What is the Magic KEY to High Performance?
What are the KEY INGREDIENTS of ENGAGMENT
If you are getting poor results or poor performance in your English training lessons, I am reasonably confident that it is related to lack of ENGAGEMENT, which in turn is likely to be due to a relationship quality, the psychological safety of the participant or a trust issue.
During my 10 years of Training, I have worked with a number of participants ranging from the highly engaged to the total disengaged. It is clear for sure that there is a clear correlation between the levels of learner Engagement and the results achieved.
Engaged learners and participants perform at a much higher level, demonstrate higher levels of resilience, resourcefulness and persistence – therefore obtain high level or optimal results.
On the other hand, low levels of engagement create poor and disappointing results.
And, going even further down the scale, disengaged participants seldom (if never) progress, they get terrible or unnoticeable results. These participants usually quit after a few weeks or attend the English Training every blue moon and just when it suits them and there is nothing better to do.
High Engagement is the ideal that I as a Business English Trainer aspire to in each of my training programs.
Why Many Business English Programs Don’t Succeed
If we consider the dynamic of a typical Business English training program: the priorities, the goals, the leadership style, the type of Relationship dynamic, the role of the trainer and the participant, it is easy to understand, why many Business English Training programs don’t get optimal results and have low attendance. Without having the statistics or evidence to back my opinion up, I would say that a VERY low percentage of trainers don’t even have any of the following goals “Forming trust, Building effective relationships and attaining learner psychological safety, getting learner engagement” in their top 3 priorities, never mind their number 1. I would also confidently say that many don’t even think about it or prioritise it at all. I would say most trainers if asked, would say building relationships is just a bonus and a nice to have, but not essential.
What is Engagement?
First of all, in the context of a Business English Training and the learning environment, let me first explain what ‘Engagement’ is NOT.
Not Happiness: Engagement does not mean making your participants happy. A Business English participant might be feeling happy, cheerful and having a bundle of fun in a training seminar, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are engaged, working hard, focusing their mind effectively and being productive. While having a laugh, playing games are fun and also in my opinion, beneficial — making the participant happy is very different to making them engaged.
Not Satisfaction: Secondly, engagement doesn’t mean satisfaction. I have had many participants in my Business English courses that had high levels of “satisfaction”, but again that does not mean they made significant progress and got great long-lasting results. A satisfied participant might have mediocre standards and expectations and might attend each English training session without complaint. But that same “satisfied” participant might not go the extra effort to get good results. This same participant is also likely to find some excuses, miss a few training sessions when tired, when busy or other demands are made of her. An engaged participant would not miss a training session unless there was a big and valid reason. Being satisfied isn’t enough.
What is REAL ENGAGEMENT
Here are the signs and symptoms of REAL ENGAGEMENT that an engaged person would demonstrate (this could be in a Business English Training, just in the workplace or in any seminar or workshop for that matter)…
- Participant often experiences a loss of their sense of time (time flies) and also their surroundings. One is in a state of high / maximum focus, feeling energised, alive, inspired, highly motivated and enthusiastic – sometimes known as being in a state of flow.
- Participant volunteers their maximum effort and gives their best. Willingly goes beyond the call of duty and goes that extra mile without instruction, demand and force, without resistance and without pressure & fear of consequence.
Participant feels a strong emotional connection, a caring and a commitment towards their learning, their training, their goals and their purpose.
- Participant firmly believes in what they are doing. A belief and sense of certainty that whatever they are doing and committed to will make them grow, learn, progress and reach their goals.
- Participant has a strong sense of loyalty towards their group / team and the training program along with feelings of pride, privilege and respect.The participant is an advocate of the training — often singing its praises, sharing and recommending it to friends and the world.
So, time for the million dollar question...
How are High Levels ENGAGEMENT Achieved?
Not just in an English Training but in any team / group dynamic, there are a number of factors that impact engagement. Such as, working culture, the environment, relationships, one’s emotional and physiological state, one’s psychology, mindset, values, motives, one’s needs and desires, the meanings that one derives from their circumstances, events, situations and experiences. Now, if you are a trainer or some kind of leader, you may have concluded that most of these factors are internal and personal factors that are under the control of the individual person (the participant) themselves — and I agree. You might be asking yourself, “how am I supposed create engagement, if I have no or little power over these things?”. But, let me assure you, even though we cannot directly control many of these factors, we are definitely not powerless.
Even before the training program begins, there are things we can do that can impact the levels of engagement in the training room and also quite a few more things we can do that can positively affect the levels of engagement and performance once we start working with them. So what are they? What changes must we make? What goals and intentions must we establish?
