Some things sound too simple to be true.
Can you really improve sales results just by having your team think about what they have done?
The short answer is yes. Studies in the real world have shown that effectively using the practice of personal reflection can produce significant performance improvements.
For example, in the Harvard Business School paper “Making Experience Count: The role of reflection in individual learning” (Giada Di Stefano, Francesca Gino, Gary P. Pisano, Bradley R. Staats, 2014) a study at Wipro – a technical support call centre in India – found that employees who participated in the ‘reflection’ group demonstrated a 22.8% increase in performance over the ‘control’ group.
In that study the reflection group spent 15 minutes at the end of every day thinking about what they had done and making notes about how to do it better next time. In contrast, the control group kept working for those 15 minutes.
Why does reflection work?
The science/psychology behind the ability to use reflection to increase performance is explained by the dual-process theory of thought.
This theory maintains that people think and learn using two distinct types of processes. Type 1 processes are heuristic, automatically learning by doing, such that the more a person does something, the better they know how to do it (e.g. learning ‘on the job’). Type 2 processes, on the other hand, are consciously reflective, and are often associated with decision making (e.g. learning by thinking it through).
It’s interesting to note that when given the choice many people will take an opportunity to ‘do’ more, learn by doing, rather than take the opportunity to spend time ‘thinking’ about what they have done. That is, they favour an ‘experiential learning’ activity (doing) over a ‘deliberate learning’ activity (thinking).
However actual results show the opposite. As mentioned in the Making Experience Count paper: The strategy (choosing to do more experiential learning) was counterproductive, as participants scored higher in the following round when they decided to reflect upon the experience accumulated in the past instead of collecting additional experience.
Is reflection suitable for everyone?
It is recognised that learning-by-doing is subject to the law of diminishing returns. In other words, as you get better at a task/skill, there is less to be learned from the learning-by-doing method. For this reason the reflection process can provide most performance improvement potential for people who have already developed a relatively high degree of skill or capability in the task/process.
For a sales leader this means the more experienced/senior members of your sales team are the ones who are likely to benefit most from including reflection as part of their regular work activities.
And that makes sense. When you think about it, the team members with most experience have the most insights and the most real-life situations to draw on. They can think more deeply about how to improve and better appreciate the factors that have an impact on outcomes.
How to implement reflection with the sales team
First up, let’s be honest. Many people on your team – and maybe yourself as a sales leader – might be sceptical about the effectiveness of using the reflection process. And it will feel a bit awkward on the first attempts. Just like starting any new activity.
But there are things you can do to make the introduction of personal reflection a seamless part of your sales team operations.
1. Make it OK to slow down and think
Too many sales teams are run off their feet. Chasing targets, new customers, sending proposals. And the underlying cultural message is “look busy”. In this type of environment it can be hard for anyone to slow down. They don’t want to be seen as a slacker, or lazy, or not working hard enough.
Taking time to reflect and think about your previous performance might be considered to be a bit vague, or “new age” or kooky. However, effective sales leaders can set the right expectations and manage the culture of the sales team to encourage thinking time.
2. Create time in the schedule
The success of the reflection process relies upon the individual having time to actually stop doing other things, relax, and think more closely about what they have already done. The sales leader must review individual sales schedules and discuss with each team member how and when they will be using their reflection time.
Just like allocating time for other sales activities, time should be set aside for personal reflection.
3. Review reflection activities within the team
Although the reflection process is essentially an individual activity, there is benefit from reviewing the ‘findings’ of individuals with the wider team. In part this is to share the insights in an effort to help others on the team, and partly to embed the acceptance of the reflective process.
However, there is an element of privacy that should also be maintained for the individuals who are sharing insights from their own reflection time. Some insights will be substantially personal whereas others might apply to the team or to a process the team is following. Clearly, personal insights should remain personal, with the exception of when they are discussed one-to-one with the sales leader.
4. Monitor performance for connection to reflective activities
It should not be forgotten that the reflection process if part of broader performance improvement strategy. As with other learning and development initiatives there should be an effort on the part of sales leadership to monitor the effectiveness of the process and track performance improvements that may result.
One of the easiest ways to measure impact (especially as a trial) is to have part of the team using the reflection process and the other part not using it. Then you can compare results between the two groups. But that isn’t always possible, especially if your team is smaller.
Personal reflection can be an effective addition to the learning and development program within any business. By creating the right expectations, enabling individuals to participate, and supporting the team to learn from the outcomes you can use reflection to boost performance of your sales team.
If you would like more information on suitable reflection techniques, or to explore the performance improvement opportunities for your sales team please get in touch for a complimentary initial discussion.