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Warning! Are You Dooming Your Leadership Development Programs?

by Thuy Sindell, PhD. and Milo Sindell, MS.

In a 2016 Harvard Business Review article, Michael Beer, Magnus Finnström, and Derek Schrader shared the story of a leadership development program they studied. Initially, the program started off with a bang. Participants enjoyed the training sessions and post-assessments indicated it was successful.

After a few years passed, a new mid-level manager joined the company and began to question the effectiveness of the program. Senior leaders were financially invested in leadership development, but the new manager saw numerous weaknesses.

A little investigation showed most participants returned to their former ways and no lasting changes occurred. The problem turned out to be simple and unfortunately had doomed the program before it began.

The employees learned valuable skills but didn’t have the correct work environment in which to use them. The company culture, the organizational structure, and senior leadership didn’t match the program. This made the entire endeavor pointless.

When considering a new leadership development program, you must think through all the details to ensure it will offer everything the organization and employees need. Here are four questions to answer, or your leadership development program will never be successful:

1. Is it customized to each employee?

Program participants will all have different skills levels at the beginning. This puts employees on an uneven playing field. If everyone is presented with the same material, it won’t be effective.

When each individual has a unique experience customized to their needs, however, everyone can get the help they need. Make sure whichever leadership development program you choose for your organization offers assessments that identify ways employees can improve. The results will show what type of development each should receive.

From there, both you and your employees can develop a plan that helps them strengthen their skills. You can determine what types of material they would benefit from and what they can skip over.

2. Is the material engaging?

This should be obvious, but unfortunately it’s often overlooked. In fact, a 2015 West Unified Communication Services survey found one- third of employees felt the training material they had wasn’t interesting.

To make the experience engaging, here are some considerations:

Variety is key. Incorporate different types of learning situations like online, one-on-one, and group settings.

Make it in-depth. When material is superficial or generic, it’s difficult for employees to get excited about it.

Mobile access is important. Employees have busy lives. Being able to access learning material anywhere, any time means they can dive into it when their interest levels are high.

Be proactive. Before choosing a leadership development program, ask your employees what they’d like to learn. Talk to them about different leadership trends and see what interests them. For example, would they like to manage virtual teams?

It’s also important to find out how they learn best. Some people are visual learners, while others need to practice skills to master them. Knowing this will show you what program characteristics will match their interests.

3. Can employees apply what they learn to their job?

There are two major benefits of training that employees can immediately apply to their jobs. First, it gives them a chance to practice what they’ve learned. They can see in a real-life setting what they’ve mastered and what they haven’t.

Second, it shows their development is relevant. They see the time and energy they spent learning was worthwhile. Using their new skills in their current job will show them how it improves their performance. This will motivate [all employees](find-overlooked-talent-by-providing-every-employee-opportunity-for- career-development) to continue with their development.

To ensure employees are making this connection, discuss with them ways they can apply what they’re learning right now. Is there a process they can do differently with this new knowledge? What can they do better? Talking about this will show them opportunities to use and practice their skills.

4. Will there be follow-up?

All too often, leadership development is condensed into a one- or two-day session. This is more time-efficient, but it also requires employees to absorb a lot of information quickly. And if there’s no additional follow-up, skills are easily forgotten.

Unfortunately, many leadership development programs ignore this aspect of learning. A 2016 Grovo report found that one in three employees rarely had follow-up sessions to reinforce what was learned.

Ensure employees will remember more of their training by planning follow-up from the beginning. Use that time as a way to give feedback and additional suggests that will help employees continue to improve.

Leadership develop programs can be a powerful resource for organizations. But if they don’t meet the needs of your employees, they’re doomed from day one. Remembering these tips will help you make the right choice for your company.

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