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Why Your Problem Person is Still a Problem

He’s horrible; send him to training.

How many times have you watched this scenario play out?  An employee is performing poorly.  Management gets frustrated.  They decide to send the person to training.  Clearly his behavior must be improved.

Sending someone to training is certainly more humane than firing the person.  But performance problems are not always due to lack of skill.  In many cases, the ecosystem surrounding the person is the root problem. 

For example, in our consulting practice we often work with leaders who want their sales team to be more consultative.  Instead of simply pitching products, they want their reps to focus on the customer, ask more questions, and put their pitch decks aside until they build value.  So leaders put their sellers through consultative sales training.

The problem is, more often than not, the training doesn’t stick.

Research indicates 87% of new sales training is lost within a month.  Sellers exhibit consultative skills in the classroom, yet back in the field, the transactional mindset takes over.  85% of sales training fails to deliver a positive ROI.

The issue isn’t salespeople; it’s the ecosystem.

When an organization is focused on its own metrics, when sales managers never ask about customer impact, and instead only focus on the deal, the transactional mindset will prevail.  When the sales aids are product dumps instead of conversation starters, the sales team will default to pitching product without asking questions.  Consultative selling skills can’t survive in a transactional selling ecosystem.

If you want someone to make a behavior change, you have to look at their ecosystem.  Does the current ecosystem support the desired behavior, or is it constantly eroding it?  Behavior change is not sustainable if the ecosystem doesn’t reinforce it.

The same is true outside of the office.

Many years ago my husband and I (somewhat naively) took our two-year-old to Hawaii to visit my cousin.  We talked to her in advance about what the plane ride would be like.  We practiced sitting still in the car seat for a long time (in a pre-iPhone era).  We came prepared with lots of snacks.

On the plane, she was great; she ate her meal, and loved looking at the clouds.  She was a delight at the rental car place, standing in line with us, loading our gear into the Tracker.  She even did well at the grocery store, pointing and laughing as we bought provisions.

Then, on the two hour, twisty turny drive to my cousin’s house, she lost it, completely totally lost it, hands in the air, wailing and flailing.  Upon arrival at my cousin’s beautiful home, she threw herself out of the car seat onto the ground.  My cousin, who was looking forward to meeting my daughter for the first time, laughed and kindly joked, “She makes a terrible first impression.”

It wasn’t because she didn’t know how to behave; it was because the circumstances made positive behavior impossible.  A sixteen-hour journey, a time change, and high altitude couldn’t be overcome, no matter how engrained positive behavior was.

A slow waitress may be inattentive, or she may be dealing with a backed up kitchen 15 minutes behind on orders.  An aggressive driver may be a jerk, or they may be rushing their nauseous child to the doctor.

Positive behavior is only as successful as the environment will allow it to be.

If you’re dealing with a problem employee, or a problem family member, ask if the ecosystem is supporting the desired behavior.  Or is it sabotaging it.