Archives for June 2012

Don’t Just Crunch the Numbers on Talent

Statistical analysis for talent management is the latest hot topic. Everyone seems to want to play, and many don’t know what they are talking about.

University HR programs are pushing this. Conference companies are rushing to market with offerings. Journals are carrying more than one article per issue on it. Of course, consultants who didn’t know how to spell it two years ago are suddenly leading sources for analytic methods.

Nevertheless, this is good news. Research has proven that path analysis techniques — including any form of multiple regression analysis, factor analysis, correlation analysis, discriminant analysis, or multivariate and covariance analyses — are powerful tools for finding root causes as well as predicting future value from current investments.

For years managers believed their experience was better than that of a bunch of number crunchers. Today, most managers accept that their estimations are seldom as accurate as a statistical analysis.

In case you have been on the moon or living in a biosphere for the past year, “quants” stands for quantitatively oriented people and programs. Quantitative or statistical analysis is not the same as strategic analysis, however. Statistics deals with numbers. Strategic deals with thought. Many people start by gathering some numbers they hope are related to an issue and then run some quant exercise to be sure at the end of the process they will have an objective result.

The potential problem is that their output is only partially relevant to the real issue. The amusing thing is they go along believing they really understand what is happening. Because they have not gotten to the root of the real problem, soon thereafter they have to run a do-over.

That premature number obsession is part of the “what should we measure” syndrome. If you are doing an after-the-fact evaluation of a previous intervention, that is a good question. But if you are talking about analysis prior to making the investment, the requirement is much different.

Analysis does not start with numbers. It starts with thinking and asking questions. It starts at the strategic level looking for the macro forces that affect the way you manage talent today, and more importantly, how you will manage it tomorrow. It is about constructing and understanding the context within which you now operate and will operate for

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the near future.

Case in point, a prospective client wanted to evaluate the ROI of HR services. As we talked, it was clear the company had not spent much, if any, time consciously aiming its services specifically at the

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corporate KPIs. Most say they do, but few companies can show direct connections.

Given that gap, what difference would it make which numbers we come up with? I had to take executives back to the beginning and ask questions such as:

• What are the major initiatives of your company now and into the near future?
• What outside forces impact your company?
• What is happening inside your company that is helping or hindering accomplishment of objectives?

Once we got clear on those types of strategic issues, the rest of the analysis went quickly. Going forward the company was able to design, predict, invest and evaluate all in one system.

Quantitative analysis is much easier than strategic or predictive analysis. Clarity is the first step. To hand a sharp strategic analysis picture to a quant, you will have to answer the aforementioned questions and several more like them. Then the quant can apply the appropriate path analysis technique to either predict a future outcome or evaluate a recent investment return. Measuring is much easier than determining what to measure.

If there is a trick to strategic analysis, it is to forget for the moment that you work in HR. Make believe you are a top executive in your company.

What problems and opportunities are your peers dealing with around marketing, sales, finance, production, customer demands and competition? Your services have to support those business issues. Once you see the connections, you can start down the path to identifying the things the quants should be evaluating.

About the Author:

Jac Fitz-Enz is founder and CEO of the Human Capital Source and Workforce Intelligence Institute. Reprinted from Talent Management Magazine

Developing Sales Managers: How to Maximize Neglected Talent

You know the routine: Step 1: Invest heavily to develop your frontline sellers. Step 2: Promote the best salespeople to the role of sales manager. Step 3: They struggle to succeed in that sales management role. Step 4: Repeat as needed.

This pattern of turning star salespeople into mediocre managers is one that is recognized by most

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companies with whom we work. But interestingly, the observation is commonly accompanied by a casual shrug of the shoulders and the defeated concession, “That’s how it always happens. I guess that’s just the way it is.”

Sadly, that is the way it is—or at least that’s how it has been for more than a century. But more and more companies are coming to recognize the real source of the problem: Sales managers have been neglected and generally mis-served from a training and development perspective.

In fact, a recent ASTD study found that only 11 percent of companies train their sales managers to a high extent, while 22 percent don’t train their sales managers at all. In contrast, the same study found that about 66 percent of those same companies train their salespeople on selling skills at least once each year.

Houston, we have a problem.

The problem is not just conceptual. The same ASTD study found a “significant positive correlation” between the extent to which those managers were trained and the percentage of their reps who meet their sales quota. Conversely, companies that didn’t train their sales managers suffered lower sales performance. So if you want more from your salespeople, the solution is not always to retrain the sellers. Sometimes the solution is to train their sales managers.

