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Ask the Expert: Turning Training Into Results

October 25, 2012

By The Linkage Editorial Team

Linkage Senior Vice President and Principal Consultant Dr. David Giber is often asked by business leaders what turns “training programs” that make the greatest positive impact on individuals, teams, and organizations into “leadership systems” that deliver real ROI.

Here are three critical elements that Dr. G. believes all leadership development programs should have to deliver significant positive results:

1.) Integrating classroom experiences with on-the-job application.
Most firms have leadership programs that are highly rated in terms of the experience of participants but have little or no connection to rigorous application of the learning on the job. Despite all of the excitement over action learning and connecting classroom experiences to on-the-job assignments, this is still the biggest, most common gap in leadership development, and this is often due to the difficulty of coordinating assignments and the discomfort many internal leaders feel when working as mentors and coaches.

Training groups rarely determine how participation in the leadership training will integrate with larger talent and succession planning for on-the-job assignments and participation on task forces or initiatives. Even with the advent of communities of practice and electronic means of connecting globally, most leaders don’t know how to build networks among those experiencing common leadership transitions and dilemmas.

The artful blending of classroom work and on-the-job assignments takes focus. A large retailer that Dr. G has worked with took Linkage’s Leadership Academy and refined the work of “step up” assignments over several years so that high-potential participants review their on-the-job application plans with their manager, their manager’s manager, and a group of their peers as well as a senior executive from another division. Alumni from past programs are also used to mentor and advise on these assignments. This scrutiny leads to broader, more strategic thinking and more “stretch” in the challenges participants take on. Leadership practitioners need to put as much work into determining the dynamics of on-the-job development assignments as they do into planning curricula.

Action learning done in teams is the best method for integrating leadership development and real-world issues and practice. The critical issue, as Henry Mintzberg points out, is to make it into “action-reflection learning,” leaving the time needed to assure that the program is not simply dominated by actions to be taken or problems to be solved.

2.) Connecting leadership development to the strategy and involving internal leaders as teachers and facilitators of that strategy.
This goes beyond using leaders as teachers. It means involving them in crafting the strategic message and the issues to be tackled by the participants. It is more than telling leadership stories; it is teaching in a way that projects the participants into the strategic choices and decisions that their leaders are facing. The personal involvement of senior leaders fundamentally changes their view of education and development. Taking on the role of teacher has a profound impact on leaders.

However, these leaders are seldom provided with good models and training on how to be effective teachers and facilitators of strategic case studies and interactive debates. Such teaching takes preparation and coaching, but it pays off by altering the leader’s approach to asking questions, listening, and learning. In addition, leading organizations create their own toolkits for analyzing and solving problems, improving teamwork, and driving change. These then become teaching tools. Creating a committed internal leadership faculty is a powerful way to turn leadership training into true development and turn senior leader sponsors into passionate advocates.

3.) Timing access to the leadership development training to the right career or transition point.
Are emerging leaders involved where they are most ready and open to learn? The timing element has both individual and organizational components. Has the organization communicated a development roadmap of where those leadership transitions are and what is needed to succeed at each point? Is the program connected closely enough to a transition point in responsibility or scope or when a change is recent or imminent enough that it rings powerfully in the experience of the participants? Are the developmental goals of a program or assignment clear to the participant, his or her manager and direct reports?

The individual component is one of engagement with learning and with change. Is the participant ready to engage with a new set of leadership issues? Does any assessment provided create an opening—not only through the typical 360-degree feedback process—but also because there are new insights for participants on their personality, decision style, or strategic thinking?

Great timing also means that the learning needs to be applied during the class and reapplied more intensively soon after the class. Timing means engaging individuals, teams, and organizations at points where the connections to leadership learning hit with impact because success is not guaranteed and the stretch to improve and innovate effectively gets people’s attention.

With these three practices in place, powerful leadership development that produces real results is possible. Both practitioners and leaders should look for ways to bolster and maximize these practices as they seek an integrated approach to developing their leaders for the future.

So what are some of the leadership hurdles you are facing now? Have you identified high potential leaders but don’t know how to help them make the leap to the next level? Are your current leaders also teachers? What have your pervious experiences with training been like?

More about Dr. Giber:

Dr. David Giber has over 25 years of experience in organization development, human resource management, leadership development, and executive coaching. He is a Senior Vice President in charge of Leadership Development at Linkage. Nationally known as a leader in his field, David has developed many of Linkage’s core coaching practices and techniques and has published several articles on his coaching work.


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