How Conversation Intelligence & The Habit Loop Aid Human Behavior Change

My friend Ed Porter posted the below call coaching story on LinkedIn. He graciously allowed me to re-print it here to showcase how to change human behavior.

Fellow coaches and leaders...proud coaching moment right here!!

In a call review this morning with an SDR, I asked how he thought the call went. His first response was that it sounded odd and he used "um" a lot (which we are all guilty of). I referenced this back to his first week on the job where I said as soon as you hang up the phone I want you to think, "I should have said X" or "I forgot to do Y." Not only does that setup a great follow up call, but it's also the first step toward coaching yourself. I tied this back to using the word "um" and applauded him for recognizing this. I said this improvement won't happen overnight, but we will start paying attention to this during his weekly call coaching sessions.

Later on, I walk out near his desk and see this beauty hanging up (see picture of white board). He said he wanted to pay more attention to this and wants to be more aware of it. He said that he's recognizing it within himself, but also in others. He's having a competition with the coworker next to him and they are making a game out of it. I told him this was awesome and walked back to my office with the biggest smile on my face. Love seeing people flourish and grow!!

What a beautiful story that illustrates how important (and hard) it is to create human behavior change.

This reminds me of a lesson I learned along the way in my career about moving people from unconscious incompetence to conscious competence. That's a mouthful. The concept is actually very simple to understand using-you guessed it- a four-box (I am a consultant at heart).

Let's Examine the Options:

Unconscious Incompetence

The rep doesn't know why they're bad. They are blind to why they work hard yet their performance is lower than their peers.

Conscious Incompetence

The rep is aware of why they're bad. Awareness is the first step towards creating behavior change (followed by will to change).

Conscious Competence

The rep knows why they're good. This is the desired state because the rep can more easily recognize their own bad behavior and self-correct (which makes your job as their manager much easier).

Unconscious Competence

The rep doesn't know why they are good. This is the most dangerous state because their good performance is likely streaky and unpredictable. As a manager you also don't know how to leverage what they do to be successful when onboarding new reps. You hire people, set them loose, and cross your fingers. Scary.

Sales managers dicussing their coaching program

We Can Easily Apply the Framework to Ed's Story:

Step 1. At first the rep is unconsciously incompetent. He doesn't know why he's struggling. He and Ed sit down to do a call listening session. Ed asks the simple question: "How did the call go?" In sales coaching less is more. Ed, a consciously competent sales coach, asks the right question. Read the book The Coaching Habit for some great sales coaching questions.

Step 2. Because the rep can observe his own performance, he is quickly able to spot the 'um' problem that's inhibiting his conversations with buyers from converting. My friend Keenan wrote an excellent article on the power of observable moments in creating human behavior change. This is the critical moment when the rep moves from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence.

Step 3. The rep sits back down at his desk determined to move from incompetence to competence for over using the filler word 'um'. Here's where the magic happens. The rep puts up a white board at his desk to tally when he says the word 'um.' One of his colleagues does the same. The two peer sales reps, without Ed forcing this, decide to make a contest of it. Little do they know, but these two reps stumble upon the most important factor in making behavior change stick - something called The Habit Loop. Behavioral scientists tell us that every habit has three parts: the cue, the routine, and the reward. The clever sales reps use the white board on their desk with the tallies as the cue. They change the routine from saying 'um' to being reminded not to say 'um.' Finally, they make it a contest for bragging rights which acts as the reward. It's genius. (And I'm guessing they were unconsciously competent regarding the new Habit Loop they created for themselves up until this moment).

Step 4. The reps repeat this habit loop over and over and over. In the process they get nights of sleep along the way. It turns out that sleep is the critical factor to move short term memories to long term memories. Through repetition of the habit loop the reps literally changed their brains. The filler word 'um' is eradicated from their vocabulary. And they will remain in this state of conscious competence for the rest of their lives. They have effectively re-wired their neural pathways in their own brains (see this NBC News article for more on the science). The new behavior is hard wired.

So there you have it. Who knew a nice story about two sales reps and a great sales coach would be loaded with so many lessons from brain science, behavioral science, etc.

And think back to the title: how conversation intelligence aids in human behavior change. How might the story be different if the rep didn't have the opportunity to observe himself? What about if he didn't have the space form the sales coach to reflect and discover? How much easier is it to measure the ums using CI? How can the coach provide feedback asynchronously to provide more reward?

What do you do as a sales coach to foster human behavior change?

sales managers building call scorecards