If Your Sales Training Department Ran Your Church

What if your sales training department ran your church? (Or synagogue, or mosque; this is meant to be an equal-opportunity religious metaphor).

Suppose you move into a new community, and are looking for a place of worship. The minister (I’m just going to use the one metaphor from now on, please infer your preferred tradition) meets you, and says:

“Welcome. First we’d like you to fill out this spiritual needs-assessment instrument, so we can appropriately benchmark you for your level of sinfulness and spirituality potential.

"Part I evaluates your sinfulness; we prefer the so-called "Ten Commandments" instrument; Part II measures your level of mastery of the behaviors and habits of Highly Spiritual People (HSPs).

"You can fill it out over there in the cubicle; be sure to use only the Number 2 pencils provided.”

You do so. You take it back to the minister.

“Well, let’s see what we’ve got here, let’s pull the quick-scoring answer template. Hmm, only 5 out of 10 on the commandments. Well at least you go the biggies right, didn’t kill anyone lately, am I right, heh heh, sorry my little joke there…"

“You’re also scoring at a “meets expectations” level on your HSP. You probably know the Golden Rule, that sort of thing; but you probably don’t give alms to the poor, right? And tithing, fuggedaboudit! Am I right? Heh heh heh thought so, yup.

“OK, your achievement levels put you into the AIS group; Advanced Intermediate Spirituality. It’ll be a bit of a stretch, but we have some remedial online CBT programs that you can study up on. They meet at 11AM.

You sign up. Your kids are admitted to their own appropriate Sunday school classes. Embarrassingly, at higher levels than you.

You show up Sunday early, to be greeted at the door by a deacon.

“Please fill out this expectations document for today’s service. You can write in your own expectations if you want, but the multiple choice checkboxes are enough for most people.

You go in. You listen to the sermon.

“Today I’ll talk about Daniel and the lions. You will learn the skills and behaviors associated with Advanced Intermediate Spirituality with respect to faith. On leaving, you will be able to recognize faith when you hear it, identify the three main levels of faith, and to be reasonably faithful yourself. And we’ll do some faith role-plays (what we like to call “praying”) to make it realistic. So now let’s get started, shall we?

You sit through the sermon. It concludes with:

“The sermon today has been about Daniel and the lions. You should have learned the skills and behaviors associated with Advanced Intermediate Spirituality with respect to faith. You should now be able to recognize faith when you hear it, identify the three main types of faith, and to be reasonably faithful. And, you’ve experienced the behaviors of faith through role-play (“praying”).

“Please take a moment now to complete your evaluation document that the deacon handed you on the way in.

You read the document. It asks:

“The sermon for today met my expectations" (1 definitely, 2 mostly, 3 sort of, 4 not really, 5 not at all)

“I am now able to recognize basic faith” (1 definitely, 2 mostly, 3 sort of, 4 not really, 5 not at all)

“I now have a moderately high faith level” (1 definitely, 2 mostly, 3 sort of, 4 not really, 5 not at all)

“The minister trained well today" (1 definitely, 2 mostly, 3 sort of, 4 not really, 5 not at all)

You leave the church; the minister greets you on the way out the door. “How’d you like the service?” he asks, sneaking a glance at your evaluation document.

“Well, I’m still not sure I feel like I really have faith,” you say apologetically.

“That’s OK,” says the minister. “Just fake it ‘til you make it. You’ll get the hang of it. Continue to meet your metrics, and everything will work out—just have faith in the process.”


Hopefully you enjoyed that. In case it’s not clear, I’m trying to suggest that when it comes to certain "soft" subjects, the traditional management-by-numbers and train-by-behaviors can feel inadequate to the task.

How is this relevant? In training, I hope it’s clear. Different techniques suit different subjects.

But I think it speaks to issues of management and leadership too. Do you believe in values, missions and belief systems? If you’re trying to manage a values-based organization, what approaches work?

Managing through behavioral metrics doesn’t quite do the job when it comes to motivating people to higher-order beliefs.

Or, to put it nakedly, if still metaphorically: what’s the ROI on believing in a God? And what’s wrong with that question?