Conveniently, this solution is also a good investment of a company’s time and resources. Given a typical span of managerial control, organizations will have one-tenth as many sales managers as they have frontline salespeople. Therefore, the formula is pretty simple. If you train one salesperson, you improve one salesperson. But if you train one manager, you improve his entire team. Repeat as needed.

What’s going on here?

So why has sales management been overlooked as the high-leverage, high-impact training investment that it is? In our opinion, it has resulted from a persistent and vexing combination of weak demand and low supply in the marketplace. Let’s examine each side of this equation to see why this might be the case.

As we highlighted earlier, there has not been an overwhelming demand for sales manager training. Historically, the strategy has been to improve salesperson performance by improving salesperson skills. The skills most often targeted by sales training initiatives involve:

•Presentation skills—how to develop and deliver high-impact presentations
•Call execution—how to plan and execute more effective sales conversations
•Negotiation—how to plan and conduct an effective negotiation discussion with a buyer.

It’s an intuitive strategy that you can’t fault. However, sales managers are the point of reinforcement for any change in a salesforce. At this point it’s almost a cliche to say, but a salesperson’s skill will atrophy almost immediately after a training event if the sales manager is not capable or motivated to reinforce it.

However, the numbers above reveal that we have yet to put our money where our mouths are. We still train sellers and ignore their managers. At best, sales managers attend the same training as their sales teams, but typically with an added section on how to coach the skills represented in the training.

Also on the demand side, sales managers do not clamor for more training. By the time a seller is promoted to manager, she probably has been through a dozen or more training events, many of which were more pain than pleasure. In a sense, sales managers are jaded. And since time is every sales manager’s most precious resource, sitting through another training class is not at the top of her to-do list. The value proposition just isn’t there.

But there is a supply side issue that somewhat justifies the lack of demand. Most sales management training in the marketplace falls into one of two categories: leadership or coaching. While both of these are important skills, they are commonly big-picture discussions. Leadership can build a vision, and coaching can put a troubled rep back on track, but these have little to do with what sales managers do from day to day—manage salespeople to sell more deals.

Most leadership training focuses on how to manage people differently based on tenure, skill set, and personality type. Situational leadership is an example of typical leadership training many sales managers attend. This approach helps sales managers to determine which type of coaching is appropriate for a given sales representative based on the seller’s level of competence and commitment. While this popular approach can be helpful, it is not sales specific and does not directly target the types of conversations sales managers have every day—how to win more deals.

Coaching training is another typical type of training that sales managers receive. Coaching training most often includes methods for improving the interpersonal component of manager-subordinate interactions, as well as practical guidelines for how to create accountability and follow-up regarding performance issues. Again, most coaching training is not sales specific—unless it is an add-on component of a sales training program aimed to coach specific skills such as call presentation skills or negotiation.

We have had clients whose sales managers have attended upwards of six different coaching programs and, according to their sales representatives, they were still not coaching.

Leadership doesn’t happen first thing Monday morning, but team meetings certainly do. And coaching might not happen this Friday afternoon, but you can bet that the sales forecasts will. Sales managers live in a tactical world. From their perspective, coaching and leadership are nice-to-have’s, not got-to-have’s. They need more got-to-have training.

The next generation of sales manager training

From 2008 to 2010, we conducted extensive research about the sales management best practices of 30 leading salesforces, and the insights from that study were recently published in the book Cracking the Sales Management Code. Among other conclusions, there were some “aha moments” that have direct implications for the nature of sales management training—training that will be appealing to sales managers and have practical applications between Monday morning and Friday afternoon.

One of the most interesting realizations from the research was that there is not a single prototype for a sales manager. We’ve come to acknowledge that different types of salespeople have different types of roles. For example, some salespeople manage a handful of major accounts, while others oversee vast territories with hundreds of customers and prospects. Typically these different types of sellers would be armed with different types of skills and tools.

What we haven’t yet come to appreciate is that there also are different types of sales managers. Depending on the type of salespeople they manage, their required skill set also will differ. For instance, the manager of the major account rep will need to have strategic discussions with that seller about strategic alignment with his customer. Account management also has a heavy project management component, so the manager will need to be able to help the rep develop and execute a long-term plan.

However, the manager of the territory rep might need a completely different set of skills. For example, if a sales manager is managing a sales representative with 200 accounts in a fairly large geographic area, prioritization of sales effort is critical to sales success. That territory rep would need help segmenting the customer base, determining appropriate call cycles, and then mapping out a plan to cover the territory. Even though many organizations have segmentation strategies, we often see a lack of follow-up between sales managers and sales reps to determine if the sellers executed according to plan.

In short, if the management tasks differ from sales manager to sales manager, so should their training.

