Nicole Papaioannou Lugara
Practice Makes Progress: 7 Ways to Lower the Stakes & Raise Employee Performance
Many of our clients have high stakes, highly social interactions that their employees need to navigate. Here are some examples:
selling a product that can be customized for the client's specific use case
consulting with a business to advise on potential solutions to pressing operational issues
troubleshooting product bugs
designing new processes
conducting goal setting sessions with direct reports
Because these situations are at the mercy of all that is human (moods, prior experiences, culture and customs, etc.), there is no true blueprint. You can pass down strategies and tools, make generalizations, and tell stories, but you can't say "This is how you will behave every time." There will be exceptions to every rule.
And that's scary because failure in these situations can be devastating-- money lost, performance metrics missed, data security breeched, people leaving the org. YIKES!
Despite that, these skills are so often taught in trial by fire fashion. There's no low stakes environments set up for people to practice their skills, get feedback, rethink, and revise their approach. There's no place to fail.
That's a problem.
So how do you prepare people to perform in these complex contexts?
We advocate for social learning. But while we love user-generated content and leveraging social media strategies, there's an important piece to social learning that often gets ignored.
It's not just about sharing ideas and stories-- that's important, of course.
It's also about the feedback and opportunities to respond and reflect. Within social learning experiences, especially when it comes to these complex contexts, it's important to bake in opportunities for practice in low stakes environments.
The 7 Ways We Promised
Here are some simple ways you can encourage the practice-feedback-response-reflection opportunities with social learning experiences, even if your team is remote:
1. Role play in breakout groups (scalable) or with a mentor (less scalable)
During group meetings or one-on-ones, you'll pose a hypothetical scenario. Then, assign participants roles and ask them to act it out.
I do not recommend providing a script. Just provide the context. This way, the participants can't predict how the others will act, just like in real life.
It may feel forced. It may feel uncomfortable for them to respond on the fly. But the more they do it, the more "muscle memory" they'll build for responding in these situations in real life.
Leave some time to discuss the experience and offer opportunities for reflection. Bonus points if you can provide a rubric and guidelines for peer review.
This is a commonly used tool in K12 education, and it works great in corporate settings too. You can do it during the course of a meeting or asynchronously with deadlines.
Assign out a specific problem to solve. Have each individual record their response (in writing, in video, in audio-- doesn't matter).
Partner individuals, and ask them to come up with a solution collaboratively, using their previous insights to start the conversation.
During a full group meeting or in an online community format, have the teams share their responses and a bit about how they worked together.
Again, allow time to discuss the experience and offer opportunities for reflection (this a theme, yes).
3. Post short form content with a call to action
A 2-sentence post with a fun graphic can be all it takes to get people talking. Don't believe me, just look at that multibillion dollar platform we all love to hate: Instagram.
Start with a focused topic. Then, invite people to do something / say something.
For example, there's a TikTok medical doctor who posts "What would you do?" style scenarios. He offers three choices, and then says, "Post your answer in the comments." Chaos ensues as people wrestle with the right way to respond to these scenarios, which are typically a blend of communication, ethics, and medical practice challenges all posed in one 10 second clip.
But let's say video isn't your jam. You could create a static graphic, or you could write a few short sentences, and ask people to comment their thoughts. We do this all the time with instant messaging. We're just not always intentional about it.
As people comment, feel free to encourage continued conversation by posing your own questions back to them and recognizing outstanding responses.
4. Play video tag
TikTok's got the idea. You post something, and you tag someone. An influencer shares something and invites you to share with a friend. Someone leaves a comment and the user posts it on their video and responds.
You might not have TikTok at work, but you likely have a way to record and share videos and communicate. For example, you might have a Teams channel where you can Share What You Learned.
Start with a specific question or problem, record your response, then tag the next person ("you're it") you want to get on the challenge train.
5. Foster communities of practice
Leverage online forums or collaboration tool channels (e.g., Teams, Slack, Workplace, Notion) to create spaces dedicated to discussion, exploration, and collaborative problem solving focused around a single topic.
This usually works best when the people who are involved are personally invested (they opt in and want to be there), and there is some strategy involved. You will need to foster discussion in the early days. Just throwing people into an online forum isn't enough to foster meaningful interaction in most cases.
In the aviation field, they call this IOE, initial operating experience. A novice pilot gets their chops flying alongside an experienced pilot. The novice gets to fly for real, but under the guidance of someone who can take control if things are going wrong. At the end of the flight, they debrief.
As you bring on new hires, rather than training them and sending them out. Consider pairing them with experienced peers or leaders as mentors who can give them the reigns but with a bit of a safety buffer.
In a remote environment, you can do this with video conferencing and live stream video. For more advanced organizations / organizations with bigger budgets, tools like Microsoft's Hololens and other AR/VR solutions can be leveraged.
And here it is again... allow time to discuss the experience and offer opportunities for reflection.
7. Game It
Games are great ways to learn, and there are multiplayer games for learning (we usually call these "serious games"). You can hire facilitators to bring in already designed games for your team or hire game designers to design custom experiences (facilitator-led or computer-based).
Games have feedback built in, and they can take off the pressure of high stakes performance while still adding just a bit more than role play.
With VR, for example, you can find some fully immersive social experiences where people can practice power skills (that'd be Bersin's term for what we used to call soft skills).
Are you thinking of trying any of these 7 low stakes practice opportunities with your team? Let us know in the comments!
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