5 replies
  1. barbara garabedian
    barbara garabedian says:

    Charlie I laughed out loud while reading the blog. Once again, you  hit the nail on the head! You bring up a big issue in business & leadership. Many  leaders, "C-suite executives" & managers (including HR & L&D folks) don’t understand the subtle, yet key difference between "training" & "learning". It’s not just a semantics issue, there is a completely different perspective, mind-set & expectation between the two. One is an isolated event, the other is an iterative process. Most corporate education environments are still in the "training mode". Training is preparation: the ability to perform a task (s) after instruction & practice – it can be measured in a variety of ways. As an early proponent of Learning Metrics, I consider a cost/benefit analysis for training important. Learning is much broader and comprehensive, it’s more education & knowledge: it can include training as well as, or in addition to, one or more of a wide variety and combination of other components : comprehension, erudition, information, research, schooling, science, literature, coaching, culture, etc. I believe in Learning Metrics: how else do you determine some level of accountability?There are numerous formulas out there to try to obtain "ROI in Training". Most are useless in the soft skills areas, as they focus on training and as you indicated, how do you determine which "task" was the appropriate lever.  I can train you on how to ask a probing question appropriately & I then  evaluate / test to determine if you can do it, based upon my standards.  Learning how to have an effective conversation w/ a  manager to understand their business, their issues and concerns is more than just asking  probing questions. It can involve a host of skills & abilities : active listening, empathy, genuine concern, knowledge, history, etc. I can’t evaluate one  specific.

    We need to go back to the actual purpose of any training / learning / intervention – it’s change in behavior. So the question should not be which formula to use but how best to determine change in behavior?One method I’ve used in soft skills interventions (a very feeble attempt and not necessarily the best and/or only one)  is to track application, frequency and confidence levels over a period of time, from the session and then over 30-60-90-120 days.  In that way, I’m focusing on a process : comprehension, knowledge, training, situation, comfort & confidence and it helps me identify a problem / deficiency: if there wasn’t an opportunity for application, I can’t blame the program content. If there was an opportunity but the engagement manager wouldn’t allow the methodology to be used, again, I can’t blame the intervention. I didn’t obtain ROI for the "training" activity but it certainly provided the organization with some very interesting information on why EE behavior wasn’t changing.  To me that’s terrific ROI!!!!

  2. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:
    Wonderful, post today, Charlie.
    As an aside,
     1. What if your church ran your sales department? Hmmm
     2. Speaking of commandments, one definition of negotiation:

     Moses coming down from the Mount carrying the tablets, saying, "Well we got Him down to 10, but adultery’s still in."


  3. Charles H. Green
    Charles H. Green says:

    Peter, love the Moses line!

    Barbara, the training / education distinction is a great one, but it hadn’t occurred to me to connect that to the measurement issue.  Makes a lot of sense.

    But can you complete the example?  What is it that you’re asking when you probe for application, frequency and confidence?  And how often, in your experience, did the ROI of learning measurement get blown away by "extraneous" events, like lack of opportunity or lack of engagement manager support?  Now that you mention it, I’d guess that happens a fair amount, given the nature of scheduling reality and autonomy in large organizations. 

    Interesting!  Thanks.


  4. Izi K.
    Izi K. says:

    Hello Charles, entertaining and interesting thoughts there… Agree with some of your conclusions. Aren’t we setting up a straw-man argument, though? Clearly, it is very difficult to measure "soft" objectives. If we had universal agreement on how to measure them, they wouldn’t be called "soft".  One cannot help but think of the dogmatic thought process associated with the higher-order belief system example you gave – who has the absolute truth/yardstick? So my question is the following: does "moral suasion" have as much power as "incentives" and what psychologists will call "reinforcement"? Another interesting question is: what is the relation between the incentives of various players in an organization and the value-based suasion as a process, how do they influence each other? To think aloud on your last  two questions in the context of your metaphor, "what is the ROI in believing in God?", well, for the individual there are many: inner peace, social acceptance, networking, etc (some of which will support ‘hard’ objectives). And, certainly there is at least one "hard" ROI as well for the institutions (simply look at the wealth amassed by some). "what’s wrong with that question?" nothing – many people have been seeking the answer to the same question since the inception of religious thought. While we are searching this ROI, I probably do not need to point out the concepts of "heaven" and "hell" but in any case well worth the thought especially when one suggests the possibility of "eternity in hell" 🙂 so much for my heresy, got to run…

  5. Charles H. Green
    Charles H. Green says:

    Izi, thanks for your heresy!  Obviously it sparked some fertile thoughts in you, thanks for sharing them.

    Yes, it was definitely a whimsical straw man, I plead guilty there.

    To offer my answer to your question–"does "moral suasion" have as much power as "incentives" and what psychologists will call "reinforcement"?  Yes, indubitably, you betcha. 

    To give some extreme examples, think of the most motivated-by-money salesperson or bureaucrat.  Now compare that to the passion of the followers of Adolf Hitler or Jim Jones or Al Qaeda.  (And the examples don’t have to all be negative).

    There’s no doubt that there’s some kind of "payback" or "return" on people’s investment in "soft" skills.  The question I’m raising is simply do the conventional hard-skill metrics work for them. 

    The church example isn’t meant to deny that people are motivated; I think the soft stuff (heaven and hell, to pick your very powerful examples) have more power than mere filthy lucre.  We just use different yardsticks.

    Or so it seems to me.



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