors contributing to sales team turnover. When reps aren’t successful and aren’t given the opportunity to develop the skills needed to become successful, they leave.

We’ve talked previously about ensuring new sellers are successful as soon as possible, but let’s dive into how to effectively coach all sellers. Geography and schedule are common hurdles when it comes to coaching a dispersed sales team. Thanks to technology, both have become far less of an issue. With sellers managing appointments, calls, meetings, and prospecting, not all these items end up on a convenient calendar for sales management. This is where the logistics come into play. If you’ve managed a dispersed sales team, you know how difficult it is to consistently find time to connect with an individual seller (or multiple sellers) for a coaching session.

Skills development through asynchronous practice and coaching solves this problem by eliminating the need to coordinate calendars and propose alternative times when conflicts arise, especially when teams span multiple time zones. When scenarios are distributed to individuals or teams, they can practice their responses at their convenience. The same goes for managers as they provide coaching, suggestions, and feedback. Rather than taking precious selling time away from your team, empower them by facilitating skills development in between meetings, during off-hours, or during unexpected free time.

Time away from selling is a rep’s worst nightmare, don’t disrupt them with scheduling logistics and unnecessarily over-structured skills development programs. Keep it asynchronous, short, and sweet, but most importantly frequent and relevant. This approach effectively develops skills for new as well as seasoned sellers alike.

Sales management is tough enough, stop juggling skills development.

happy business woman using rehearsal

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Today’s Most In-Demand Skills

women-practicing-their-soft-skills

Soft skills aren’t just a nice-to-have, they are a must according to Forbes, LinkedIn, and others. Employers consider them the most in-demand skills today. Communication, persuasion, empathy, and other interpersonal or people-related skills are the most highly sought after.

On the other end of the spectrum, there are hard skills. Hard skills make up the technical know-how that is specific to an industry or to one’s role or function within the organization. While these are critical, you would be hard pressed to find a role where hard skills alone are enough to achieve success. Soft skills always come into play. The ability to effectively communicate regardless of the situation or subject matter complexity is a must.

Superior technical ability is severely hindered when an individual lacks the soft skills necessary to clearly articulate or communicate critical information. This not only limits the potential of the individual, but the business as a whole. There is an upside, soft skills can be learned through very deliberate and purposeful learning activities.

These purposeful learning activities yield considerable development of soft skills and can be done in a bite-sized approach. Structured scenario-based learning programs break down large subjects or topics so they can be mastered at a more individualized pace. Even a seemingly simple situation requiring soft skills should be broken into scenarios so that each can be studied and responses can be practiced, coached, and mastered before tying them all together, tackling the whole conversation.

Increase your team’s value to the organization. Develop the soft skills along with hard skills, don’t let one hold back the other and limit potential.

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Perfection happens over time

Achieving perfection doesn’t happen overnight and because of that, the thought of perfecting a skill is daunting to most. The situations in which one applies soft skills constantly change, so the idea of flawless execution is unrealistic. Perhaps we should look at “perfect” as a verb, commonly defined as; to polish, hone, burnish, better, refine, brush-up, or fine-tune rather than the noun, flawless or without-fault.

If the situations where we apply soft skills are evolving, we must focus on continuous improvement or development. Reaching a state of flawlessness may be irrelevant if we are pitching a product or service in a market that is constantly changing, or perhaps in management where we handle challenging situations with personnel. What is most important is to practice skills continuously, incorporating experiences and insight learned along the way. Although it’s well known that steady improvement over time leads to significant change, it’s easy to lose sight of this along the way.

As trainers, managers, executives, and even peers, how we play a part in the process of deliberate practice is critical. As Geoff Curless mentions in the video above from a Training Magazine webinar earlier this year, “It’s managers, mentors, peers, everybody coming together to provide feedback, coaching, direction to work on those particular skills and see those improvements over time.”

Successful deliberate practice requires that we all play a part in driving continuous improvement within our organizations.

