4 Reasons Leadership Training Programs Fail and How to Make Yours a Success

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Every year, companies spend billions of dollars on leadership training. When developing my leadership development program, I spoke to hundreds of business leaders. Either way, they say developing new leaders is high on their list of priorities. Yet, time and time again, they are disappointed with the results of their efforts. If you want a successful leadership program, you need to understand the following four points:

1. Companies don’t measure top-down results

I understand; measuring leadership effectiveness can be difficult. There are complex variables and radically different opinions about program goals. The management team should clearly and concisely state what it hopes to achieve from the training and management program. Once the leadership team has decided what they want to measure, it’s time to determine how to measure the effectiveness of the program.

I think it’s safe to discuss why a company would start a leadership development program. The purpose of leadership is to guide change, to go somewhere we have never been. Therefore, deciding what to measure and how to measure program effectiveness should align with the vision of the company’s direction.

Related: It’s Time to Evaluate Your Leadership Development Program

2. Organizations don’t measure leadership skills

It may seem counter-intuitive not to reduce program effectiveness to single digits – for example, a reduction in staff turnover or the number of unscheduled interventions. These are easy to measure and monitor, but they do not directly indicate how well your leaders are applying the lessons they have learned during the various leadership performance improvement activities.

A leadership development program should teach, reinforce expected behaviors, and then hold leaders accountable for using the tools you’ve provided. Would you invest capital in a piece of equipment that has never been used? If you don’t mind, I have a vintage AMC Gremlin that needs a new transmission; do you want to buy it? No, you wouldn’t do that. You would probably buy the gear for a specific function and ability. You would measure the new capacity by its ability to meet your performance expectations. Why invest in leadership development without measuring whether you have achieved the desired capability?

In my article, 7 Tasks Every Leader Must Master, I outline seven basic skills that every leader must master. These tasks become basic skills that can be measured using various methods. Your imagination is the only limit to the usefulness of this evaluation method.

3. Companies are not integrating leadership development into their operations

Leadership development is not a one-size-fits-all program. Once the trainer or consultant leaves the building, what happens? There are four steps you can take to integrate your new capability into your day-to-day operations:

  1. Build an annual leadership plan from scratch. Ask leaders at all levels to describe the deliberate actions they will take to demonstrate their core competencies. Do you remember the capacity investment? It’s meat and potatoes.

  2. Assign new leaders a peer mentor. The role of the peer mentor is to show how things are done here. Mentors can help familiarize new leaders with systems, team climate, and cultural expectations. Not only will this help your program run smoothly, but it will also ease the anxiety of new leaders. These relationships have the added benefit of building peer trust.

  3. Assign trainers. The role of a coach is to help all leaders overcome challenges and gain clarity of situation and conciseness of action. It is a confidential relationship because it is a place where leaders can deliberate and develop strategies based on desired outcomes. Coaches must not betray the vulnerability of the coachee. Coaches must keep the relationship purely objective.

  4. Add responsibility for the performance of leadership skills. You’ve heard the saying “expect you to inspect”. Develop a way to periodically assess the effectiveness of your leaders in their core competencies. This does not need to be a punitive consequence, but should highlight areas for improvement needed or task clarity.

Related: 8 Steps to Creating an Effective Leadership Development Program

4. Companies are not preparing leaders for change or instilling resilience

When change hits an organization, so does fear. Fear is the result of uncertainty. Will this change affect me and my job requirements, leadership status, and salary? Does this fundamentally endanger me? The level of fear is directly proportional to the level of trust the employee places in the organization and its leaders. At a basic level, faith comes in two forms. The first is task confidence. Can this company implement the change and come out the other end? Second, social trust. Will this change negatively affect how my subordinates, peers, and leaders view me? With a high degree of confidence comes resilience. People who are confident that they are safe and secure will embrace change; they can begin to expect new challenges.

Related: Developing Organizational Leadership: A Strategic Investment

If developing new leaders is high on your priority list, understanding and avoiding the four mistakes above will put you on the right path to developing a high-performing leadership program. There will no doubt be some challenges, but these tips should get you off to a good start.

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