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Developing Leaders without Throwing Your Training Dollars out the Window!

In the course of my travels, I meet interesting business leaders from around the world who want to build great companies. They say that people are their most important asset. They say they will stop at nothing to improve the potential of their people. They say they are ‘committed.’ Then they ask if we can help them create ‘real change’ in a two-day leadership training program, and I tell them to go fly a kite … well, not exactly….
Two days of leadership training are simply not enough. Athletes get this—they understand that to change a golf-swing, or a volleyball serve, requires more than a few days in a coaching program. Pilots also get this—flight simulators were created to put these skilled technicians in challenging situations so many times that their reflex reactions become second nature.
At IHHP, we train for ruthless accountability –holding you accountable to the change you are attempting to make. This concept is the same when managing a team or leading an organization: no follow-up after training equals no sustained learning. Three critical steps are required to achieve any significant change in behavior and performance:
Focus over time, repetition, and ruthless accountability.
It won’t work with two steps . . . and certainly not with just one. If you miss any of these steps, you might as well throw your leadership training budget out the window because it will be about as effective. Tossing your money out the window at least ensures that the following scenario (which occurs thousands of times a week in hundreds of companies) doesn’t actually happen: a group of people step into a room for a few days to improve their leadership skills. Most arrive truly dedicated to learning new tools and techniques. They receive feedback from their direct reports and peers, and manage themselves extraordinarily well to get the gift that this feedback represents. They are inspired to develop. Then they leave.
Take John for example. The next day back this well intentioned manager is hit with three times his normal amount of emails. A direct report walks by and seems distant for some unknown reason. Maybe he was the person who said John doesn’t spend enough time with him in the feedback. And, of course there’s his daughter’s little league game tonight.
By the following week, the intention to change is long forgotten. What remains is residue from the feedback received from his closest colleagues and a deep feeling of, who’s kidding who? I can’t really change. This affects a person’s sense of ‘self-efficacy’- the idea that they can set a goal and meet it.
Then, next year, after another training session, the same scenario is played out.
The message to organizations interested in really developing performance and leadership is this: if you’re not going to spend your training dollars wisely, save them. Wait until next year, double your budget and do it right. The band-aid approach is affecting business performance in the opposite direction intended. You need to ensure the design of the program you are investing in builds follow-up into the training.
A study of 86,000 people published in Strategy and Business (Fall 2004) demonstrates how important follow-up is to management training programs. Eight major corporations from a wide range of industries assessed the ‘change in leadership effectiveness’ based on the amount of follow-up that a co-worker received from the training program. The results were astounding.
When the co-worker did ‘a little follow-up,’ the change in leadership effectiveness improved. When the co-worker did “some follow-up,” the change in leadership effectiveness grew. When the co-worker did ‘frequent follow-up,’ the change in leadership effectiveness became even more significant. And when the co-worker did a “consistent or periodic follow-up,” the change in leadership effectiveness was the most significant of all groups.
Following up after a program is critical to development of real change. Training that begins and ends with only an event (the ‘spray and pray technique’) breeds cynicism and sabotages future attempts at learning. Quite simply, not very many people are self directed enough (or are just too busy!) to be able to stay focused and make good on change after a training program. If we don’t take this into consideration, we are dooming them to fail not just this year but next!

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