Wally Bock asked:
A group of senior executives are finishing up a three-day program at a top leadership training center. They’ve already filled out evaluations of the courses they took and the instructors. Now they’re grading the facilities and meals. Soon they’ll be heading back home to see what work has piled up while they were gone.
This scene is played out countless times every day, all across the country. It also tells you a lot about the mistakes companies make with leadership training.
Companies spend millions every year to send top managers to multi-day, off-site leadership programs. At the same they spend only about 7 percent of the training budget on first line supervisors.
But it’s those first line supervisors that make most of the difference. Jeff Immelt, current CEO at General Electric, says that when he was a boy, he always knew the name of his father’s supervisor, but rarely knew the name of the CEO. That’s normal.
First line supervisors determine whether workers are engaged or not. They’re the leaders who assure that teams have both high morale and high productivity. Why not spend some training money on them to help them do a better job?
The other thing wrong with spending leadership training money on senior managers is that they’re not likely to change much. A manager who’s been plying the leadership trade for a couple of decades isn’t likely to make a big, effective behavioral change because of a couple of classes.
To make matters worse, most leadership training uses ineffective methods. Companies spend millions every year on classroom-based training that isn’t much different from what you’d see if you could go back in time to almost any Medieval university.
In both cases there’s one person in front of the room talking to a bunch of other people. Oh sure, today there would be PowerPoint slides and the seats might be more comfortable, but Martin Luther would have no trouble recognizing what’s going on.
In this medieval training model, the instructor lays out some basic principles and then works down to specific applications. That might be great for the teacher, but it’s not the way that most human beings learn best.
Think about any baby you’ve been around. There’s not a general principle in sight. The baby sees things, touches things, runs into things and tastes things and then turns all those experiences into general principles.
That’s how most adults learn, too. The most effective sequence is from specific point or experience to general principle.
What we need is more leadership training that uses methods that are more effective than lecture, or even lecture with PowerPoint and handouts. We need to use more methods that offer opportunities to learn from specific, relevant situations. And we need to use more methods that allow for reflection.
But, just because training is different from our Medieval model doesn’t automatically make it effective. There are a lot of programs out there based on the principle that we have to do something special to make learning fun. Other programs grow from the need for trainers and consultants to sell something “new.”
That’s why you have leadership training that isn’t training at all, at least not in leadership. Executives can try outdoor adventure training which can be lots of fun or they can learn leadership by cooking, which probably helps the executive be more helpful at parties. But how do either of these make you a better leader? None of these trendy methods seem to do much about helping you learn leadership, but they’re a fun way to spend the training budget.
Here’s another really important thing. A lot of great classroom training never finds its way back to the workplace. It never seems to make any difference in what the leader-trainee does.
That’s because companies spend their time and money on the training and forget about the learning. That’s up to the individual, but companies usually don’t even bother to set learning expectations or check to see whether a trainee is using what he or she was taught. They should.
Marshall Goldsmith reviewed how well 86,000 leadership training participants actually learned from the experience. He found that the people who went home, talked about the learning and worked, deliberately to implement new behaviors learned best. But those who just went back home and did no follow-up showed no improvement at all.
The sad fact is that we know how to do good leadership training; we’re just not doing it. Here are some things your company should consider.
Spend time and money training your first line supervisors and new managers. Help them put together a self-development plan that will help them learn on the job. You’ll get the most bang for your buck that way.
Make sure the leadership training you choose addresses specific skills and uses effective instructional techniques. Set specific learning objectives for everyone you send to training.
Make sure that people who go through training get help and encouragement when they get back on the job. Follow-up to see that they’re working to implement what they learned.