6 Ways Managers Can Reinforce Learning and Application
1. Know Before They Go
Be sure you know exactly what your employees are there to learn. If you can’t articulate what your employees will know or do differently, don’t waste their time until you’re sure. Ask HR or your training partner for specific learning outcomes.
2. Connect What to Why
Now it’s time to make sure your people know how the training will help them. It’s tragic to see a room full of employees shuffle in with no clue why they are there.
3. Define Success
Set measurable objectives for your employee. For example:
“I expect this training should help you close an additional five deals per month.”
“We will measure the effectiveness of this leadership training in your Great Place to Work survey scores and attrition rates.”
“Our goal is to achieve 100% on-time delivery with the techniques you’ll receive in this course.”
4. Each One Teach One
Here’s your chance for a BOGO (buy one get one free).
Ask your returning trainee to teach one concept they’ve learned to the rest of the team. If the team went together, have everyone share their favorite. You’ll leverage the investment, reinforce the training, and spread the best practices.
5. Ask for feedback
Great training gets better with good feedback. Ask for candid feedback on what was most helpful and ways to make it better. Use the feedback make the next time better.
6. Schedule a Review of Results
As the training concludes, schedule a meeting 4 to 6 weeks out with the employees who attended. The agenda for the meeting will be for them to show how they implemented a key concept, behavior, or results they achieved.
Have you ever spent money on leadership training that was a colossal waste of time?
We feel you. We have too over the years. It’s incredibly disappointing to invest time and money in a training program that doesn’t change behavior.
Do know what’s also frustrating? Pouring your heart and soul into designing and delivering training that doesn’t stick. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it breaks our hearts.
We would hate for this to happen to you. No one should have to waste time or money on a leadership development program that doesn’t work.
5 Signs You’re Not Ready To Launch a Leadership Training Program
If you want leadership training that changes behavior avoid these common mistakes.
1. You don’t commit to staying the course
There’s never a good time to take people away from day-to-day work for leadership training. Something will happen that makes the time you’ve scheduled inconvenient. You’ll wonder, “How can we be doing leadership development at a time like this?”
The other question could be, “How can we NOT do leadership development at a time like this?”
We had one client who came to us saying that “leadership development was their most important strategic imperative.” The business was changing and turbulent. They worried that their middle managers needed new skills to make better strategic decisions, to think critically and develop a cadence of accountability with their teams. They needed their managers to learn practical tools and approaches they could apply to real business problems and daily execution with their teams.
The senior team carefully selected the participants. The CEO joined the first session explaining how vitally important this program was. Everyone was excited and left jazzed to apply their new learning. They picked action learning projects that would help them tackle some of the biggest strategic challenges of the business and worked on them with their teams.
But just as the program was gaining traction, the problems that had inspired them to start the program were becoming more obvious – partially because the senior team was now having more visibility to the program participants. They put the program on indefinite hold until things calmed down. You guessed it, they’re still waiting for the storm to pass.
And guess what’s still an unaddressed strategic priority? Leadership bench strength.
Interestingly, during this same time, we had another client who also faced a major strategic challenge right before we were coming to do a two-day leadership strategic off-site. He also needed all hands on deck to support the business. Given what had just happened, we asked if he wanted to postpone.
He responded, “Are you kidding me? Nothing is more important than this!” They stayed focused despite the chaos and had a remarkably productive two days, made several critical decisions, built a solid execution plan, and identified quick fixes that would stabilize the business. He was right, nothing was more important than how they spent those two days.
2. You need to check a box.
If you’re just looking to “go get these managers some training,” and are looking for the fastest, cheapest solution you can find, you’re probably wasting your time. Better to slow down and figure out what must be different because of the training, and how you will measure impact, then look for a strategic partner who will build a program to meet your needs.
3. Field managers aren’t supportive.
Sometimes, we find HR is pushing programs that people didn’t ask for, or don’t think they need.
Training isn’t something you did, it’s something you do. If you want your managers to lead differently, they need encouragement and feedback. If your participant’s supervisors are resentful for the time out of the office or are unwilling to support and reinforce behaviors, you may be focusing your leadership development program at the wrong level.
4. You’re trying to train your way out of a deeper problem.
Training can’t fix bad systems. Sometimes people ask us to deliver conflict and collaboration training or team building for a team that just can’t get along. But after a short conversation, it’s clear that the real issue is a siloed organization, conflicting performance objectives, or a wonky compensation structure. Don’t waste your time or money on training, until you’ve taken care of the systems that cause the dysfunction. Your leadership development partner should help you address these concerns and think more holistically about your business.