New Mindset! Don't Train and Teach, be a REAL Leader
Be a great leader – not just a trainer. When I say ‘leader’ I don’t mean a typical trainer or old school like teacher – an instructor or some authoritative figure standing at the front of the class barking orders, giving instructions, making demands, telling the participant what they must do and controlling the environment, the course, content and direction – NO, NO, NO! This is not real leadership and it will never ever produce any form of real engagement.
I would like to suggest a different form of leadership: by selflessly serving and helping your participants in the right way, establishing demonstrating the right behaviours, the right attitude, values, the right goals and priorities and finally having the right mindset and intentions.
I believe the biggest impact you can have on your participants and the levels of engagement is through who you are, how you show up and how you lead. I believe the primary purpose and goal of any trainer, any leader, any coach is to empower, support, serve and give – not instruct, demand, get and control. A true leader must build up and help the follower (the trainee, learner, participant, employee, child) to perform at their best and highest potential, help them overcome their limitations, blockages and fears and help to unleash their potential, to help them to reach their important goals and get the best possible results.
But, to make this possible, there MUST be ENGAGEMENT and RELATIONSHIP. But as this post has already made clear, in order to attain this, there has to be psychological safety and trust.
In my opinion, it is all well and good to adopt new behaviours, new tactics, methods and skills that are aimed at building trust and safety, but I believe this is not enough.
You see, each and every one of us is a spiritual being made from just energy and each of us has this built-in lie detector. As a leader, if our behaviours and actions are not aligned with our true intentions, the energy we send out will be picked up by the participant on a subconscious level and at some point, they will feel a lack of synchronicity (a disturbance). For example, I approach my trainees telling them I really want to get to know them, I care about their results and want the best for them, but my deep true intention is I only care about what they can give me – great feedback, recognition, referrals that lead to new business. This lack of harmony between action and intention will lead to uncertainty, doubt – we lose rapport and disengage. Trust and safety are damaged.
If you want your participants and learners to perform at their maximum potential and great results you may need to make a proper shift – a deep profound shift. You will have to explore, challenge and adjust how you see yourself as a leader and trainer, your goals and priorities, your current values, attitudes and beliefs about what true leadership is, how you currently define your role as a trainer. Furthermore, you will have to let those limiting, destructive views and beliefs and values go, and update them with new, more meaningful and effective ones.
Once armed with your new mindset and attitude and definition of leadership and being a trainer, your top priority should be to focus on RELATIONSHIP.
Build & Foster RELATIONSHIP
Engagement is RELATIONSHIP. In order to create ENGAGEMENT in any working, training or team dynamic, your highest intention, your No. 1 goal, your top priority must be to build and foster RELATIONSHIP.
I’m not saying relationship is the ‘be all and end all’. There are of course other influences and other goals and tasks that must be accomplished, other goals and tasks, but, studies have shown that if you want optimal performance, the best results you must have engagement. And, the biggest factor that impacts ENGAGEMENT is the quality and strength of the relationship one has with the members of the group and more specifically & most importantly the leader of the team / group – in our context, the trainer.
I know what you are probably thinking; “I don’t have time for this, I am there to train my participants and my participants are there to learn, we don’t have time to waste building relationships and for making friends”. I understand why you may think this. But firstly, I am not saying you have to be friends. I am not talking about building a friendship where you have to play tennis or share Christmas together, I am talking about building a relationship that is based on connection, integrity, openness and trust. This can be done from day 1 and strengthened in limited time and without having to be best friends.
Secondly, think about the cost of not doing it. It has been proven via studies, that ENGAGEMENT is the core, the main influencer of performance. So, when a participant has no relationship with other members and especially the trainer, there simply can’t be any real engagement. Without engagement, performance is significantly and negatively affected which in turn severely compromises the overall results.
NO RELATIONSHIP = NO / POOR ENGAGEMENT = POOR / SUBOPTIMAL RESULTS.
Which leads to the question…
How do we form and foster the right kind of relationships that lead to engagement?
Create Psychological Safety
“There’s no team without trust,” says Paul Santagata, Head of Industry at Google who played a key role in the tech giant’s massive two-year study (Project Aristotle) on team performance, which revealed that the highest-performing teams have one thing in common: psychological safety.
What is Psychological Safety?
Here are a few different, but similar definitions taken from various authoritative sources.
- A personal belief that you won’t be punished or humiliated when you make a mistake when speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns or mistakes.
- Within the group it is a shared belief that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking and each individual an be open and vulnerable in front of each other.
- Psychological safety encourages and allows for moderate risk-taking and speaking your mind without feeling insecure or embarrassed, it allows for creativity and sticking your neck out without fear of having it cut off.
