Is Your Leadership Development Program Destined to Fail?

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Leadership initiatives are among the most popular training topics, but is your program destined to fail? When properly executed, these initiatives can maximize all other programs and be a true force-multiplier.

Unfortunately, many leadership initiatives only yield a fraction of the potential benefits due to a lack of strategic and tactical plans. The connection of the program to specific, on-the-job behaviors and high-level organizational metrics, and a solid system to track progress are seldom present. This is a sad reality even for multimillion-dollar leadership initiatives that span multiple years.

Does This Sound Like Your Leadership Development Initiative?

Jim Kirkpatrick worked with a large hospital chain that has a multi-year leadership development program called Transformational Mountain. The organization was clear on the fact that some type of change was needed, and they had invested millions in training their leadership to that end.

The challenge was over a year into the initiative, they had no evidence to show that it was helping them to reach their organizational goal of improving the quality of life for their patients and their families. The training group also could not articulate how the program specifically did or did not contribute to that goal.

Your Reality Check

Take an honest look at your own leadership initiatives and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are organizationally important, specific program metrics in place?
  2. Is our training focused on preparing participants to perform specific actions and behaviors on the job that should bring about the desired outcomes?
  3. Are formalized processes and systems for supporting training graduates on the job a priority?
  4. Do we challenge and refute statements like, “It’s too difficult to measure soft skills?”

If the answer to any of these questions is not a resounding, “Yes!”, here is some advice.

Set High-Level Leadership Program Outcomes

Kirkpatrick Foundational Principle #1 is, “The end is the beginning.” This is not a new or original idea; it is the cornerstone of many good frameworks, models, and theories.

For your leadership initiative or any program, for that matter, the first step is to think about how it will support the highest level mission or goal of your organization. Formally review your major initiatives to ensure that the connection between the program and your highest level organizational goals is crystal clear.

Common examples of leadership initiative outcomes include:

  • Positive comments from direct reports about their supervisors
  • Meeting goals for sales levels, waste reduction, profitability and
  • An increased initiative from direct reports
  • Decreased absenteeism and turnover

Once you are clear on your ultimate goal or destination, the next step is to determine what actions on the part of the team will be most effective in getting you there.

Define Critical Behaviors for Leaders

Critical behaviors are the actions that if systematically performed, will have the greatest impact on desired organizational results. Interestingly, many major training initiatives are launched with little or no thought about exactly what people are supposed to do when they return to the job.

By definition, “critical” behaviors are few in number; perhaps one to five for each job function involved. They are not a job description or laundry list of everything a particular person does in their work.

Focus the training on preparing participants to perform critical behaviors on the job. Make it clear during training what will be expected on the job. This focus prevents “scope creep” and makes training as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

Even with well-designed and focused training, only about 15% of training graduates will do what they are taught on the job unless you create a strong support and follow-up plan.

Design a Comprehensive On-the-Job Support and Accountability Plan

Post-training support is one of the biggest keys to success for any initiative, and also tends to be the most absent from plans. This is a shared responsibility of the training function, line managers and training graduates themselves.

Post-training support and accountability should be discussed during program design and development, and buy-in obtained from the managers who supervise the training graduates.

Common examples of leadership program reinforcement processes and tools include coaching logs, peer-to-peer support, high-level coaching, mentoring, 360-degree feedback, self-directed learning modules, job aids, refreshers, and role modeling.

Make sure your post-training support and accountability are not simply the delivery of more training content. The focus is on helping new leaders to employ the skills they learned and ensure they continually perform the behaviors to standard.

If this sounds daunting, you can read about how Greencore Northampton developed its leaders in Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation.

Continually Monitor Leadership Program Progress

Training tradition misleads professionals to believe that after training is done is when you start evaluating if it worked. Instead of measuring what happened, you can instead monitor what is happening throughout the program to maximize the outcomes.

If you identify areas that are strong, you can publicize them to boost morale and propagate good practices. If you uncover areas where expectations are not being met, you can make adjustments and get the program back on track to deliver the desired results.

Create a Leadership Development Program That Works

If you would like more guidance as to how to implement these ideas, consider getting Kirkpatrick Certified.  You will create an actual program evaluation plan that incorporates all of these ideas.

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Please contact us if we can be of assistance to you.

About the Authors

Jim Kirkpatrick and Wendy Kayser Kirkpatrick are co-authors of four books, including Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation. Learn more at