5. You don’t have a good way to reinforce learning and behavior.
When you’re talking to your leadership training partner, be sure you ask them how they build in application and reinforcement into the design – between sessions and after completion. Don’t send managers to training until you know how they will apply, measure and demonstrate what they’ve learned.
And, yet, poorly executed, action learning projects waste time and frustrate everyone involved.
So how do you ensure your action learning projects are worth the time?
Avoid these five common mistakes.
5 Mistakes to Avoid When Implementing Action Learning Projects
1. Floundering: “Crap, how were we supposed to know that?”
Participants get REALLY excited about their project and pour their heart, soul, and many long hours into making it happen. But they’re oblivious to the political dynamics or bigger strategic picture.
They don’t have access to the right people or all the information, and when they go to present their findings, they’re met with a scowl, “Didn’t you consider…?” “Why didn’t you talk to…” “Don’t you know so and so has already been working on this for three years?”
You’ve now had your high-potential employees spinning their wheels, killing themselves on top of their day job, and all this time they’ve been climbing rocky terrain in an unfamiliar land.
Sure, learning to stakeholder is all part of the learning but if the mountain is gnarly, a knowledgeable sherpa is only fair.
2. Fuzzy Guidelines: “What are we supposed to be doing anyway?”
Be clear on big rules, resources, and other parameters. If the real deal is they must solve the problem with no funding or other limitations up front, say so.
You want the best ROI on these projects and most strategic thinking. The companies we work with who do this best, spend solid time up front defining the projects and thinking through what’s in scope and communicating any resource constraints.
If you want your team to think more strategically, giving them as much context as possible to think strategically.
3. The Wrong Players: “We thought this guy was high-potential?”
Action learning projects give participants exposure to executives.
Not all exposure is good exposure.
Be sure you pick the right talent who are ready for this experience.
Yes, stretch, but don’t send them into the deep end the first day they learn to swim. We’ve seen people’s careers seriously damaged from being pushed into such programs before they’re ready.
4. Lack of Boss Support: “Yeah, no… I need you focused here.”
Sure, one sign of a high-potential leader is that they can do THIS and THAT, meaning they pull off the work on this project while doing their day job.
But it’s important for supervisors to understand the investment necessary in such programs.
If they consistently get in the way of participants attending meetings or doing their fair share, the high-potential participant can become very stressed worrying about balancing their relationship with their boss and preserving their reputation with their action learning team.
5. Failure to Execute: “Well, it seemed like such a good idea…”
Typically action learning programs result in recommendations with an assumed handoff to the appropriate team or department for implementation.
Be sure to secure the appropriate commitments. Nothing’s worse than the “Whatever happened to that project?” feeling. A few false starts, and your action learning program will lose all credibility.
We’ll pause here to let you vent your frustrations. It was terrible because___________ .
We get it. Been there ourselves. Got the certificate.
And, if you’re a manager of managers, we imagine you’ve experienced the challenge of sacrificing “productive time” to send your managers to a leadership development program, only to find yourself scratching your head about what they learned and how they will apply it.
As soon as people find out we’re in the leadership development game, the stories fly. And if we get our friends into their second beer, the stories can be tragically comical.
Of course, it’s not always that way.
We truly hope you’ve had the opposite experience. That you’ve attended a game-changing leadership training that gave you useful skills to achieve breakthrough results and gain more influence. That kind of program is priceless.
What Makes the Difference Between Game-Changing and Frustrating?
When we talk to managers who’ve attended a great leadership development program, this is what we hear.
A great leadership program is a process, not an event.
A great leadership program is closely aligned with strategic business initiatives.
A great leadership program inspires managers with new ideas and tangible ways to improve the business.
A great leadership program creates long-term change in individual behavior and business results.
So how do ensure that’s what you’re getting?
Ask These 5 Questions Before Launching a Leadership Development Program
What do I want to be different as a result of this program? Don’t start training until you have a strong vision of what will be different as a result. What behaviors are you looking to change? How will that impact your MIT (Most Important Thing– strategic goals)? Don’t stop at “We need stronger team leaders.” Go deeper. Get specific. Work with a training partner who understands your business and who can build a program to achieve exactly what you need.
How will we include the participant’s managers? Training doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Be sure you have real buy-in from the level above. You don’t just want conceptual support. Managers need insights and specifics about what is being trained and how they can best support it. Ask for an executive briefing session before the program begins so leaders understand the ROI, are prepared with strategic questions and have a clear path to support their teams’ learning and application. Be sure you have the commitment from participant’s managers to provide them the time needed to fully participate in the program.