In our research, we uncovered four salesperson activities that must be managed differently: account management, territory management, opportunity management, and call management.

Account management is applicable when a seller has a few large accounts. Large accounts typically represent multiple opportunities for a seller and are worthy of a greater amount of planning. If an account manager has only three or four accounts, it is not necessary to segment them or develop differential call cycles. It is important, however, to strategically align the seller’s solutions with the account’s strategic objectives.

It also is necessary to have a broad base of contacts in different business units within the same account. Account management training typically involves in-depth planning to include:

•different business units
•strategic initiatives by business unit
•key players and their political ties
•action plans to navigate each business

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unit to generate new opportunities.

Territory management is applicable when the number of assigned accounts in a territory is too large for the seller to treat all accounts in the same manner. Segmentation and prioritization methods are critical elements of any training on territory management. Territory management training typically involves:

•prioritizing accounts
•designing call patterns
•executing calls according to the desired patterns.

Opportunity management is applicable when sellers are pursuing deals that require multiple interactions over time to close a sale. If a seller is involved in a transactional sale that is typically closed in one interaction, opportunity management is not relevant. Opportunity management involves educating sellers and sales managers on the process a buyer navigates when purchasing the seller’s solution.

If it is effective, it also will compare and contrast the specific company sales process with the buying process. To effectively navigate an opportunity, the seller must understand the milestones and activities at each stage of the sales process and possess the necessary skills to move the customer through the various stages to a close.

Call management is necessary when a seller is involved in sales in which each sales call is important to the outcome of the deal and each interaction is different enough to warrant planning. If all calls are roughly the same, then planning for each interaction is impractical and unhelpful.

Depending on which types of processes a sales manager supervises, she will need a different set of skills and tools to manage her team appropriately. One-size-fits-all training doesn’t work for varied salespeople, nor will it work for varied sales managers.

Therefore, the first task in designing relevant, practical sales manager training is to understand the unique management tasks of the individuals. Then build sales training that has direct applicability to what he does from Monday to Friday, which is to manage his sellers.

It has been our experience that when managers are exposed to training that equips them to better execute their day-to-day activities, they are extremely willing participants. Many even thank us. Research and experience tells us that generic sales management training needs to be a thing of the past.

You must have rhythm

Sales managers exist in a chaotic world, primarily because they serve two demanding groups—the salespeople below and the executives above. Consequently, they live reactive lives. They respond with haste to every fire their sellers encounter, and they feed constant information up the chain of command. Sales managers always tell us that no two days are ever the same—but perhaps they should be.

One of the key insights from our research and work with clients is that sales managers need more structure. It’s difficult to coach a salesperson when the seller’s hair is on fire. Unless some structure is given to a sales manager’s week, ad hoc interactions will populate the day.

We have spent a significant amount of time observing manager-seller interactions, and we’ve found that little coaching takes place in ad-hoc discussions. Such discussions are hurried interruptions where the goal is to solve immediate problems, not to look farther down the road. Effective management and coaching is best done in a formal environment with an agenda and two parties who are prepared for the conversation.

Therefore, sales manager training needs to help them structure what they do during the course of a day, week, month, and year. They need a management process or rhythm to quell the chaos and let them interact with their sellers in an effective, value-added way.

Most managers we know need help thinking through the management rhythm that is right for their teams. How often do they need to meet? What is the purpose of each meeting? Are they best conducted one-on-one or in a group? What are the inputs and outputs of the interaction?

Sales managers need an operating manual that defines their specific jobs. They have been taught how to lead and coach; now they need to learn how to manage. An example of applicable structure and associated management rhythm for a sales manager managing a group of territory sales reps might include quarterly and monthly meetings.

Quarterly territory reviews with each sales rep. This quarterly meeting might be two hours in length; incorporate a segmented and prioritized list of accounts that the seller has prepared; and provide the venue for a facilitated discussion about the selected segmentation, top accounts in each segment, and then a desired call pattern over the course of the next three months.

Monthly one-on-one meetings with each sales rep. These monthly one-on-one discussions might be one hour in length, and include a discussion about overall pipeline health for the given seller, as well as a more extensive discussion about two or three early-stage opportunities. As appropriate, each of these opportunity coaching discussions may include a specific planning discussion for any upcoming sales call associated with this opportunity.

Clearly the comprehensive management rhythm would include additional interactions. However, what is critical is the inclusion of the most significant interactions—by sales role—needed to produce the desired results. We often find that sales managers are busy and are involved in many various types of activities with their sellers, but they are often not representative of the activities most likely to yield the best results.

