Before Investing in a Leadership Training Program, Here’s What You Should Know.

Every year, organizations invest in leadership training. The hope is to produce both better leaders and ROI.

Unfortunately, ineffective training leads to an approximate loss of $13.5M per year, per 1,000 employees.

If you're going to invest in your leaders, it's important to understand why so much money is being lost, and where training goes wrong.

When we have conversations with prospective Fierce clients, they tell us about their experiences with other training programs to date:

"We saw no measurable shift in behavior after the training."

"We lost money and didn't produce the results we hoped."

"The content was good, but it didn't stick after the training."

How do you know if your training is ineffective? Although there are many factors, let's dive into one of the most pressing problems with the training programs that fail to produce results.

The Achilles Heel of Unsuccessful Training Programs

The issue is less often the content and more often the program's ability to make the content actionable for the participant. In other words, it doesn't really sink in enough to shift behavior in a sustainable way. What's missing is the experience element of learning.

When concepts are presented during training without experiential learning methods, it leads to the following questions: How do I actually apply that concept? How can I translate this information to my behaviors?

What many training programs are missing is an immersive experience that allows the "whole person" to participate in the training through communication and active implementation of the concepts. If you want to see results, you have to practice the content, and it needs to be practiced in a way that mirrors real life. The content must make its way into reality.

Even when people participate in interactive fishbowl discussions or hypothetical role-playing scenarios (for example, when fictional Bob has a conversation with fictional Sally), it diminishes the learning potential. Meaningful connections between content and actual experience are rarely made through these one-off, contrived scenarios.

While theory and discussion are great, the problem is that you can't do theory. The content presented needs to be focused, actionable, and applicable, both during and after the training. At Fierce, we require that all of the practice is 'real play,' not role play, using real, current, pressing business challenges.

The Experiential Benefit

Experiential learning, as opposed to standard training, allows participants to retain and implement what's being learned in a way that can sustain new behaviors long after the completion of the program. As with all learning, when you actually do the work, you're significantly more likely to carry the new behaviors forward. Management guru Henry Mintzberg pointed out long ago that, "Leadership, like swimming, cannot be learned by reading about it."

The 70:20:10 Model for Learning and Development states that we learn 70% of our knowledge from job-related experiences, 20% from interactions with others, and 10% from formal educational events. If a training program's methods do not create a bridge between formalized training and experiential learning, it isn't taking advantage of the most effective way we learn. It's no wonder so many training programs fail.

What does experiential learning look like? It taps into the person's own desires, emotions, and experience of life. Whether it's in the classroom or a virtual environment, experiential learning engages all aspects of the participant—mind, body, and emotions. Learners explore existing issues, feel the impact of these issues on an emotional level, and use the skills presented in the content to actively work towards solutions and new possibilities.

Using real-life scenarios and working through them is the Fierce approach—we've seen first-hand how it leads to real-life results. Successful training programs integrate the content with each participant's experience of the world so that they can apply the content in an immediately actionable way. The best programs also draw on participants' personal insights as a resource for effective problem solving by recognizing that we, as individuals, are often our own best source of wisdom.

The Vetting Stage: What to Consider

Most leadership programs have the intention of training people to be leaders. However, it's important to identify the programs that truly tap into how to lead effectively—programs that teach leaders how to walk the talk and produce changes on the level of behavior.

Early in the vetting process, identify areas where there is opportunity for growth.

When people say they need to develop leaders, it often relates to performance conversations. People are often promoted because they succeed at technical aspects of their jobs, but they run into issues when they haven't had any specific training on how to be a leader. They likely haven't had the training to know how to lead teams, drive for performance, give feedback, etc. When you dial it back, the reality is that they don't know how to have the conversations they need to have to succeed as a leader.

Quality programs will always have a representative to help you navigate important questions and work with you to create a customized plan.

Measurement is another key factor. Organizations need to consider:

  • What is the baseline for success, often referred to as Return on Expectations (ROE)?
  • How are we going to measure toward specific indicators?
  • How do we plan to measure before and after training?
  • How will we measure success in the long term?

When vetting programs and exploring measurement, assure ongoing learning will be an active part of any program in the running. Ongoing learning is an important part of both providing reinforcement and generating return on the investment. We provide our Fierce clients with the stickiest training out there for this very reason—you need to have programs that are geared toward sustaining, reviewing and reinforcing new behaviors.

Unfortunately, many organizations still think there is a silver bullet and that leaders can become a different person after sitting in a class for two days, but there is a lot of ongoing support needed and commitment on behalf of the individual and the organization. One idea that works well is to create accountability partners who meet periodically to share successes and talk about the areas of change that have been the most challenging for them personally.

To sum up, here are the most important aspects to consider before investing in a new leadership training program:

1. The program must provide an experiential learning approach.

2. The program must address the areas of leadership development that are most needed within your organization.

3. A baseline for success (ROE) needs to be determined.

4. Organizations must provide a plan for ongoing support and accountability.

When a training program fails to produce results, it impacts not only the business but also the goals and growth of all leaders involved. Thorough vetting and planning will help avoid some of the pitfalls such as low ROI we often see with standard training programs that are missing the essential "sticky" factor.

Leadership development and training is not successful unless it makes a positive, sustained impact on business. Download our whitepaper THE THREE PILLARS OF LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT AND TRAINING to learn how to build a foundation of measurable results. 

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