make training work - every leader's a teacher

How to Make Training Work: Every Leader’s a Teacher

Make Training Work by Involving Leaders at Every Level

Do you get frustrated with training that wastes time and money, but doesn’t change behavior? Yeah, us too. Your leadership development (or any type of training) should be practical, focused on your business, and get results. But how do you make training work and achieve a good return on your investment?

3 Common Training Mistakes

We’ve worked with organizations around the world and have seen what works and what doesn’t when it comes to high-ROI training programs. When it doesn’t work, you’ll often encounter one of these critical mistakes.

1. Lack of Executive Sponsorship

This is one of the most common problems with training initiatives. A well-intentioned executive asks their OD or HR team to find or provide training for a particular issue. But then the executive doesn’t engage with the training, doesn’t model it, and soon concludes that it was bad training – or worse, that all training is a waste of money.

The poor results were entirely predictable. Everyone watches what senior leaders actually do. This is the core of your culture. Telling everyone it’s important, but then ignoring it, is a guaranteed path to wasted time and money.

2. Outsourcing Training to HR

We have worked with incredible human resource professionals who ensure that their people are equipped to do transformative work. But no matter how exceptional your team might be, you can’t outsource training to HR and expect it to stick.

Your HR team isn’t in the meeting with clients, following up on the new procedure, or watching your leaders coach in a one-on-one. They can ensure that skills are taught, but that’s only the beginning. Observation and accountability for how and when people use those skills are critical to make training stick.

3. Using Training to Address Broken Systems

Another common problem that sabotages training before it begins is using training as a fix-all for other problems. A common example is when two department leaders have competing KPIs that affect their team’s compensation. Conflict is guaranteed as each department’s leadership team squares off to defend their people and paycheck.

Frustrated executives complain that their people can’t get along and need training.

But no amount of communication training will fix the broken system. The leaders might get the message that senior leadership doesn’t appreciate their conflict and they might even keep quiet for a bit, but the underlying dysfunction is still there. It’s just a matter of time before it erupts again.

Include Leaders to Make Training Work

One solution to make training work and address all three of these common training mistakes is to incorporate leaders at every level as teachers and sponsors of your training initiatives.

This doesn’t mean that every team leader must literally teach a unit (though in some cases, that might be a great idea.) Rather, the principle of leaders as teachers means that:

  1. Every leader models, reinforces, and helps trainees succeed with the training. This is critical for the success of every training program. Participants need to hear their leaders say “This is important. Here’s why this matters and how it works.” Then trainees need to see those words lived out in leaders’ daily actions. This is the most critical aspect of leaders as teachers. To go further and ensure success, the leaders as teachers principle also means that:
  2. The training program has an appropriate level leadership sponsor who commits to partnering with your OD / HR team or external partner to develop the content.
  3. The sponsor either attends the training or, if already versed, commits to modeling key behaviors and reinforcing through their 5×5 communication.
  4. Sponsors look for, highlight, and celebrate successful implementation of trained behaviors (you get more of what you encourage and celebrate!)
  5. Leaders facilitate action learning activities.
  6. And, they consistently follow up with trainees on what they’re learning and how they’re using it.
  7. Leaders facilitate learning discussions. Your leaders may not have the skills to teach or train effectively, but they can facilitate discussions, ask participants about their experiences, how they’re using what they’ve learned, and share their own insights about how to make it work in daily practice.
  8. Leaders celebrate success and hold their team accountable for lack of follow-through.

Your Turn

When training lasts and becomes a sustaining part of the culture, leaders at every level invariably embrace, use, and expect others to use the learning.

We’d love to hear from you. Leave us a comment and share how you incorporate leaders to make training work in your organization.

For more information about our leadership development programs and how we work with leaders as teachers, contact us at info@letsgrowleaders.com or give us a call at 443.750.1249.

Posted in training, Winning Well and tagged , , , , , .

Karin Hurt David Dye

Karin Hurt and David Dye help leaders achieve breakthrough results without losing their soul. They’re the founders of Let’s Grow Leaders, an international leadership development and training firm. They're the award-winning authors of Courageous Cultures: How to Build Teams of Micro-Innovators, Problem Solvers, and Customer Advocates and Winning Well: A Manager’s Guide to Getting Results Without Losing Your Soul. Karin is a top leadership consultant and CEO of Let’s Grow Leaders. A former Verizon Wireless executive, she was named to Inc. Magazine’s list of great leadership speakers. David Dye is a former executive, elected official, and president of Let's Grow Leaders. Karin and David are committed to their philanthropic initiative, Winning Wells - building clean water wells for the people of Cambodia.

2 Comments

  1. A great read and so true! I have been running Leadership Development interventions for years and number 3 is the most common – maybe when things don’t improve the training provider can be the fall guy rather than having to look at their own internal cultural failures! Also, number 1 is so important, I have always believed that the worst thing a leader can ever do is model ‘do as I say not as I do’ behavior – the concept of the ‘Shadow of the Leader’ is so important!

    • Matt, thanks for adding to the discussion. I would like to think that with regard to #3, it’s more a case of moving fast, deferring to expertise, and ‘just wanting it fixed’ that contribute to the challenge. (hopefully!) Spot on with Shadow – thanks again!

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