Because the majority of manager-seller interactions are ad hoc, they are not conducive to the type of in-depth coaching that drives results and builds seller skill. The incorporation of intentional, planned manager-seller interactions also helps managers to focus their efforts on the most manageable aspects of their job—the activities being executed by their salespeople.

Focus on the manageable

The single greatest learning from our research was this: There are factors you can manage, and there are factors that you can’t. While this might seem boringly obvious, it’s not.

If you asked 10 sales managers to name their primary responsibility, more than half of them would respond with some form of the following: “To make sure my reps make their quota.” And what do all 10 sales managers stare at each Friday afternoon? Reports of their salespeople’s recent performance. Can a sales manager actually manage a quota? Of course not. Can sales managers manage historical performance? No, but they sure do try.

In reality, the only factor managers can manage, and directly affect, are the activities of their sellers—which customers they call, what they say during those calls, which deals they pursue, and how they pursue them. In the end, all of these activities will determine whether they make their number and hit their revenue target, but the target itself can’t be managed. You only can manage activities, not their outcomes.

Most managers we work with find this concept liberating. There’s so much complexity and noise in a sales manager’s world that she wants to simplify. Sales managers need to focus. Winnowing their attention to only what they can manage has two desirable effects. First, sales managers are more confident in the things they do because they know they will have an impact. Second, salespeople get better direction because the managers are focused on the tactics that will lead to the desired results—better sales management.

Training for sales managers needs to go beyond traditional leadership and coaching; it should emphasize the manageable. These manageable activities will look different for different management roles because, as we learned, one sales manager does not equal another sales manager. The activities will need to reside within a solid management rhythm to ensure consistency and impact. But the simplest concepts are often the most powerful. There are factors you can manage, and there are those you cannot.

In the end

Despite the fact that sales management has been a profession for more than a century, we are still trying to figure it out. It’s not as simple as we want it to be, and it’s not as complex as we make it. It’s somewhere in between, and we need to cut through the noise and help sales managers understand exactly what they must do to succeed.

In the end, there’s plenty of good training out there for frontline salespeople. They’ve been studied for decades, and their tools and frameworks are tried and true. However, this is not the case for sales managers. They need better education and development, and the time has come to give it to them. We have some of the pieces, but certainly not the whole. We have some work to do. Let’s do it.

Reprinted from T&D Magazine

Informal Learning: Accidential versus Intentional

Whether it occurs during a formal training session, through an impromptu meeting with team members or in a casual conversation with a colleague, learning happens. Both formal and informal learning bring value to employees and help organizations spread critical knowledge to the workforce.

“Experts have estimated that information is doubling every two years, and this wealth of information leads to increasing complexity in finding the right information or knowledge,” said Karie Willyerd, co-author of The 2020 Workplace. “If you join forces with others through social networks, you’re more likely to find what you need with a little help from your friends.”

Learning With Intent

Leveraging friends and peers for information is what modern mentoring networks are all about. In these networks, informal learning needs are formalized through intentional learning connections. For example, an employee who needs to learn how to upsell an idea to management could tap into a modern mentoring network — ideally anywhere from five to 15 advisers from various functions in the organization — and learn techniques from people who have firsthand experience, which can then be applied directly to the employee’s situation and job.

This intentional and focused approach is significantly different from the accidental learning that occurs in social networking, where random occurrences of learning may pop up, but they are not tied directly to on-the-job application.

Financial services provider State Street Corp. assessed the ease and comfort of using social networking for learning against employees’ need to reflect on what they learned and apply it on the job. “The advent of social networking and instant information streams such as Twitter has become an exciting opportunity to engage employees by supplying them quick information,” said Maribeth Nash, chief talent officer at State Street. “However, we have to be mindful to not rely too much on social networking tools, because often change is made and learning is embedded when it is reflective.

“That is why we believe in providing our employees a mix of traditional learning experiences and robust development that centers on reflective practice. This includes coaching, mentoring and formal education experiences.”

As Willyerd and her co-author Jeanne Meister discovered when conducting research for their book, millennials prefer to learn through mentoring. Willyerd also said that in less than three years, people in this age group — those born after 1977 — will make up nearly 50 percent of the workforce. “The only way to address such a massive need for mentoring is through modern methods that allow mass customization to fit the needs of the new workforce,” she said.

For informal learning to have impact, organizations have to make learning intentional rather than accidental. “As talent professionals, it is critical that we equip our employees with the tools they need to take advantage of accidental learning events by making them intentional, heightening their awareness of the learning opportunity and helping them build a reflective practice,” Nash said.

One way companies can do this is by using enterprise mentoring technology, thus enabling all employees to partake and knowledge to flow unimpeded throughout the company.

