#220: It Turns Out You Can Teach an Old Dog New Tricks!

It turns out old dogs like me can learn a lot from the young crop of Gen Z students emerging from our college campuses.

Old Dog New Tricks

This was my fourth year teaching a class in Sales and Sales Management at Azusa Pacific University. This year’s class of 40 dwarfed last year’s class of 20 students and was equally divided between juniors and seniors.

Feedback from the students last year made it clear they wanted a diverse mix of teaching methods. Given their short attention span, hour-long lectures in a three-hour class just didn’t cut it. Variety is not only the spice of life; it is absolutely necessary for a classroom of Gen Z’s!

My goal this year was to really mix it up by making the class far more experiential and less dependent on lecture:

  • To create a simulated workplace team environment, I divided the class into eight teams of five students each based on their Strengthfinders results. Students were assigned to groups so that each of the four Strengthfinder Leadership Domains (Executing, Influencing, Relationship, and Strategic Thinking) were represented in each group.
  • The teams worked together on two major assignments: creating a sales training manual for a company of their choosing and teaching their fellow students by presenting the contents of one chapter of our text.
  • Role play exercises in six of our 13 sessions were designed to give the students an opportunity to practice selling skills in the classroom.
  • In one class session, students were required to present key learnings to the class gleaned from a published article on sales.
  • Three sales training videos demonstrating elements of the sales process were used to show how selling skills discussed in class came to life in a selling situation.
  • Short quizzes were given covering the material in each chapter every week. Scheduling quizzes as we covered material ensured that students stayed up to date and eliminated the need to “cram” for a midterm or a final exam.
  • Students were each required to write six short case study papers over the course of the semester.

Overall, the objective of this mix of group and independent work assignments was to give students an opportunity to learn while also developing their presentation skills with the support of their peers.

What I Learned from Their Feedback

I give my students a feedback form during our last class session asking three questions 1) What was helpful that we should keep doing, 2) What was unhelpful that we should stop doing, and 3) What would you do differently?

1) What should we keep doing? The interactive exercises, especially the role plays, were a hit with the majority of the students. Students also liked having the weekly quizzes following the lecture because it helped reinforce what they learned that week.

2) What should we stop doing? Long (45-60 minute) lectures were mentioned several times as pushing the limits of their attention span. Allowing student groups to teach a chapter was not as effective as I’d hoped because other students felt they didn’t learn as much. Finally, the training videos were somewhat dated and failed to impress this YouTube generation.

3) What would you do differently? The class had a number of excellent suggestions for improving the learning environment in the class. Several students thought a guest speaker who was currently in a sales role would be a great addition to the learning experience. Doing even more role plays and doing them in small groups rather than as a whole class was suggested to allow more people to get more practice. Finally, several students suggested in-class discussions of the case studies as a way of reinforcing what was taught in the text.

What I’ll Do as a Result

As always, the student’s feedback is a valuable tool for me to improve as a teacher and to develop a learning framework that will be beneficial for the majority of the students. My plans for next semester include:

  • Reducing the lecture time even more to allow more time for interactive role plays and class discussion.
  • Maintain the weekly quiz schedule and the requirement to write case studies.
  • Devote time during the class to discussion of the weekly case study.
  • Bring in a sales representative one week to teach the class and talk about their personal experiences.
  • Abandon the dated videos. I’ll look for something that is relevant to the material in the class with a higher production value.
  • Rethink the way the team projects are completed. Although it was intended to get them to work together, this group did most of their “teamwork” independently and then just assembled the results.

Lesson for Leaders

Peter exhorted believers to “…use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Peter 4:10).

Leaders, to be effective, we need to learn and adapt to the changing environment. We need to stay on top of our game by using the gifts God has given us to serve others.

Perhaps my biggest takeaway from this year’s class is that every class is different. What worked well last year may not work well at all this year. Building relationships and engaging with the people in our organizations is the very best way to ensure that we are serving them well.

Join the Conversation

As always, questions and comments are welcome. What lessons about developing and leading people have you learned from others?

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Category: Skills | Human Resource Development

#219: Can Feedback Really Help Drive Growth in My Business?

If you want to see the effect of feedback, look at a child. Imagine the excited four-year-old who runs to her father to show off her most recent artistic achievement.

Feedback in Business

If you speak harshly, discussing the need to color within the lines and use the correct colors, you will see a child’s smile fade, enthusiasm will wane, and she will not be as likely to come running to show off her work in the future.

