INFORMAL MEETINGS: THE MOST EFFECTIVE TEACHING TOOL? A nearly two-year study has confirmed what many in the workplace already intuitively know: More than half of all employee learning takes place in informal settings such as everyday meetings, rather than through formal training. The study, conducted by the New York-based Arc Consulting LLC for the Center for Workforce Development at the Education Development Center in Newton, Mass., followed more than 2,000 workers at seven sites to determine the ways in which people learn in the workplace.
"We found there are certain types of socially constructed activities that are more right for learning than others," says Dr. Michael Cohen, Arc's principle investigator of the study. "Meetings are one of the highest on the list, proving to be a fertile ground for learning of all kinds."
THE TOP 10 WAYS PEOPLE LEARN (ranked in order of importance): 1. Teaming
3. Customer Interactions
6. Shift Changes
7. Peer-to-Peer Communications
10. On-the-Job Training
Source: The Center for Workforce Development
The study found that different settings encourage different kinds of learning. In meetings, participants learn how to find creative solutions as a group, how to interact with coworkers and supervisors, and which behaviors and ideas fit into their particular corporate culture. Cohen says that a lot of what employees learn through teamwork is applicable to meetings as well: how to conceptualize corporate issues larger than one's own specific job, how to understand the relationship of the individual to the group, and communication skills such as compromising and negotiating.
Researchers determined that several factors influence the success or failure of meetings. Among them: clear and achievable goals, a climate of trust, and whether there is a legitimate collective decision-making process, or if one person dominates. Successful learning also hinges on whether a team has what it needs to achieve its goals, including the ability to make decisions, enough time, and access to other resources.--Irene Korn
DO INCENTIVES WORK? ONLY FOR TOP PERFORMERS, SAYS STUDY A new study from the Society of Incentive & Travel Executives (SITE) suggests that while top performers clearly are spurred on by the promise of an incentive trip, the great majority of employees say they are not motivated by something they consider out of reach.
The classic problem of most incentive programs is that they focus on the top 20 percent of employees rather than on the middle 60 percent, says SITE Foundation Research Committee Chair Bruce Bolger, who oversaw the study. "You really don't have to offer the top employees anything to get them to produce, but the middle 60 percent has to be convinced in order to give you more. These employees spend a great deal of their time with their families and hobbies, and if you can engage them you can get a big incremental improvement in productivity," he says.
The study--"Does Incentive Travel Improve Sales Productivity?"-- was conducted by Luton Business School and funded by SITE. To obtain data linking employee attitudes to actual results, the study focused on a major U.K.based insurance company. Among its findings:
* Incentive travel can contribute to sales increases. The company's sales growth after introducing a new incentive program that rewarded a higher percentage of employees consistently outpaced growth in the pre-program period, despite a decline in the number of salespeople from 1,500 to 1,300.
* Incentive travel can be highly motivational to people who have the best chances of winning, but meaningless to those that have little or no chance of winning. Before the introduction of the new incentive program, the study found that 60 percent of employees said that qualification thresholds were too high and therefore not motivational.
* Forty-eight percent of employees complained about a lack of communication concerning individual progress during qualifying periods.
For a copy of the study, call SITE at (212) 575-0910.
COMPANIES NOT LISTENING TO EMPLOYEE IDEAS: MEETINGS CAN HELP According to two recent surveys, the majority of employees feel they have good ideas about workplace issues--but also think that their companies either aren't interested in hearing those ideas or that there's no appropriate forum in which to share them.
Last summer, a nationwide poll of 638 employees by Minneapolis-based In Touch showed that 9 out of 10 employees believe they have good ideas to offer on how their companies could be run more effectively. However, only 38 percent responded that their companies were "very interested" in hearing these ideas. Further, employees said they don't bother to submit ideas primarily because "management doesn't care" (27 percent) and "there isn't a good time or way to share ideas" (27 percent).
A much larger survey conducted by Bethesda, Maryland-based Watson Wyatt Worldwide showed similar results. Of 9,144 people polled, 83 percent say they understand their company's goals, but only 36 percent say their companies actively seek opinions and suggestions from workers--and a mere 29 percent respond that their companies act upon employee suggestions.
"Quite a bit came up in the survey about how companies must engage in a participatory process," says Dave Freeland, practice leader, strategic/organizational communication in the New York office of Watson Wyatt Worldwide, "and that means meetings." However, Freeland emphasizes that meetings in themselves are not sufficient.
"Focus groups can tell a company what's on employees' minds," he comments, "but then the company still has to respond."
To communicate better with employees and foster a sense of audience buy-in, Freeland advocates what he calls the "10-30-60 formula": "Spend 10 percent of the time talking about where the company has been, 30 percent about where it is now and why, and 60 percent about where it is going and how to get there," he advises. To follow up, he suggests asking participants for meeting evaluations.
Peter Lilienthal, president of In Touch, says his company offers another method that companies can use to facilitate idea sharing: an 800 number to call with anonymous comments, suggestions, or questions that can be included in the meeting agenda. Says Lilienthal. "There are always questions that no one wants to ask in front of other people. This allows these questions and concerns to be called in ahead of time, so they can be addressed in meetings.
"After all, a meeting is useless if there isn't two-way communication." --Irene Korn