“Dr. Edwards Deming used to do a demonstration of dropping a ball inside a hoop, and then moving the hoop each time to make the new center where the ball had previously dropped,” Willyerd said. “After 10 drops, the hoop would have moved across the room. He used that experiment to show what happens with accidental learning: accuracy and the understanding of truth shifts. Intentional learning is important because it has an anchor in expertise, such as a knowledgeable mentor.”

Enterprise mentoring software is built to facilitate people-to-people learning. By using organizational competencies such as financial acumen, dealing with difficult situations or presentation skills as the nucleus for mentoring engagements, participants in an enterprise mentoring program can take targeted action to meet specific work-related goals and remain focused on learning objectives — how to deliver a budget plan to leadership or how to confront a colleague who steals an idea.

Further, since all connections are competency-based and have an intentional learning focus, organizations can more easily measure things such as speed to competence — how quickly individuals become proficient in specific competencies — and better understand the impact the process has on individuals and the organization as a whole.

For example, a company could look at data collected through mentoring software to see how people are improving in an organizational competency area, such as serving the client, and then chart improvements over time. These types of measures provide the hard data that learning leaders need in their quest for ROI.

The need for mentoring, knowledge sharing and skill building continues to grow. A November Accenture Skill Gaps Study found that 55 percent of workers in the U.S. reported they are under pressure to develop additional skills to be successful in their current and future jobs, but only 21 percent said they have acquired new skills through company-provided formal training during the last five years. This could be because skills needed today are evolving quickly, making formal training a poor fit for a more on-demand reality.

With formal training methods, it can take 12 to 18 months to design and implement a course, by which time employees may no longer need to address that skill because their priorities and job tasks have shifted. Instead, more companies are embracing informal learning practices that help employees connect with one another at the point of need to share knowledge and information, and immediately apply new insights back on the job.

Modern mentoring networks offer one tool organizations can use to address the growing need for intentional learning in a more informal process. State Street uses mentoring software to run a self-directed global mentoring program that is open to all employees.

“The goal of this program is to allow employees to be able to find mentor matches that best fit their needs, regardless of locations or seniority,” Nash said. “Employees are able to select one-on-one relationships or group mentoring depending on their preference.” The program is also helping the organization to develop future leaders and build a more robust talent pipeline.

Personalized Learning

One of the greatest benefits of modern mentoring rests in the personalized nature of the learning. People can customize their engagements so learning goals focus on their most pressing issues, and they can create a defined learning agreement that outlines goals and objectives for the learning engagement. Conversations with advisers are focused on those goals and allow information to be applied within the job context, creating real value for the mentee and the organization.

In the aforementioned Accenture study, 52 percent of respondents reported they added technology skills in the last five years, but few had updated other in-demand skills such as problem solving (31 percent), analytical skills (26 percent) or managerial skills (21 percent). Further, 68 percent of workers said they believe it was primarily their responsibility to update their skills, not their employer’s.

However, organizations would be remiss if they did not provide ways and means for employees to improve the skills they need to be effective. As companies grapple with the shortage of qualified workers to fill jobs, more have determined that they must look internally for candidates. This makes it even more important for companies to provide access to skills and knowledge.

The Accenture study offered advice for companies trying to close the skills gap: “Mine your own organization for hidden talent by identifying the skills in your existing workforce in a searchable skills database, creating an open and fluid talent market and establishing programs and incentives that foster internal talent mobility.”

Willyerd agrees. She said modern mentoring can act as a catalyst enabling companies to take advantage of the talent they already have in-house as opposed to being used solely as a tool for individual career growth. Further, mentoring can provide the appeal of informal learning with the structure learning leaders need to prove business impact.

“Imagine, for example, that a company wants to penetrate an emerging market, such as China,” she said. “How powerful would it be to have 20 to 30 people join a leadership circle with someone who is an expert at doing business in China, where they can collaborate virtually and learn from one another as they make their plans?

“They could invite people in as visiting experts and leverage resources across a broad set of learners, instead of the typical one-to-one relationships that occur in traditional mentoring. Hard outcomes of this approach can be retention of top talent, accelerated time to market, measured time to find information, and so on.”

As intentional learning via modern mentoring expands, the key for all companies will be how to take the benefits seen in mentoring engagements and tie the results back to organizational goals. That critical connection will provide proof that intentional/informal learning efforts have a real impact on the bottom line.

About the Author:

Randy Emelo is president and CEO of Triple Creek.  Reprinted from Chief Learning Officer magazine

Can Social Media Produce Wellness Benefits?

For years, Chilton Hospital tried to get employees to take better care of themselves.

