5 Changes to Improve Your Leadership Training Programs

by Mike O'Neill

Is your company investing in leadership training, but not getting the results you expected?

You’re not alone.

Approximately $166 billion is spent annually on leadership development in the US. Sometimes the investment pays off in reduced turnover, higher satisfaction rates, and higher productivity. But for companies that don’t have the right programs in place to effectively train their leaders, they are just wasting money and frustrating their employees.

Making your employees complete a training program and hoping good things will happen is akin to what marketers call “spray and pray tactics.” You’re throwing a ton of information at them all at once and expecting it to stick — and it rarely does.

Your employees won’t be able to retain and act on everything they learned immediately, especially without having follow-up or continued learning in place.

We’ve helped many managers that share your struggles and had amazing results. So, let us show you how to avoid some of the most common problems that cause leadership training programs to fail.

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Change #1: Ditch the “One Size Fits All” Leadership Training Programs

Has your company already invested in one or more training programs that didn’t seem to work? “One size fits all” leadership training programs may work for some, but they won’t work for all. 

Each company is comprised of unique individuals with unique needs and skill sets that need to be considered when developing a training program. 

  • What are everyone’s strengths and weaknesses? 
  • What do you want them to improve on?
  • How is this training aligned with the strategic goals of the company?

Sending someone with exceptional people skills through a training program to teach them empathy, for example, would be a waste of time for them and you.

Off-the-shelf training is not nearly as effective as customized training. Customized leadership training offers the client a detailed assessment of the learning & development needs of staff with attention to the company culture and strategic plan. Companies choosing customized management training also gain access to Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) with industry experience who are able to offer on-target instruction with measurable results.

Mike O'Neill

It’s extremely crucial to customize your leadership training program to meet the needs of your team members if you expect real results. Don’t keep investing in the “one-size-fits-all” programs that don’t work.

Evaluate your current processes and determine if they complement the skills and teachings your employees are learning in training. After all, why teach them all these new strategies and tactics if they can’t naturally apply them on the job? 

Making it difficult to put what they’ve learned into action only defeats the purpose of sending them through the leadership training at all.

Change #2: Take a Non-Traditional Approach

Many employers think that sending their teams through classroom-style training is effective and simple — but that’s not typically the case. 

People learn in a variety of different ways, including auditory, visual, kinesthetic, or reading/writing learners. A classroom environment reviewing standardized materials in PowerPoint is not likely to yield the bottom-line boosting results you’re looking for.

We retain approximately 10% of what we see, 30-40% of what we see and hear, and 90% of what we see, hear, and do.

NHI Principles of Adult Learning

If you implement training that isn’t tailored to each of the different learning styles, you will find that some of the employees struggle to understand and retain what you’re trying to teach them. 

You need to use a combination of teaching techniques to incorporate every learning style. Some examples of things you can do are:

  • Include mentoring and one-on-one coaching sessions that are customized for each individual employee.
  • Incorporate opportunities to learn hands-on individually or as a group.
  • Role-play situations they likely encounter on the job daily and discuss what was done well and what could be improved on when they face a similar situation in real life.
  • Include interactive learning materials where they can follow along, such as videos or using screen readers they can listen to while they watch or read along. Computer quizzes they can interact with are excellent learning tools if not overused or too complex.
  • Take employees on a field trip outside to learn. Fresh air and new scenery can improve how they feel about the training and make them view it as something fun instead of something they are being forced to do. 
  • Conduct surveys: Ask employees for their input and feedback on the training. What seemed to help, and what didn’t? Was there anything they were unclear on or didn’t think was necessary for them to learn? You might discover that one of your employees has a learning deficit and could use more one-on-one help, or maybe they felt like most of the training was information they won’t use.

Change #3: Don’t Confuse Training Leaders with Training Managers

The terms leadership and management are often used interchangeably, but they mean very different things. 

  • Leaders are more focused on developing their employees and inspiring them to do great things. 
  • Managers follow the teachings of the leaders and make sure their vision is carried out.

To develop a successful leadership training program, you have to consider the goals and strengths of each. Leadership training and management training may seem similar, but you need to customize your training programs for each group separately — let’s take a look at the qualities that you’re looking to build in both groups.

Qualities of a Good Leader

One does not ‘manage’ people. The task is to lead people. And the goal is to make productive the specific strengths and knowledge of each individual.

Peter Drucker emphasized an excellent point in this quote. A good leader takes the time to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their employees so they can determine how to utilize their skills for the benefit of the individual and the company.

Good leaders are going to motivate and inspire others to come together as a team to achieve their desired goals. They focus on eliminating obstacles and empowering their coworkers with the confidence and tools they need to reach the end goal.

Leaders should be able to communicate constructively, listen actively, motivate, and inspire others, delegate, handle responsibility, be trustworthy, be committed, and have an overall upbeat and positive personality. They should be creative and think of solutions that are “outside the box” that will grow the company.

Qualities of a Good Manager

The skillset of a manager is a little different than that of a leader. Managers need to be less creative and more hands-on thinkers. They should excel in organizational skills, planning, and problem-solving. 

