5 ways to equip your best to teach the rest

by Matt Grimshaw
February 9, 2017

Most employees want to fit in. They want to be accepted by the team they work with and to feel like they belong. No one wants to be the odd one out and because of this, employees are motivated to copy the behaviours and attitudes of the majority of people around them. In other words, they tend to copy average.

This is why cultures and social norms (what you need to do to fit in) tend to be quite stable. It’s also why managers find it so difficult to effect change or improvement in their teams.

There’s one simple idea at the heart of our business, that successful and sustainable change starts with your pioneers — the people who already outperform their peers.

The challenge is how to switch the risk profile of the group’s behaviour so it becomes easier/less risky/more attractive to copy what the pioneers are doing, and more risky to stick at average.

I came across a great example of one way of doing this in Laszlo Bock’s fantastic book ‘Work Rules’ – the Google Gurus programme.

Bock’s view is that people are most receptive to training they receive from their peers. If you receive training from a peer, you know they understand your operating context, the constraints and pressures and they’re able to connect with tangible examples that are familiar to you.

The Google Gurus programme enables anyone in Google to design and deliver a training intervention on any topic they like. It has helped create a vibrant learning culture with in-house experts on everything from coding and marketing to yoga and mindfulness.

If you want to replicate this type of approach, here’s 5 quick tips that will help you make your pioneers more influential on the behaviour of everyone else:

1. Make sure you know who your pioneers are

If you want them to participate, it’s a good idea to know who your best people are. You can use your available performance data to do this, but equally you can often identify your pioneers by asking people who they turn to when they need help on a particular topic.

2. Coach your pioneers so they have a framework for what they do differently and why

Often when you become an expert at something, you’ve practiced it to such an extent that it becomes an intuitive, ‘fast brain’ activity. This is a challenge if you want your pioneers to teach others, because to articulate what they do differently and why they’ll need to use a different type of thinking (their ‘rational’, deliberate ‘slow brain’). Coaching your pioneers so they develop a better rational model for their approach gives them a framework they can use to teach others. Coaching is often seen as a remedial measure, but coaching your pioneers not only sets them up to help others, it also makes it more likely they will stick with the behaviours that have made them successful so they can sustain or further improve their own performance.

3. Provide a channel for them to influence others

Experimental research shows that people are much more likely to follow through on a commitment if they are given a clear pathway or channel for their behaviour. If you want to give your pioneers the power to influence their peers, you should seriously consider investing in a platform like Fuse or Workday Learning. Providing a user friendly platform is a start, booking in a specific time to capture your pioneers on film would be even better.

4. Give them an example to copy

When you introduce anything that looks like a social media or social learning approach, everyone’s initial reaction is nervousness. No one wants to contribute a video that makes them look a fool. To help people get over this initial hump, make sure you create an initial wave of content that gives people an example, approach or format people can copy.

5. Say thank you

It sounds simple, but it’s so easily missed. If someone takes the time to contribute, make sure you recognise it and say thank you.

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