Perfection happens over time

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‘Tis the Season

Budgeting season that is. When you could just have learners use phones to record videos to send to their respective manager, why bring in Rehearsal? This sounds so simple, but it is inefficient and ineffective. Structure is a valuable aspect of effective skills development. A structure for skills development assignments organized by topic or subject facilitates purposeful learning. The simple idea of having conversation threads for a particular topic preserved and available for reference and easy access should a learner or mentor need to revisit a topic adds tremendous value.

Another case for a structured platform to guide skills development is progress measurement. With defined criteria both learners and mentors can utilize, progress and performance measurement are clear. If you don’t measure or don’t know what to measure, how can you be sure you’re making progress? A well-implemented criteria combined with the preserved conversation threads mentioned above clearly highlight progress as well as problem areas in need of more attention.

Often overlooked is the importance of visibility. Now this doesn’t mean visibility of learner activity by their mentors, we are talking about a more broad view for others in the organization. The best example is highlighting or uncovering coach-the-coach opportunities. If the only visibility exists between learners and mentors, how do you ensure those mentors are doing their best? Are they providing high quality coaching though feedback or are they simply directing? If the need to develop coaching, mentoring, or leadership skills exists, we may never see it. This missed opportunity ends up cascading throughout the organization, ultimately limiting performance.

Lastly, scaling skills development is impossible without the structure built into Rehearsal. Imagine receiving individual video submissions from a dozen individuals via text. How would you realistically track who has made a submission versus those who have not? Have you provided feedback to everyone? Which learners need to submit additional attempts? Can you quickly and effectively evaluate each submission against criteria and clearly articulate that feedback to them? What if they each have different levels of experience or are developing different skills? Trying to manage this quickly becomes a nightmare.

Don’t create a nightmare, budget to bring structure into your soft skills development initiatives.

some of rehearsals strengths

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The Softest of Soft Skills

The ability to be empathetic in both life and business is an invaluable skill. Unfortunately you can’t open a book or watch a presentation to learn empathy. You can learn what it is and why it is important, but not how to actually express it. Like other soft skills, practice is key in learning how to exercise empathy when it matters.

Why is practice so important? Let’s consider mastering good form in a simple physical exercise such as push ups. We can certainly learn tips from experts or watch video examples demonstrating good form, but nothing ensures success like practice. Now let’s be clear, the consequence of less-than-ideal form for push ups is minor, the same cannot be said about empathy. The challenge with empathy is its importance in sensitive conversations or interactions between people. Poor, or no expression of empathy can have catastrophic consequences for everyone involved in an interaction.

In business, empathy is nearly always exercised in parallel with technical or hard skills, making for a difficult balancing act. Zelus Consulting Group, who are considered to be experts in empathy suggest that empathy training be layered on top of a solid technical foundation. This yields a highly effective combination of technical skills with the ability to deliver an empathetic experience to customers or even coworkers.

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Another Case for Virtual Learning

Whether by choice or not, transitioning to the virtual classroom has advantages. Many organizations looked to make the move prior, but for some the pandemic forced their hand, why? Knowledge retention is high when application immediately follows learning. In a classroom, learners have no choice but to wait until the course is over, sometimes days or weeks before practicing or applying the skills learned. An otherwise effective training program can be quickly undermined as that waiting time grows.

Classroom role-play is common practice, and although the intentions are good, generally the impact is low. Additionally, repetitive practice is impractical in the classroom, as is thoughtful one-on-one coaching from a mentor. Asynchronous video role-play in a safe place where learners can practice and receive coaching without concern develops stronger skills more quickly.

It’s time to denounce the stigma that a virtual training environment is inferior to that of a classroom. Transitioning from in-person to virtual comes with tremendous advantages ranging from reduced expenses, to increased efficiency and impact. Afterall, isn’t it an impact that we all look to impart?

paychex webinar screenshot

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The Foundation for a Successful Sales Professional

Similar to elite athletes, successful sales professionals possess a unique drive to win. Other professions may strive for success, but not with the same ferocious competitive spirit. It’s one of the reasons sales is an exciting profession, but for those just venturing into sales or find themselves in a new sales role, what makes for a strong start?