The northwest New Jersey hospital’s human resources staff launched diabetes and other disease management initiatives to improve employee well-being and reduce health care costs. But the resulting behavior changes were minor, and the programs only covered a small number of employees.

That changed, though, when Chilton switched gears to a wellness program that asked employees to get social and competitive.

In March 2011, Chilton entered a countywide fitness challenge where employees vied in teams of six against other local businesses to see who could eat the healthiest, walk the most or drop the most weight. During the 100-day challenge, competitors logged onto a private, Facebook-like social network to share results and cheer each other on.

To get employees to participate, the 256-bed hospital offered $150 to each member of the winning team and $500 to the employee who shed the most pounds. All told, 56 teams signed up, about 37 percent of the staff. In the end, though, it wasn’t the money that drew the workers in. It was the online camaraderie, and the challenge. “People wanted to be on the winning team,” says Julie McGovern, Chilton’s vice president of administration and HR.

Experiences like Chilton’s are playing out across the country as companies rebuild their employee wellness programs on Internet-based social networks that are equal parts health journal, fitness challenge and online support group.

Companies hope the programs will curb escalating costs for health care benefits. In 2008, the first year American Financial Group, or AFG, ran a social media-based walking program through vendor WalkingSpree, the insurance company saved $9.27 in employee health care costs for every $1 spent on the program. The insurance company’s health care premiums stayed flat that year because employees were healthier, according to a testimonial from AFG, which continues to use the program.

Aside from cutting costs, online-based wellness applications can help retain talent. The programs generally make employees feel better about themselves, and by extension, with the place they work, so they’ll stick around longer.

“Employers are starting to recognize that incorporating elements of social media into a wellness program can boost participation and engagement and help create that buzz and culture around health and wellness that traditional engagement” methods aren’t generating, says Kristie Howard, a vice president at Longfellow Benefits, a Boston-based benefits consultant.

Buoyed by a Confluence of Trends

Social wellness games represent a confluence of some of today’s most significant online and workplace trends. One of the biggest is “gamification,” or adding gamelike features to software and other business processes to make them more fun and engaging. Technology analyst Gartner Group predicts that by 2014, 70 percent of the 2,000 largest companies in the world will use at least one “gamified” enterprise software application.

With more companies using internal social networks such as Yammer and Socialtext to improve workforce collaboration, replace email or streamline other aspects of work, it’s easing the way for workplaces to adopt Internet-based platforms for wellness games and challenges. When wellness tech vendor ShapeUp Inc. polled 351 U.S. corporate wellness executives this spring, 56 percent said that they were using some type of online competition or challenge, and another 40 percent were considering it. “It’s a natural migration for wellness programs,” says Shawn LaVana, ShapeUp’s marketing vice president.

Like other tech innovations that started out as consumer products before migrating to the world of work, many social wellness services had their roots in the personal health care apps that appeared after the iPhone and other smartphones became commonplace. Software as a Service-based internal networks such as ShapeUp let employees chart their progress toward losing weight or getting fit, or to record their standings in team or group challenges. Others such as Walkingspree work with pedometers or other devices that employees wear while working out, and then plug into a PC to download data to an online fitness journal.

As more employees bring smartphones to work, it has become easier for employers to offer wellness games and other social media-based content that can be accessed from a mobile device or laptop or desktop computers. But apps don’t have to be that sophisticated. Employees can use ShapeUp, for example, to receive fitness-related text messages on a standard cellphone, a selling point for companies with large contingents of blue-collar workers who don’t or can’t use a smartphone on the job.

Enough companies are interested that industry organizations, such as the Society for Human Resource Management, are holding sessions on social media-based wellness programs at various 2012 annual conferences.

Using Third-Party Wellness Programs

Although some companies stick to Facebook and Twitter or corporate blogs for wellness tips and to promote challenges, more employers are paying monthly or yearly subscription fees to outside vendors to run online programs for them.

To run its social wellness program, Chilton chose Keas, a 4-year-old online game platform co-founded by the former head of the now shuttered Google Health. The platform lets employees create profiles, share updates to a Facebook-like news feed, take online health quizzes and keep tabs on their teams and challenges. Wellness program managers use the platform to generate reports on participation, physical activity and other statistics.

During the hospital’s first 100-day challenge, 336 employees used the platform to track losing an aggregate 1,230 pounds, eating 8,918 additional servings of fruit and vegetables and putting in 1,274 extra days of exercise, according to McGovern, the facility’s administration and HR vice president. “It wasn’t just exercise and eating better,” she says. “People made a commitment to stop smoking, take stress management classes and control ongoing diseases.”

