I’m in the learning business and in one form or another I’ve been managing, observing, teaching and coaching people for over thirty years. One of the basic approaches to improve performance across a team is to observe the top performers and understand what they do/have in terms of skill/knowledge and application. Then create a learning programme that brings the wider team up to a similar standard.

A few years ago I spent time observing the salespeople at a Mini franchise. The franchise boasted THE best Mini sales person in the UK by far, selling twice as many Mini’s at the showroom than the second best performer. The other sales people clearly observed what the ‘star salesman’ did (that was different to what they did in terms of technique and approach) but they didn’t copy him in any way! Why not? Why wouldn’t you copy a clearly successful colleague? Especially in a job like sales where a large proportion of salary is commission based. I should also point out that in my experience successful colleagues aren’t secretive and more than happy to discuss their approach with colleagues.

I have seen this phenomena replicated across many job types, businesses and industry sectors, and my research and analysis tells me the main reasons are as follows:

  • Lack of confidence – they don’t think they could ever be as good as the other person, so they don’t try
  • Fear of failure – not wanting to be seen to try and fail
  • Ignorance – they just aren’t aware of the learning opportunity that exists
  • Stupidity – they are aware of the learning opportunity but choose to ignore it
  • Individuality – not wanting to appear to be a clone of someone else
  • Too busy – doing the job to actually think about doing the job better
  • Apathy – they just can’t be bothered
  • Lack of direction – no one is guiding, coaching or leading them
  • Arrogance – they just don’t see the other person as ‘doing things better’
  • Jealousy – can be a motivator but for most it is a negative influence

Some of the above can be fixed through effective people management, some can’t! Think about which ones could you solve?

Here’s the next problem! If people don’t ‘learn’ from successful colleagues in a natural and organic way, we need to educate them in the classroom. As most learners are SENT on training, rather than it being ‘their choice’ most arrive for learning in a negative state of mind!

Because, as we have seen above, there are so many factors that can ‘block’ the learning process, the educator must first understand the motives and barriers that exist for each participant. I try to never start teaching the ‘how?’ of anything, until I can get each learner to understand the ‘why?’

Positive learning needs a great attitude and for me that means the individual learner needs:

Motivation – they are driven to learn
Confidence – they know they ‘can do it’ with practise
Interest – they must have a genuine interest in the subject or skill to be learned
Resilience – they keep going until they ‘get it’
Focus – they can avoid distractions

Recruiting new employees is a big risk and cost for businesses of all sizes. The time it takes for a new person to become a valuable member of the team needs to be as quick and easy as possible. If your recruitment process does not investigate and test the applicant’s attitude to learning, then you could be making a massive and expensive error! If you are the applicant then think of examples to clearly demonstrate your ability and attitude to learning.

Employees that don’t learn from successful colleagues will develop slower and contribute far less than employees that do. Have you noticed that some people wait to be taught, rather than take personal responsibility for their own learning? Ignorant and/or reluctant learners will simply sap your business resources and stifle its creativity, innovation and growth!

Go find a ‘learner’!