Closing sales is far more complex than recalling product knowledge and pricing information. Although there are many commonly used sales methodologies, the ability to craft an effective message for a prospect is universal and critical for not only early success, but for continued success as well. Nearly all sales training deliver product information and pricing, leaving sales professionals to practice with prospects and customers. Effective sales training involves obtaining the product knowledge and then honing the soft skills required to deliver the massaging and engage in a dialog that leads to a sale. Crafting the conversation (or messaging) is key in helping sellers succeed more quickly.

Beyond revenue, a hidden benefit is increased retention. Turnover is a common pain point in many sales organizations, however if sellers are more successful sooner, they are far less likely to leave.

paychex webinar screenshot

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Ensuring Performance with Today’s Mobile Workforce

Training usually consists of digesting training materials, studying product or service offering details, and likely taking a test, but that doesn’t mean learners can demonstrate the desired skill or behavior when it matters most. Many organizations place false hope in top test scores equating to high job performance. Unfortunately, those with top test scores can lack the ability to deliver the necessary skills.

With more remote workers than ever before, organizations can easily lose visibility to whether or not individuals can deliver skills needed for high job performance. While tests and quizzes are a proven means to ensure knowledge retention, video helps develop and validate a learner’s ability to demonstrate critical job skills, regardless of their locale.

The most successful organizations provide learners a safe place to perfect their skills and receive coaching and feedback to ensure they can perform when it matters most. Video can create this environment in a way where leaders can observe how learners truly perform and can then coach as needed.

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Training Tomorrow’s Heroes — In Every Case

Written by Geoff Curless

L&D professionals spend their careers training others to be best prepared no matter what the circumstances. I recently read an article describing retired Fire and Rescue Captain, Michael J. Ward, MGA, MIFireE, FACPE’s thoughts on training for some of the most critical skills – those of our first responders. He reflects on Noel Burch’s model, the Conscious Competence Ladder, developed in the 1970s.

path to mastery

The model incorporates two factors: awareness and competence, whereas when learning a new skill and progressing through the development of that skill, the factors change resulting in a new level of understanding. According to Burch, a student moves up “the ladder” as skill development is enhanced:

  • Unconsciously Incompetent: We don’t know that we don’t have this skill, or that we need to learn it.
  • Consciously Incompetent: We know that we don’t have this skill.
  • Consciously Competent: We know that we have this skill.
  • Unconsciously Competent: We don’t know that we have this skill, but we don’t focus on it because it’s so easy.
  • Mastery of the skill: We have the ability to teach others.

Ward applies Burton’s model to his years of fire and rescue experience. He describes helping firefighters to “get up the ladder” through two types of practice and mentorship. First, he describes that for a firefighter, practice is required to move from “unconsciously incompetent” to “consciously incompetent”. In this case, he defines practice as try, fail, and try again, until there is an understanding of how to perform the skill. To move to “consciously competent”, Ward suggests mentorship, or oversight by a skilled professional who can provide feedback to ensure the skill is performed adequately. Finally, to move to “unconsciously competent”, Ward goes back to practice. But in this case, practice is about repeating what we know is the right way of performing in order to get better or stronger at the skill and until mastery can be achieved. At the point of mastery, the firefighter is then in a position to mentor others.

Today, our first responders are being relied on constantly and the circumstances they face are full of unknowns — and yet they are still performing. Through “unconscious competence” and in some cases “mastery” of life-saving skills, these first responders have proven to be heroes. At Rehearsal, we believe every employee should have the tools and support to feel like a hero in his or her own functional area. Rehearsal’s technology lets your employees “climb the ladder” to mastery helping you to reskill employees who need a completely new set of skills and to upskill employees who need to learn enhanced skills to improve in their roles. The technology lets you follow Ward’s two types of practice and mentoring in order to develop each employee to a new level.