The hospital’s already committed to hosting two more challenges this year. But it will take time for the program to affect the hospital’s bottom line. To gauge that impact, Chilton is doing free biometric screenings—height, weight, blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index—once every six months for employees who participate in the challenges. “Because if people can keep the weight off, it will ultimately be a positive thing,” for them and the company, McGovern says.

Elsewhere, reception of the new generation wellness programs has been strong. In ShapeUp’s survey, 75 percent of companies offering some type of online fitness challenge said it had improved employees’ perception of their corporate wellness program, and 71 percent said employees were using more wellness resources because of the programs. “It’s getting people to take ownership of their health,” says Fran Melmed, an employee wellness communications consultant who conducted the survey for ShapeUp.

For some companies, social wellness programs are already paying off. Sprint Nextel Corp. estimates it saved approximately $1.1 million through a companywide fitness challenge launched in 2011 as employees’ healthier lifestyles led to fewer medical claims. In the company’s first 12-week Sprint Get Fit Challenge, run by ShapeUp and benefits provider OptumHealth, about 16,000 employees in teams of up to 11 lost a collective 41,000 pounds, took more than 4.8 billion steps and logged nearly 22 million exercise minutes, according to the company.

Other employers and social wellness vendors are still calculating the return on investment such products can have. Traditional wellness programs such as Weight Watchers have a head start because of their longevity, Melmed says, but new vendors are taking steps to quantify how well their programs work. ShapeUp and Healthways Inc.’s MeYou Health, for example, are doing studies to compile hard data, she says.

A weight-loss study that ShapeUp conducted in 2009 is one of the first analyses of online-based employee-wellness programs to be published in a peer-reviewed medical or scientific journal. The results are based on data from 3,330 overweight or obese people in 987 teams that completed a 12-week online challenge.

The results, published online in March by Obesity, a research journal, support the theory that online programs that let people work out with teammates can help workers lose weight, according to the report.

Despite the advantages social wellness programs offer, some employees worry about their personal information being compromised, says Howard of Longfellow Benefits who helped start the Worksite Wellness Council of Massachusetts last year. Howard isn’t aware of any breaches, “but due to the potential for issues with HIPAA privacy, social media is an area employers and wellness vendors should approach cautiously,” she says.

Also to avoid privacy issues, social wellness product vendors are being careful to use their platforms to share health and wellness information but not dispense personalized health care advice, Howard says.

Melmed agrees. “Employers should look to insurers and other third parties to help them expand their programs with sensors or devices,” she says. “That way the employer gets a better sense of movement, activity or engagement but doesn’t get into how many steps Suzy or Jack took today. It makes for an easier, cleaner message to the employee as well.”

Committing for the Long Haul

It may be easy to get employees excited about an eight- or 10-week weight-loss challenge or a one-time companywide biometric screening. But for long-term success, social media-based programs need to be part of a larger commitment, wellness experts say.

In addition to online challenges, a wellness program has to foster ongoing discussion of healthy lifestyles, whether through a digital network, blog, e-newsletter or old-fashioned print materials, says Jennifer Benz, founder of a San Francisco-based employee wellness communications consultancy.

Companies also need to offer a healthy work environment, one with fitness facilities, nutritious options in the cafeteria and a culture that doesn’t prize overtime at the expense of its employees’ well-being, says Benz, who partnered with wellness application vendor Limeade on a wellness app platform called Limeade GreenLine. “You have to address all those structure things that get in the way of

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people achieving their optimal health,” she says.

Chilton Hospital has taken that advice to heart. Since that first 100-day challenge a year ago, the hospital put a walking path around campus and organized walking groups and a hiking club. McGovern scaled back the prizes she’s offering for signups and winners because workers no longer need as much persuading.

McGovern says she believes that the combination of the online wellness challenge, biometric screenings and running a separate disease management program will eventually help the hospital cut health care costs. The social media wellness campaign is a major part of that, especially because so many of the facility’s employees who don’t sit at a desk all day can use it.

And they are—everyone from nurses to the cleaning crew and cafeteria staff. “They’re finding ways to use it on their breaks, or on their smartphones at home,” she says. “To have so many people participating, it shows you how much they want to do it.”

About the Author:

Michelle V. Rafter is a Workforce Management contributing editor. Reprinted from Workforce Management

Why it Pays to Develop Skills in ‘Irrationality’

The standard approach to employee development, management, and even selling is to break tasks down to observable components, provide the logical rationale behind completing the job according to that standard, and expect the factual evidence to be sufficiently overwhelming to convince people of the logic of the need to change. Unfortunately, that approach will be ineffective and lacking because it fails to meet a key need of the receiver of the message.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, training in an understanding of irrationality is needed.