How do we start forming and building Psychological Safety?
Gain & Develop TRUST
There are others factors, but trust is the building block and foundation of Psychological Safety. As touched upon earlier, the most important relationship to build is the one between leader and follower (trainer and participant). Therefore it only makes sense (as trust is critical for ALL relationships) that we start fostering trust and ensuring trust is not damaged within the relationship of trainer and learner / participant.
Trusting relationships are vital to the way we work and interact today. In fact, the level of trust not just in business relationships between with employees, colleagues, external clients and partners, but also personal relationships, is the greatest determinant of success!
There are 4 objective variables (or facets) that either create, inhibit or destroy TRUST. These are; Credibility, Reliability, Intimacy and Self-Orientation.
Credibility: This facet of trust is created though ones reputation,one’s professional competence, experiences and achievements and knowledge. But also it is about what you say, the words you speak and how believable you are to others. A participant might think or say, “I believe (can trust) what she says about communication training; she’s very credible on the subject”.
Reliability: This is about your actions, and how dependable you appear, can you be counted on, keeping your promises and your word? Participants need to know that their trainer /leader will be there and support them. A leaner might say or think ““If he says he’ll bring it next week, I trust him, because he’s dependable.” Furthermore it is about your predictability, not just actions but emotions and emotional responses. They need to know you are calm, collected and have your emotions under control. Reliability will be severely damaged if you are emotionally unfit, unstable and explode when under stress.
Intimacy: This is created through social interaction, communication and one’s personality traits. It’s about how safe people feeling being vulnerable, open and sharing sensitive or private information like feelings, fears, expectations, motives, worries with you. It’s about understanding others, truly listening and making someone feel head and that they matter. A learner may think or say “I can trust him with that information; he’s never violated my confidentiality before, and he would never embarrass me.”
Self-Orientation: refers to personal focus and intentions, e.g. yourself or others. It is about how much you care for others, how much you want to serve and give without expectation. Too much self focus and selfishness will lower your degree of trustworthiness. It is important to project confidence and assurance, but if your power is all about you and your primary intention is to gain for yourself and your primary question is “What is in it for me?”, then few will follow and trust.facet
What exactly can you do to start gaining and building REAL TRUST?
Build credibility: Highlight & prove previous experiences and achievements – that you don’t just talk the talk but you have already walked the talk, you’ve been there and done it, you’ve applied your knowledge and experienced it. Share testimonials. Blow your own trumpet. Even better encourage previous clients to refer and recommend you.
Most importantly build your credibility each and every day by helping your participants to grow and learn, by making a difference and sharing your skills and knowledge.
Build Reliability: Your participants must have a strong sense of knowing how you will act. In a way you need to predictable to them. I don’t mean this in a bad way, in a boring robotic way. Of course, you can be spontaneous, fun and surprising. I mean this firstly in terms of being dependent – always fulfill your promises and do what you said you would do. Secondly, in terms of your emotions and temperament. Improve your emotional fitness and Intelligence, get control of your emotions and be able to remain cool and calm under pressure – If you are an emotional roller-coaster, if you explode, lose your cool, freak out, get angry easy at the slightest thing, it will not help to create reliability and trust.
Build Intimacy: Show a genuine interest in the person and a wanting to get to know them. Have regualr and purposeful conversations (see article of 5 conversations). Be interested, rather than interesting. Practice active listening. Dedicate and invest time just with the sole purpose of getting to know the person and deepening the connection. Be also willing to be vulnerable and reveal things about yourself that might be a bit uncomfortable. As the trust builds you can share or talk about deeper themes and topics. From interest and hobbies to family, from family to expectations, worries and concerns. From concerns to personal values, motives and beliefs.
Increase selflessness / decrease selfishness and self-orientation: It is not all about me, me, me! Set your intention on truly helping, supporting, understanding and encouraging the other. The intention should be “How can I serve this person?” or “What can I give?” Not, “what is in it for me?” or “what can they do to help me reach my goals?”. You must put your own ego, needs and goals to one side and focus your attention on the other person and have a genuine intention to foster a good working relationship for the sake of the relationship and other person, not for the purpose of using the relationship to benefit you – even though it will do for sure.
For an overview of specific actions, techniques and things you can specifically do and implement which will start building trust, help to obtain psychological safety and develop great relationships, please click here.
Thank you for reading
Further reading and sources
- Forbes: How To Create Your Own Psychological Safety At Work
- New York Times: What Google Learned From Its Quest to Build the Perfect Team
- HBR: How Trustworthy Are You?