The Rehearsal journey starts with a video — designed by you — describing a scenario from which the student will gain context surrounding a desired skill and a challenge or prompt to answer. The scenario can be accompanied by other materials that can help the student to know more about the skill and the expectation of the activity. Then, the student can respond to the scenario (also via video), recording multiple responses until he or she feels she has provided the most adequate answer, or try, fail, and try again practicing. During these recordings, no one but the student can see the responses and only the response that the student feels is best will be submitted and shared with his or her mentors. Next, the mentor can view the submission and provide feedback. This feedback loop can reiterate until the student has adequately demonstrated the skill. Once the skill has been learned, the student is encouraged to practice by repetition until mastery is achieved. Once the student has fully mastered the skill, his or her response can be posted to the leaderboard where others can learn from “the master”.

First responders deal with elements that many of us may never confront. But in our everyday roles, we confront elements that we want to be prepared to address every time and with confidence. This Conscious Competence Ladder is not difficult to deploy in your organizations as long as you have the structure to allow for your employees to take another step.

To learn more about Rehearsal, contact us now. To view our recent webinar highlighting our customers’ practice and mentoring journeys, click here.

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Is There a Formula for Effective Sales Enablement?

Although there is no magic formula in sales enablement, the second annual ATD Sell conference featured a number of sales enablement practitioners sharing insights on the making of impactful programs. It is clear that methods, tools, and culture are key in building impactful programs. For lasting results, organizations must shift enablement from a program mindset to a cultural one. Enablement isn’t a project or temporary initiative, but a continuous, ever-improving way of doing business.

Cultural adoption of this mindset requires not just buy-in, but involvement from the top down. Leadership must not simply endorse the enablement mindset, but demonstrate it. They should champion programs and participate in both learning and coaching. This may be best represented by a leader working side-by-side with the team rather than directing from afar.

Methods refer to the tactical approach to building, deploying, and managing enablement programs. Key elements include identifying coachable areas that will help achieve business goals is a great place to start, ensuring the leadership adoption mentioned above, conveying clear expectations for both sellers and coaches, as well as methods to showcase results.

Tools may seem straightforward; however, you have to keep your goal in mind. Are you looking to manage content, or create tailored learning paths, or even facilitate more virtual training? If you are in need of LMS functionality, there are a number of great solutions out there, but if you are looking to change behavior and truly enable sellers to perform at new heights, you have to do something different. At Rehearsal we remain focused on the power of practice using video role-play to hone skills, boost confidence, and reach top performance.

Nothing can replace people in sales and nothing replaces practice in becoming great.

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You’ve Thought Enough, Now do the Work

Do-the-work

In his most recent weekly newsletter our friend James Clear posed a question to readers: Do you really need to think more, or is it simply a matter of doing the work? It’s a simple yet thought-provoking question. With endless information at our fingertips, our goals may be obscured by all the noise.

In the spirit of continuous improvement in life and business, there is simply no substitute for doing the actual work. This doesn’t mean one should work aimlessly without purpose, knowing when to pause the thinking and start doing is incredibly important.

With respect to video-based practice and coaching, one might be tempted to consternate over the perfect, all-encompassing program to overcome all organizational skills-gaps but this is a recipe for disaster. A better approach with a much higher likelihood for success is to start with one specific topic or skill. Put in the work, the results may surprise you.

You’ve thought enough, now do the work.

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Why Collaborative Video-Based Practice Effectively Trains People Skills: A Brain Science Analysis

Written by Todd Maddox, Ph.D.

Rehearsal’s Collaborative Video-Based Practice platform was born out of a growing business need for more effective tools to train the people skills (e.g., communication, collaboration and feedback) that are lacking in many businesses. According to the 2018 Gallup Report, 67% of US workers are “not engaged” and this is often due to a lack of meaningful and effective communication, collaboration and feedback between employees and management. Whether a manager is looking to increase employee engagement and performance or a sales professional is looking to improve their pitch, the need for better tools to develop people skills is clear.

