Leadership training often "too basic", not measured
27 January 2009 8:44am
Failing to measure the impact of training is one of 12 common mistakes employers make when spending money on leadership development, according to employee engagement expert, James Adonis.
"Training can be such a brilliant, innovative, and important method of achieving stellar success at work. In an environment where it's increasingly difficult to engage and retain employees, your leaders need this development more so than ever before," he says.
"You've just got to make sure that the money you're spending is giving you the biggest possible return. Otherwise, you might be using up your training budget without really training at all."
Adonis says the main reasons leadership training is ineffective, or even counter-productive, are:
Inexperienced facilitators - facilitators must have experience in management or leadership, Adonis says.
"Not only must your facilitators and trainers be ex-managers, but they better have been pretty good at it. They need to have stories to tell of what they did fabulously and what they stuffed up. They need to understand precisely the pressures and challenges and situations that their trainees are facing."
Too basic - the biggest mistake employers make is sending leaders on courses that aren't suited to their level, Adonis says.
"I remember a time when I'd been a manager for seven years, I'd managed teams of up to 100, and I'd achieved amazing milestones in terms of employee engagement - and despite all of that, my employer sent me on a management development program where half a day was spent on 'what is a team'. It was torture.
"Not only did my employer waste money on the course itself, but it also lost my productivity since I was out of the office."
No reinforcement - too many employers run a training program once and expect to see a change in behaviour, Adonis says, "when in order for behavioural change to occur, the learning needs to be reinforced".
"Learners need to be exposed to a certain principle between three and six times in order for it to become ingrained in their psyche. The added twist is that this repetition needs to occur in different ways. This means that if the first exposure is a training program, the second one might be a book, the third could be a mentoring session, the fourth might be a newsletter, the fifth could be an audio program, the sixth might be an online forum, and so on. Eventually the penny drops."
Wrong audience - Most leadership development programs focus on executives, senior managers, and middle managers, but the people with the greatest influence over employee engagement are front-line managers, Adonis says.
"Whether you call them supervisors, team leaders, people managers, or whatever else, it's those responsible for your front-line employees who really wield the greatest influence. Employee turnover, absenteeism, performance, productivity, and quality - all of that rests with the talent of your team leaders, not your executives."
It's boring - "it's not just the transfer of knowledge that's important. What's equally as critical is the motivation to put in practice the knowledge that's been learned.
"Most training programs focus only on the knowledge part, not the motivation. If you want your leaders to change their behaviour, the learning experience has to be passionate, fun, enjoyable, stimulating, and delivered with enthusiasm. It needs to arouse curiosity, create debate, challenge minds, trigger thinking, and stir emotions."
No measure of success - every training program should be analysed for effectiveness, Adonis says.
"In terms of leadership training, a great program should result in improved levels of staff retention, project implementation, employee engagement, and many other metrics. If it doesn't, scrap it."
Doesn't cater for every learning style - even trainers who know they should cater for every learning style tend to lean more towards their own preferred learning method, Adonis notes.
"The key here is to check that your leadership training programs have a healthy mix of everything: stories, activities, case studies, research, models, and discussion."
If your participants are extremely dominant in one or two preferred learning styles, however, you can tailor the course more precisely, he says.
Too much theory (and not enough application) - "Drucker was a genius - no question. But it's ludicrous to still quote the guy in an age where people care less about academic theories and more about the specific actions they can take each day to make a difference," Adonis says.
"Maslow's hierarchy of needs, transformational/transactional leadership, and total quality management were amazingly influential and successful, and to those of us who obsess over management, they still are. But let's face it, most people just don't care. All they want to know is what can they start doing every day in their time-limited work-lives to get the most out of their people. The more your training programs focus on the abstract stuff, the more they'll be disconnected."
Lack of senior management support - senior managers can make or break the commitment that leaders lower on the corporate hierarchy have toward their leadership training, Adonis says.
"Senior managers must publicly support training initiatives. If they can, they should say a few words at the beginning of training programs, and they should encompass the behaviours they most want to see their subordinates exhibiting upon completion of the training program. Without the senior managers' dedication to the leadership training, you'll end up training just a bunch of cynics."
Minimal input from participants - "so many leadership training programs are overly-structured and rigid in their format. The material is very prescriptive, the agenda is meticulously timed, and the process is excessively rehearsed.
"All of that is great for efficiency, but it's terrible for engagement. Get your participants to direct the flow of the content. Get your participants to share their greatest challenges and use that to drive the course. Get your participants involved in the creation and delivery of a knock-out development program. Involve them all the way."
No follow-up - "many internal (and external) training programs are run for a day or two, the feedback is wonderful, and then... that's it. There isn't a discussion between the participants and their managers afterwards. There isn't an opportunity to revisit what's been learned after there's been a chance to apply it in the workplace. There isn't a process in place to see how people are feeling a month later, three months later, even a year later. And as a result, we miss out on the chance to really embed the learning outcomes."
There isn't any - "the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that the average Australian employee receives only 16.5 hours of paid employer-sponsored training each year. If you're not investing in your people, you're not investing in your company. And if you're not investing in your people, it won't be long before someone else is."
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