How will managers apply what they’ve learned with their teams? It’s scary for people to have their managers go off to training and then come back and feel like an experiment as the manager implements four new ideas without any explanation. You’ve probably lived through a manager who brought back a new idea, used it for a week, then forgot about it. That’s frustrating for the team and the manager loses credibility. Does this program include a process for re-entry? Will you managers be equipped to communicate what they’ve learned and to transfer their knowledge? (e.g. if they come back fired up about accountability, how do they do they begin holding people accountable if they never have before?)
How will we build sustained learning over time? Youcan’t learn to lead in one half-day workshop. Even if you have a limited budget, find creative ways to build programs that combine learning with practice, reflection, and feedback. How will this program provide daily and weekly reinforcement of key behaviors? How will we know what’s working and where managers are struggling?
How will this program stir up new ideas and critical thinking to improve the business? Great leadership training is bound to get your managers fired up with new ideas. Will the program leave them feeling empowered and excited to execute, or frustrated about great ideas that “will never happen around here”? Work with a leadership development partner who understands your culture and how things get done. The best leadership programs don’t just teach skills, they provide opportunities for application to improve the business.
If you’re looking for a way to continue this conversation with your team, print this guide as a conversation starter.
We would love to hear from you. What additional questions would you add for leaders considering building a new leadership development program?
You’ve invested in leadership training. Now how do you ensure the ROI?
“Don’t bother me with this crap. I don’t believe in leadership training. It’s a complete waste of time. It’s nothing against you as the new Training Director. I get that I have to work with you in some way. If you MUST talk training, please work through Joe (one of my directors), he’s the most touchy-feely of my direct reports, I’m sure he’ll be nice to you.”
Yikes. Those were the words I heard from Beth, one of the Presidents I was asked to support, in my new role as training director at Verizon.
The truth is, I appreciated her candor. She’s not alone. A lot of senior leaders are skeptical of training ROI.
“You want me to take my people out of the field, where they could be serving customers and bringing in new business for theory and games? No thank you.”
And I get it. No one wants that kind of training. I’ve certainly been to my fair share of flavor-of-the-month training, and have my own bookshelf of binders full of good ideas, not implemented.
I’ve also attended great training that helped me change the game.
I imagine you have too. What makes the difference?
5 Ways to Make Leadership Training Stick and Increase ROI
Training is only valuable when it leads to sustained behavior change and improved business results.
Great leadership training is a process, not an event.
Great leadership training is closely aligned with strategic business initiatives.
Great leadership training inspires managers with new ideas and tangible ways to improve the business.
Great leadership training creates long-term change in individual behavior and business results.
I’m grateful for Beth’s challenge in the first few weeks of a job that what was to become a formative role, both in my Verizon career and now, running my own leadership development company.
I was sure that Beth couldn’t hate training that truly made her people and results stronger. She just hated bad training. Who doesn’t? (P.S. Beth later promoted me into my most significant operations role at Verizon where I reported directly to her).
Here are 5 ways to ensure a stronger ROI and to make training stick:
Design the training on business outcomes. Don’t start training until you have a strong vision of what will be different as a result. What behaviors are you looking to change? How will that impact your MIT (Most Important Thing– strategic goals)? Don’t stop at “We need stronger team leaders.” Go deeper. Get specific. Work with a training partner who understands your business and who can build a program to achieve exactly what you need.
Build programs that include the participant’s manager. Training doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Be sure you have real buy-in from the level above. You don’t just want conceptual support. Managers need insights and specifics about what is being trained and how they can best support it. We love to do an executive briefing session before our programs so leaders understand the ROI, are prepared with strategic questions and have a clear path to support their teams’ learning and application.
Include teams in implementation. It’s scary for people to have their managers go off to training and then come back and feel like an experiment as the manager implements four new ideas without any explanation. You’ve probably lived through a manager who brought back a new idea, used it for a week, then forgot about it. That’s frustrating for the team and the manager loses credibility. Be sure your managers know how to talk with their teams about what they are doing differently and why. The best leadership training has an ROI that cascades beyond the manager being trained.
Deliver training in digestible learning over time. Youcan’t learn to lead in one half-day workshop. Even if you have a limited budget, find creative ways to build programs that combine learning with practice, reflection, and feedback. We love to leverage new technology that incorporates simple micro-learning push-technology to learners’ phones via text message between sessions to inspire and reinforce real-world application.
Welcome new ideas, insights, and help them take the next step Great leadership training is bound to get your managers fired up with new ideas. Listen to their insights and find ways say “Yes” to what might happen next. When they come back with ideas to improve the business, listen. If it’s something you’ve tried before, invite them to the next step. Rather than “We tried that, it doesn’t work” you might try: “In the past when we’ve tried that, we ran into an issue with X. I’d love for you to think about how we might overcome that and implement your idea.”
How do you ensure your leadership training create real behavior change and lasting results?