If, however, you tell her what a beautiful picture she has made and show her how if she colors slowly she can stay in the lines you will see a smile broaden as she runs off to create an even more beautiful masterpiece for her father.

Feedback with employees has the same effect; it will either build an employee up or decimate their spirit.

Constructive Feedback

All feedback should be constructive. It should be done in such a way that the employee is motivated to improve performance or continue to do excellent work.

Paul emphasized this point in Romans 15:1, “We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbor for his good, to build him up.”

Getting Started

Here are eight guidelines to help you develop and use your feedback skills more effectively:

1) Use Common Definitions and Simple Language

Make sure that you are using common definitions. Even the simplest words in our vocabulary have multiple meanings.

The more complicated your vocabulary, the more likely misunderstandings will occur. Be specific, be concise, and use simple terms to increase the effectiveness of your communication.

2) Avoid the Use of Garbage Words and Slang

Use of garbage words can add confusion to a conversation. Words like “hmm,” “uh-huh,” and grunts and groans convey different meanings depending on your tone of voice, your facial expressions, and your body language.

3) Be Observant

People usually use a fairly consistent set of verbal and non-verbal cues. I had one boss who was so tuned in to me that he could see the wheels turning in my head, and knew when I didn’t agree or when I had an idea. He said he could tell when I was thinking something over by my facial expressions, and when I had something to say because my posture changed. He was rarely wrong.

4) Behavior Versus the Person

The purpose of feedback is to improve employee productivity. Feedback for behavior that needs correction should be focused on the behavior, not the individual.

Jesus gives us an excellent example of providing feedback for the behavior rather than the individual in Matthew 26. The Roman soldiers came to arrest Jesus when Peter boldly stepped forward and cut off the ear of the servant of the high priest. Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place for all who draw the sword will die by the sword (Matthew 26:52).”

5) Feedback Timing

Feedback to reinforce or correct employee behavior is best when given as soon as possible.

Luke 19 provides an example of prompt feedback. The day after Jesus re-entered Jerusalem he went to the temple and found men selling. He did not put the matter on the agenda for the next disciples meeting. He immediately overturned the money changers tables and drove them out of the temple. As they departed, he said, “My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a ‘den of robbers’ (Luke 19:46).”

6) Spoken Versus Written

If the feedback you are giving is corrective, it should be verbal and in private. To make sure that future expectations of performance are very clear you should follow-up in writing.

Verbal praise for a job well done is nice, but the feeling usually fades after a few days. Written praise is more concrete, and it gives you the opportunity to publicize the employees’ success. Copy the written praise to the peer group and upper management. There’s nothing quite like getting a personal note from a senior manager who expresses appreciation for good work as a motivational tool.

7) Don’t Assume Understanding

Do you remember the phrase, “I know you think you understand what I said, but I’m not so sure that what you heard I what I meant?” People often nod agreement or say “I know exactly how you feel,” without really knowing how the other person feels, what frame of reference they’re coming from, etc.

Use your communications skills to ensure that what you think you heard is what the other person meant to say! At any point in a conversation asking questions is the best way to make sure that you heard correctly.

8) Sincerity

Contrary to popular belief flattery will not get you everywhere. People quickly see through insincere remarks. Always provide feedback that is sincere. Praise earned for hard work will always motivate more than the hollow flattery of praise for work that the employee knows is not up to standard.

One Final Thought

Feedback is like a powerful sports car, it is a pleasure to drive, but in the hands of a drunk, it is a lethal weapon.

Before you fire off that next missile chastising an employee, before you bring him or her into your office for a thorough tongue lashing, remember the purpose of feedback is to motivate the employee to improve performance. Employees will want to learn how to do a better job and will be motivated to do better if the feedback they receive from you is always timely, balanced, and constructive.

Bonus Whitepaper

This week’s post is excerpted from a 6-page whitepaper entitled, Motivate with Feedback—Build Your Business by Building Up Your Employees.”

This whitepaper includes a broader discussion of using feedback to motivate and build up your employees:

  • A definition of feedback appropriate for the business environment,
  • Types of feedback, and
  • Feedback as a motivational tool.

You can download the whitepaper here: Motivate with Feedback—Build Your Business by Building Up Your Employees.”

Join the Conversation

As always questions and comments are welcome. What kinds of feedback have you received? Have there been times when you received feedback that was motivating or disheartening?

I’d love your help. This blog is read primarily because people like you share it with friends. Would you share it by pressing one of the share buttons below?

Category: Skills| Management of Human Resources