One of the most prominent experts on behavior patterns and consequent shifts in those patterns, Sigmund Freud, once wrote that “out of your vulnerabilities will come your strengths.” This is applicable on so many levels, especially given the current climate. What we have witnessed is an entire world made vulnerable. And yet, as we begin to emerge, post-pandemic, we see new strengths that before COVID-19 were still only vaguely defined. This rings true of people as well—everything from finding new ways of working, more creatively balancing jobs/family lives, and adapting technologically. As Freud would have said, our collective vulnerabilities forced us into stronger positions and spurred critical behavior changes.
But we are not out of the woods yet. While yes, we have seen a positive change due to this crisis, we have also seen a need to assimilate ourselves to a whole “new normal,” as many have noted. And as far as companies go, particularly those with a distributed salesforce, this has prompted many to rethink their approaches to onboarding, training, and reskilling or upskilling.
As we move forward, business leaders will need to find ways to motivate those who might be pandemic-weary. Especially in onboarding new team members and doing so from a distributed salesforce perspective, they have to integrate the kinds of resources that will most effectively bring about positive behavioral attitudes and shifts, contributing to enhanced overall productivity. Below are several strategies, informed by behavioral science practices, for onboarding your salesforce and ultimately encouraging behavior changes.
Behavioral Change: Start with Socialization
When it comes to a distributor’s early interactions with a company, one of the most overlooked aspects of the onboarding experience is socialization. That is to say, how an individual is brought into the distributed company culture, how their ideas, identity, and thoughts are accepted and embraced will either effect a positive change as that person transitions into their new role or, if done incorrectly, can mean a bumpy path for that individual moving forward. Socialization done well creates an innate sense of membership. An established sense of belonging almost always serves as a motivational factor. Even just thinking about it on a fundamental level: grade school, for instance. Children who feel included, part of the group consistently perform better academically than those who otherwise feel excluded. The same is true of a company and its distributed salesforce. Socialization fosters shared meaning and values.
So how does a company ensure a more seamless process of socialization during the onboarding phase? Establish a sense of community without discounting individual identity.
Individuals naturally want to feel accepted. They want to connect to the culture of the company and the other team members. At the same time, it is essential to note that conformity and community are two very different experiences. Members of the distributed salesforce also want to be appreciated for what they uniquely bring to the table and how these skills/knowledge work in the company’s favor.
Ensure both formal and informal socialization. Socialization comes in several different forms. On a formal level, this may entail a mentor program, for example. The orientation process is often considered a traditional socialization method designed to help the individual identify “their place” in the scheme of things. Informally speaking, socialization occurs mainly through more casual peer interactions.
Integrate a gamification strategy. Gamification has been used successfully by many direct selling companies for onboarding new distributors. It serves a dual purpose when it comes to changing behavior by way of socialization strategies. First, that undeniable social component of community that gamified learning lends itself to. Second, the use of leaderboards, points, and badges also inspires that innate human competitive drive. Seeing a peer’s name atop the board, an individual is inclined to strive to do better, and their behavior is apt to shift accordingly. Be very strategic when assigning points to specific actions and make your Incentives and recognition programs as personalized and data driven as you can.
Promoting Positive Change: Assessing, Training, Measuring
Beyond the ability to effectively socialize new team members during the onboarding phase, there is, of course, the overall approach to training that helps solidify certain desired behaviors.
Assess. Are individuals ready and willing to learn?
This should be one of the very first assessments for any leader and company. From there, it’s a matter of gathering the information that will enable you to determine strengths versus weaknesses. Filling in gaps early in the onboarding process allows the individual to feel more confident and have more clarity regarding the goals and opportunities. The assessments, however, aren’t just necessary at the beginning of an individual’s journey with the company, but throughout their tenure. Such data-driven assessments enable companies to automatically deliver the right type of materials and make training overall far more effective.
Train. Is your salesforce actually internalizing the training?
The training process should consist of various learning components personalized for the individual (again, why data collection is so crucial). For instance, providing personalized microlearning and consequently being able to instantly deliver smaller chunks of information to those who immediately need it is a highly productive way of changing behavior without overwhelming or intimidating that person. For training to work, it should be personalized and followed by knowledge reinforcement. Quiz new members on the newly learned topics from time to time — this, along with their early performance results, will provide the data you need to build on what was learned, and revisit what was not fully understood. Smart learning systems implement this learning loop that helps ensure that the material received has been internalized.
Measure. Is your training working?
While all parts of onboarding are critical, measuring is perhaps the most important. Measuring learning shows you if the training is working, and if not, what needs to be addressed. In terms of the individual’s development, learning measurements provide a more tangible picture of their progress, and help illustrate where they require help. By seeing the bigger picture of how efficient your onboarding program is and how new team members are progressing, will enable you to refine and align your onboarding for best results.
The ever-evolving post-pandemic climate is a reality we all face. Every leader needs to be sensitive to their team members’ individual needs while still driving productivity during this challenging period and beyond. Enacting positive behavioral change right from the onboarding stage will help set up both the individual and the company for greater success.