Modern Training

Are confidence issues hurting your frontline performance? Here’s how to fix them.

Posted on: October 1, 2021Updated on: May 29, 2023By: Carol Leaman, CEO

What if the cashier at your local bakery told you they’re “pretty sure” the bagels are gluten free? Or the 10-year warranty the store associate promised on your lawn mower turned out to be a one-year guarantee?

Trust is a big part of brand loyalty. When customers trust a brand, they trust the product, the people behind it and the information they give them. If your frontline employees don’t have the confidence to provide answers and make the right decisions in the moments that matter, it’s a quick way to lose business.

What happens when employees misjudge their own competence?

Overconfidence and underconfidence can both cause your frontline to make bad decisions or mislead customers. While overconfident employees are certain their incorrect knowledge or behavior will be successful, underconfident ones are overcome with anxiety about their perceived incompetence and don’t recognize how much they actually know.

Either way, your bottom line suffers because your team can’t give people accurate product information, make informed recommendations or follow procedures properly. But the impact can be a lot worse than lost revenue. Combined with dangerous situations like an active shooter, power outage or weather emergency, inappropriate confidence levels (whether too much or too little) can put customer and worker safety at risk.

How can you keep confidence issues from wreaking havoc on your business? Let’s look at how workplace culture impacts confidence levels and how ongoing training and reinforcement paired with confidence-based learning can help.

What’s your company’s confidence culture?

New hires naturally have lower confidence because everything is unfamiliar and co-workers tend to accept that they’re still learning the ropes. But confidence issues can persist, even as learning progresses, because many companies focus training on knowledge-building—making sure information is pushed to the people who need it—without evaluating whether people are ready and willing to use that knowledge when it matters.

A strictly knowledge-based approach to training can just as easily foster overconfidence. When employees aren’t given a chance to reflect on their confidence levels, they may genuinely think their inaccurate knowledge is correct—and your training program has no way to capture that data or correct the behavior.

At an organizational level, overconfidence is especially tricky because it can be contagious. Recent research featured in Harvard Business Review shows that even just a few overconfident employees can impact the culture of your entire organization. The authors call this the transmission of overconfidence. People are more likely to become overconfident when others around them express overconfidence, suggesting “this effect may scale up within a company and generate widespread norms.”

How reinforcement builds authentic confidence

So how can you boost employees’ confidence levels on the one hand and mitigate the transmission of overconfidence on the other? In both cases, continuous learning and reinforcement gives frontline employees the right knowledge to keep customers happy.

Confidence suffers when onboarding is limited to intense one-and-done training that firehoses employees with information. The reality is that people forget 90% of what they’ve learned after 30 days if the information isn’t reinforced. Microlearning tackles the 30-day forgetting curve by building knowledge through 3-5 minutes of daily training that’s spaced out over time. For example, employees watch a short training video on their mobile device, then answer questions about what they know. When retention starts to slip, they’re automatically given a refresher on the content they need to perform their best.

Of course, reinforcement is critical, but if you want to evaluate how much employees really know, you have to test both their knowledge and confidence levels.

See how Bloomingdale’s increased frontline employee confidence by 86.6% with continuous learning and reinforcement.

Combining knowledge, confidence and performance to identify gaps

If you’ve ever slacked off before a multiple choice test, you know sheer luck can get you surprisingly far. A test won’t tell you which employees are just guessing or hesitant to apply their learning on the job. It also won’t tell you if they’re overly certain despite being wrong.

On top of testing their knowledge, measuring how confident employees are in what they know by asking them to rate their confidence in their answers helps you give them right-fit training.

Screenshot of Axonify's question format

By combining confidence ratings with data around employee knowledge, behavior and results, you can understand the connections between confidence and performance on your frontline. At an individual level, continually measuring what each employee knows, along with how confident they are in applying that knowledge on the job, lets you personalize training content to reinforce the right knowledge.

With a data-driven learning platform, employees get a unique daily learning experience based on their needs and the priority of the training topic. Axonify makes it easy with an AI-powered adaptive engine that uses both knowledge- and confidence-based assessments to automatically reinforce learning wherever your employees need a boost.

Performance support for make-or-break moments

Finally, supporting employee confidence means giving them the tools to succeed. Roughly one third of frontline employees don’t have access to timely information and continued coaching and training to help them do their jobs safely and productively, according to our 2020 report

Beyond effective training and reinforcement that’s personalized to their needs, providing your frontline people with on-demand job aids, up-to-date communications and ongoing support can help them maintain confidence after training and ensure they make the right decisions in the moments that matter.

When your frontline is overconfident in the wrong knowledge and underconfident in the right knowledge, it hurts customer satisfaction, safety, brand reputation and, ultimately, your bottom line. Confidence-based learning gives them the foundation they need to be ready for anything.

Carol Leaman, CEO

Carol isn’t your typical leader. She’s driving a revolutionary approach to employee knowledge, but she’s also a doors-open, come-see-me-anytime kind of executive. Carol doesn’t just talk the talk—she definitely walks the walk. You can read more from her on Training Industry Magazine, ATD, CLO and as a regular contributor for Fortune.