People skills are about behavior. It is one thing to know “what” to do and to have a cognitive understanding of methods for communication, collaboration and feedback. It is a completely different thing (and mediated by a different system in the brain; see below) to know “how” to behave in a way that demonstrates effective communication, collaboration, and feedback. The sales professional with strong people skills shows the correct body language, says the right things, and says them in the right way. The manager or executive with strong people skills can “read” a room, knows what to say to engage employees or to calm fears, and knows how to behave in a way that shows strength but also empathy. Both the sales professional and the executive with strong people skills look effortless in their behavior. It is as if their body is so well trained that they don’t even have to think.

Learning science—the marriage of psychology and brain science—makes clear that a cognitive understanding of people skills and a behavioral understanding of people skills are distinct, and their learning is mediated by different systems in the brain, each of which has unique processing characteristics. The figure below provides an overview of the two main learning systems in the brain, along with the relevant psychological processes, and a schematic of the relevant brain regions.

The cognitive skills learning system in the brain has evolved to learn information and facts (the “what”). Cognitive skill learning relies on working memory and attention and is mediated by the prefrontal cortex in the brain. Processing in this system is optimized when information comes in brief chunks. The behavioral skills learning system in the brain has evolved to learn behaviors (the “how”). Behavioral skill learning does not rely on working memory and attention, in fact, it is known that “overthinking it” hinders behavioral skills learning. Behaviors are learned through gradual, incremental, dopamine-mediated feedback learning in the basal ganglia of the brain. Processing in this system is optimized when behavior is interactive.

Rehearsal’s Collaborative Video-Based Practice Platform Effectively Trains People Skills

People skills are about behavior and thus behavior change is the litmus test. Although many Learning Management Systems (LMS) promise behavior change, the traditional LMS approach to learning is through the cognitive skills learning system. Learners study written content or video that impart information about communication and leadership skills, or demonstrate them with video, but what is lacking is a mechanism for practice, coaching, and collaboration. It is deliberate behavioral practice, coaching and collaboration that engage and train the behavioral learning system in the brain and ultimately lead to behavior change.

Rehearsal’s Collaborative Video-Based Practice platform was built with these considerations in mind. Rehearsal is all about practice, coaching and collaboration. A typical training session in Rehearsal starts by presenting the learner with a contextualized scenario. This could involve a manager needing to address the consistent lateness of an employee, or a sales professional making the case for why a potential client should purchase their product. This sets the stage and provides the important situational context within which behavior is learned. The learner is allowed to videotape themselves practicing as many times as they like. Critically, the practice takes place in a safe and private environment free from evaluation, thus allowing behavioral learning to proceed without cognitive interference. [As an aside, Rehearsal does include “hotseat” scenarios that provide the learner with opportunities to learn under pressure.]. Once satisfied the learner can submit the video for feedback and coaching from peers and managers. The feedback can come in the form of written text, audio or video, as well as ratings of tone, demeanor and confidence. Although the feedback is asynchronous, and does not occur in real-time, it primes the learner for behavior change that can be gained through further video-based practice. In addition, the range of feedback from peers and managers offers a rich broad-based learning context.

The learning platform has many other advantageous features. For example, video training content is organized into channels to provide a flexile space for conversation and collaboration, as well as ease of access. In addition, videos that best represent specific aspects of people skills (e.g., handling on objection, or showing empathy) are curated into best practice categories so that learners can incorporate some of these behaviors into their own behavioral repertoire. Finally, the platform includes audio-only scenarios that allow employees who provide customer service over the phone to practice people skills in an audio-only environment.

Rehearsal’s Collaborative Video-Based Practice platform represents a strong people skills training product that takes advantage of what is known about the brain science of people skills learning. While the learning science makes clear that there is room for improvement, Rehearsal’s Collaborative Video-Based Practice platform effectively engages behavior change systems in the brain and is far superior to the more traditional LMS approach.