The Situation

An executive was frustrated by the inability of her sales force to achieve quarterly targets even though the opportunities existed. In exasperation, she once again reviewed the following fact-based tools with the team:

•Account Profile Forms: Interrogatively question prospects/accounts to identify and learn needs.
•Product Knowledge: Making sure the salespeople know the differences between their offerings and those of the competition.
•Internal Resources: Forecasting tools, marketing collateral uses, inventory tracking applications, and pricing aids to ensure they leverage the advantages of the newly implemented IT department’s work.
•Reinforcement of the solution’s ROI, delivery options, and different solution alternatives.

Sensing her desperation at working so hard without results, I asked if I could share an insight developed over 25-plus years of training. Even in her impatience to progress, she relaxed a bit as she listened to my story:

The Story

I began in sales training believing it was incumbent upon salespeople to uncover needs, diagnose the issues, and then prescribe a solution that would link product or services to those needs. For years, I refined my skills in honing the ability to zero in on the proper questions to ask, the “bridge to a close,” and the sales process methods to gain agreement, etc.

I conduced two-day workshops where I introduced forms, profiles, processes, etc., all designed to reinforce “best-in-class” skills. All the while, I believed the answer to sales success lay in the application of the skills being trained. Skill in rapport was something that was “hired in” as it was not easily trained. Either someone “had it, or not.” Sure, we trained people on how to do the steps mechanically (shake hands, make eye contact, look for pictures or trophies in the buyer’s office to comment on, etc.), but it was less important than the critical success factors (CSFs).

Over that time, I got quite good at creating exercises, job aids, reference materials, case studies, etc., designed to enhance the competencies of the sales forces I trained to follow the path of “Fact-based selling/Consultative Approaches/Solution-based techniques/etc.”

Truth be told, the results of that effort rarely led to a change in performance across the majority of salespeople trained.

It was not until I applied research from experts outside business or sales (attorneys, therapists, and others) who exposed me to a different insight on what compels people to act, how to align with others, ways of building trust, develop relationships, etc., that I understood that what we have lost in our sales approach is the understanding of the importance of the non-logical, emotional, and non-rational components of decision-making.

Building Relationships Starts With Trust

While there is a need for the skills covered in the traditional way salespeople are taught to sell, there also needs to be awareness of how to appeal to the emotional decision-making requirements the buyer has to have met. For example, one of the key challenges for a seller is to build a relationship with his or her prospect. But to do that, one needs to develop trust. Trust does not happen solely by the sharing of data or facts. No one forms a relationship with a data sheet, spreadsheet, or even ROI calculations.

Building trust requires the six Cs:

1. Competency: Seen as capable and knowledgeable.
2. Commitment: Demonstrate investment in the solution and not just see the prospect as a quota-attainment target.
3. Communication/Clarity: Information-sharing, responses to questions, removing doubts, etc.
4. Caring: Before assessing or caring what the seller knows, the customer wants to know the person cares.
5. Collaboration: For sales efforts to succeed, there is a need to align with customers, share resources, mutually choose options, and exemplify a willingness to work together.
6. Character: Behaving ethically, morally, and transparently.

When logic, data, quantitative input, and facts are offered, we tend to want to challenge, argue, and dispute them. However, when we are told a “story,” we relax, listen for how it mirrors our own reality, are willing to share experiences, and the conversation becomes a dialogue of equals—and not a salesperson trying to sell something to a resistant buyer.

Putting It Into Action

Rather than the standard factual/rational/logical sales presentations, the executive was told to include the following few things:

1.Competency: Rather than go on and on about how great they are in their selling decks (all self-reported), I told her to share an example of how they had solved a problem for a client or customer. The example will convey the competency far better than beating of the chest and claiming one’s superiority.

2.Commitment: Share a story of how the company went above and beyond the expected. It is far more accessible for the prospect than simply stating, “We are with you from sale to implementation.”

3.Communication/Clarity: Share a time when, by virtue of your communicating clearly, you avoided a catastrophe that was bound to happen.

4.Caring: Offer up that example of when you personally opened the office on the weekend of your daughter’s wedding because you knew the client needed access to files.

5.Collaboration: Recount that time your firm worked side by side with the client to staple pages and punch holes in their sheets to be stuffed into binders.

6.Character: Avoiding gossip or not taking potshots at competitors will be noted in your favor.

The irrational success the executive’s team experienced prompted her company to make a logical choice and promote her.

About the Author:

David Zahn, president of ZAHN Consulting, LLC, is an author, consultant, professor, and connoisseur of Buffalo Chicken Wings. He can be reached at

Reprinted from the Training Magazine Network

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