Do your employees struggle with these three common roadblocks?

A global technology company faced a common challenge: How do we get our newly hired sales-reps up to speed more quickly? Leadership had tried seemingly everything – including recently rolling out a global sales playbook – so why were first-year outcomes still so inconsistent? When the organization dug into the data, they couldn’t find one single answer. Instead, they found three.

One group of employees, it turned out, was highly motivated, but took longer to acquire skills and self-confidence. A second group was quick to demonstrate critical skills, but after achieving initial success, their sense of motivation waned. A third group was inundated with administrative tasks and couldn’t find the time to make customer calls.

Armed with these insights, management piloted a personalized approach: The first group of employees received targeted capability-building, the second group received career-development opportunities at pre-determined milestones, and the third group received coaching on time management. As a result, the company experienced an increase of around 30 percent in additional revenue within one year of rolling out the new, tailored program.

This organization’s experience illuminates the significant variation in employee goals and constraints – even for those on the same team and in similar roles and tenure-groups. It is also instructional for leaders, who may consider more granular approaches to understanding and addressing individuals within the broader organization in order to create change.

Indeed, as we examined other entities and dug into the academic literature, we found similar patterns and a significant precedent. To probe further, we conducted a survey of working adults across industries, focusing on three primary roadblock constructs:

  • The belief that one is not allowed to engage in a particular behavior, shaped by a lack of autonomy, managerial support, and resources or time
  • The belief that one can’t engage in a particular behavior, originating from a lack of knowledge and training on job-related tasks
  • The belief that one won’t engage in a particular behavior, resulting from a lack of tangible rewards, personal meaning, and genuine job or task enjoyment

Our analyses indicated that not all roadblocks are experienced equally. “Won’t” was the most common roadblock, with 52 percent of respondents reporting that they do not have the motivation to excel at their job. Moreover, employees were over twice as likely to indicate that their low motivation was a result of a lack of tangible rewards as opposed to the personal meaning they derived from their job. “Not allowed” was reported as a roadblock 37 percent of the time, and employees pointed to a lack of managerial support as the leading contributor. “Can’t” was observed as a roadblock 21 percent of the time, with employees revealing a lack of knowledge and training as the primary cause.

Additionally, a few role and industry specific findings emerged in the data. Corporate employees experienced more “won’t” roadblocks compared to their front-line counterparts. One explanation could be that the experience of witnessing the immediate effect of one’s job, as likely experienced by front-line workers, may stave off motivation decline overtime. Furthermore, “won’t” was an especially common roadblock for employees working in government or manufacturing. From a demographic perspective, overall, roadblocks were experienced equally across genders and ethnicities.

Building on the descriptive insights, we were able to link roadblock prevalence to several important talent and business outcomes: Employees who do not experience roadblocks are three times more likely to be satisfied at work, four times as likely to be committed to their organization, and half as likely to consider quitting compared to employees who do experience them.

The technology company’s story – with their disparate archetypes among sales talent – and the research more broadly on roadblocks point to an exciting opportunity to embrace a more nuanced view of employees, particularly when it comes to understanding mindsets and shifting behaviors. In a world where leaders relentlessly pursue every last bit of alpha they can find, looking inward and capitalizing on the variance within one’s organization is emerging as a sound habit to adapt.

The authors wish to thank Kathryn Scheckel and Nikil Selvam for the practical insights they provided for this post.

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