I look forward to following Rehearsal as it refines its offering and iterates toward an optimized behavioral training solution. In the meantime, companies looking to improve their employees’ people skills should take a close look at Rehearsal’s Collaborative Video-Based Practice platform. You won’t be disappointed.

About the Author

W. Todd Maddox, Ph.D. is the Research Fellow for Learning Science at Amalgam Insights and the CEO and Founder of Cognitive Design and Statistical Consulting, LLC. His passion is to apply his 25 years of scientific and neuroscientific expertise, gained by managing a large human learning and performance laboratory, to help businesses build better training products.

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Ability to Communicate: Enabler, Inhibitor, or Both?

The Endless Art of Communication, by Alana Karen, a 17-year Google employee (yes that’s right, 17 years!) is a candid reflection of feedback received early in her career and the dedication to develop her communication skills ever since. She states three truths when it comes to the importance of communication skills:

    1. Career opportunities are determined by your ability to communicate
    2. Your ability to communicate can also be a career limiter
    3. Improving your communication skills never ends

She points out that a strength can also be a weakness. We may hold a wealth of information but lack the ability to articulate it in a clear and compelling way. There were three things that made a difference in her ability to communicate:

    1. Choosing the most important information to share
    2. Questions from the audience should be taken as feedback to strengthen your message
    3. Prioritize and practice communication skills over and over again

What does this mean to those of us here at Rehearsal where practice is paramount? Everything! A consistent effort spread over time ignites notable change. Alana’s post (and career) illustrate Deliberate Practice, self awareness, and the drive to improve. Congratulations on a stellar career Alana, we will continue to watch and admire you as a power of practice role model.

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Coaching Enablement

According to the ATD 2017 State of the Industry report, 45.7% of organizations use on-the-job coaching by managers, which leads us to question the nature of that coaching: is it spontaneous or rehearsed? What is the delivery method? Are they subject matter experts, or simply part of the organizational hierarchy?

Managers are not only imparting knowledge while coaching, but receiving knowledge and developing skills as well. Do they anticipate business situations and preemptively practice coaching skills accordingly? Athletes don’t wait until game time, they break down skills and practice each one in advance, repeatedly. Managers shouldn’t be any different.

When it comes to successful sales enablement initiatives, coaching enablement must be a foundational component. Businesses reach new levels of success when the development trajectory of coaches matches that of players.

Remember, whether a customer service rep, sales manager, or CEO, we are all players in the game of business.

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100% Organic, Non-GMO, Free-Range Video Content

No actors, no backdrops, no scripts. This informal approach to video-for-training is deeply engaging and relatable; why? Because it’s natural, it’s real, and it’s human.

For attendees of the DevLearn 2018 Conference and Expo, it was clear that Rehearsal does not create formal video content for the demonstration of its platform; Rehearsal’s content is real. Attendees could relate to the prospect of recording scenarios from their home, office, or anywhere they may be with their smartphones: no actors, no backdrops, no scripts.

Although there is a time and place for formal video content, when your intent is to foster engaging training experiences and to drive behavioral change, it’s necessary to make real content. Despite the convenience and growing reliance on technology, we will always desire a human connection. We FaceTime our family and friends, and we encourage you to develop your skills using the same organic approach.

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Are You Stuck in Motion?

James Clear recently wrote on smart people mistaking motion for action. He describes the two as: “Motion is when you’re busy doing something, but that task will never produce an outcome by itself. Action, on the other hand, is the type of behavior that will get you a result.”

Although it produces no outcome, motion plays an important part in mastering a skill. For example: preparation by studying or reading about a sales pitch is motion. Delivering that pitch is action.

He goes on to discuss the idea that motion gives us the impression of progress without the risk of failure. This is the reason Rehearsal was meticulously created, to invoke action while providing a safe space to practice your skills without the risk of failure.

Practice is the difference between the motion of traditional training and action.

Take action. Become great.