Your managers are the people that seem to overthink and overanalyze every scenario or possible outcome of a situation, so they can come up with the best plan of action that takes all the variables into consideration. 

Good managers will also share some skills with good leaders. For example, they need to be able to communicate effectively with their team, be able to motivate and understand them, and drive productivity while balancing employee satisfaction.

Change #4: Prioritize Continued Learning

Leadership training should not be “one time and done”. You have to check in on your employees frequently and encourage them to apply what they’ve learned daily on the job.  Providing assignments to apply skills they learned in training and having them report back or share their results will ensure training is being utilized and will result in improvements in your team’s skills.

Sending them through expensive training and then releasing them back into the wild to sink or swim is costly and extremely ineffective. 

Continuous learning has the most significant impact when you implement a combination of activities and learning experiences over time; where people have the opportunity to learn, practice their skills, and then come back together to share feedback; and thus build upon their newly learned skills and existing competencies.

You need to keep finding new ways to present the information and keep them engaged so they receive value from the knowledge you’re bestowing. Your leadership training program should be centered around the goal of developing your leaders and not just providing them with some training because “everyone is doing it.”

How often should my employees participate in training?

That depends on your employees and what kind of skills you want them to develop. 

You should have your employees participate in training as often as it makes sense for their needs and the needs of your company. Learning how to train your leaders is essential to your company’s continued success.

Change #5: Measure and Track the Results

There’s nothing more wasteful than investing tens of thousands of dollars in leadership training programs and not tracking the results. How do you know that your money is going towards something that produces a return if you aren’t collecting and analyzing the data?

Only 18% of companies are gathering relevant business impact metrics for leadership development programs.

How do I measure the effectiveness of my training program? 

You can consider adopting the Kirkpatrick/Phillips Model. The Kirkpatrick/Phillips model is a way for businesses to evaluate their human resource and training programs by calculating the ROI with a specific formula.

ROI = (Total Program Benefits - Total Program Costs) / Total Program Costs X 100%

Dr. Donald Kirkpatrick and Dr. Jack Phillips created this model, and it has become one of the most credible and widely used methods for calculating ROI for training and HRD evaluation.

Training outcomes are measured at the following five levels:

  1. Reaction, Satisfaction, & Planned Action: the reaction to and satisfaction of the participant with the training program.
  2. Learning: an assessment of knowledge and skills gained.
  3. Application and Implementation: behavior changes your employees’ exhibit after training.
  4. Business Impact: how the training has impacted your business. For example, are you seeing a decrease in employee turnover or an increase in customer satisfaction?
  5. ROI (Return on Investment): Compares the costs of the training vs the monetary value of the business outcomes. The decrease in employee turnover costs and an increase in profits due to customer satisfaction would be included in your calculations here.

DO NOT skip this step, no matter how tedious or time consuming it feels. You wouldn’t make an investment in other parts of your business without tracking your return — would you? So, why would you want to invest in training without measuring and tracking the results?

Quick Summary

How to Train Leaders

  • Ditch the “One Size Fits All” Leadership Training Programs: customize a training program that focuses on the unique needs and talents of each individual on your team.
  • Take the learning out of the classroom: employees only retain a small percentage of the information they see and hear. That percentage jumps up to 90% when an employee learns something by seeing, hearing, and doing at the same time.
  • Don’t confuse leadership training for management training: a leader’s purpose is to lead, and a manager’s purpose is to follow the leader’s vision. 
  • Prioritize continued learning: don’t send your employees through a rigorous training program just to release them back into the wild with a sink or swim mentality. This tactic is ineffective and wastes everyone’s time — plus, it costs your company thousands in wasted training.  Follow up training and application is crucial.

Measure and track the results: what good is spending thousands of dollars on training when you aren’t going to care enough to measure and track the results? You should know exactly what part of the training is working and what’s not, so you can make adjustments as necessary to make sure your investment pays off.

Take Your Leadership Training to the Next Level

Companies that invest in their leaders see a positive impact on recruitment & retention of the best talent and their bottom line.

There are many Leadership Training courses and programs available, but topics are generally the same, and most just involve setting up a class and delivering materials. 

The difference in effectiveness can be in the quality of the instructor and delivery methods. The most critical aspects of Leadership Training include: 

  • Covering current topics of interest critical to a leader's challenges, such as finding and keeping the best people.
  • The priorities of the newest generation entering the workforce and new regulations affecting the workplace (ie, state marijuana use laws, #metoo movement). 
  • Role plays, real-life exercises, and simulations, as well as follow up training, coaching, and application to ensure learning and retention.
  • Relevant content that can be used immediately on the job.
  • Training delivered by seasoned business leaders.

Are cookie-cutter training programs or other variables causing an increase in employee turnover rates for your company? 

Schedule a call to speak to one of our expert consultants, and we can guarantee you’ll know exactly how to improve your leadership training programs and reduce your employee turnover rates in 30 minutes.

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