Why Most Leadership Training Programs Fail

What do you find makes your leadership programs a success or a failure?

In 2015, $356 billion was spent globally on employee training and education. This might sound great for all the corporate training companies that now exist, but it’s still a saturated market with low to non-existent barriers to entry and little by means of accreditation.

Despite this, the past few years have seen a surge in leadership training, led by the growth of Millennials, to become one of the top 3 focus areas for most companies.

In the 2017 Deloitte Global Human Capital Trends report, 78% of responses rated Leadership as “Important/Very Important”, and that figure rose to 85% in Asia, mainly fueled by the growing corporate environments in the populous countries of India and China.

"78% of responses rated Leadership as “Important/Very Important”, and that figure rose to 85% in Asia, mainly fueled by the growing corporate environments in the populous countries of India and China"

However, when you look at most survey responses, an overwhelming majority rate their leadership programs as ineffective, essentially wasting millions of dollars each year. Most leadership trainers I know have very honest intentions and desires to improve leaders within the companies they train, but where might they be going wrong?

Let’s look at 4 key areas:

#1 Disconnect between training participants and senior leadership teams

The key problem that I see - as a leadership trainer and from talking to my global peers - is the often huge disconnect between those being sent for training and the senior leadership teams.

"As we know, a 1-day workshop isn’t going to change anything if the attendees aren’t given the capacity and tools to make any effective change."

What this does is prevent the participants from being able to implement any real effective change when it might require an overhaul of company values or organizational processes.

As we know, a 1-day workshop isn’t going to change anything if the attendees aren’t given the capacity and tools to make any effective change. However, what usually happens is that someone attends a workshop, and then just slips back into their normal daily work without any post-course debrief or analysis.

#2 Communication Gap

Another related problem is where the senior leadership team have bought into the change, but middle management (often the attendees direct/line manager) hasn’t been included in the conversations, or are stuck in their old ways of management.

This creates a similar gap that will prevent any change taking place. This is where the Learning & Development (L&D) or HR department can play a vital role in bridging this gap. It’s often these teams that arrange the training, evaluate the proposals and assign the respective training company.

However, I find the most effective method is when L&D partner up with the business line leaders and make a joint decision based on the needs of the relevant departments.

#3 Choice of Training Company

The role of the training company also plays an important part in the success of training workshops. All too often, companies are engaged for a 1 or 2-day workshop, have evaluation forms completed at the end, and then that’s the last of their interaction with the company.

"Good leadership development firms will propose a longer engagement based on pre- and post-workshop activities, such as surveys, focus groups, or coaching sessions."

Good leadership development firms will propose a longer engagement based on pre- and post-workshop activities, such as surveys, focus groups, or coaching sessions.

These often rejected due to the increased costs involved, but arguably play the most important role in increasing the ROI of any such program.

#4 Lack of barriers to entry

 

A final reason why programs fail is the trainer or facilitator.

I mentioned earlier how there are little to no barriers to entry, which puts us leadership trainers in the same category as life coaches, and a host of other internet-based ‘guru’ job titles.

This by no way means that all leadership trainers are charlatans, or have no experience, but does mean L&D should be quizzing the proposed trainer on their philosophies, teaching style, and experience.

It’s a whole different post on whether the trainer should have direct experience of leading teams. One advantage of trainers with experience is that it allows them to understand how theory applies to real-life situations, and gives them a whole host of case studies to draw upon.

"One advantage of trainers with experience is that it allows them to understand how theory applies to real-life situations, and gives them a whole host of case studies to draw upon."

In the end though, 20+ years of leadership experience does not make someone automatically an effective trainer, which is why asking about their values and training style is so important. Method of knowledge transfer and awareness of andragogic theories are just as important as experience.

What can we do then to make a leadership program more successful? With many L&D teams still chasing the 70:20:10 model, you have to wonder why more focus isn’t being placed on the remaining 90% of effective training implementation.

3 key questions for them to ask include:

1.   Post a leadership training intervention, what follow-up can be implemented to support the attendees’ new skill set?

2.   How can we support the 20% requirement of developmental relationships, through coaching and mentoring to give the attendees the support they need?

3.   How can we calculate the ROI on our training expenditure?

Like most things I write about, the answer lies in communication. Communication between HR/L&D, the company’s leaders, and the chosen training company.

All 3 need to be talking, with the same aim in mind: a high ROI and a measurable, impactful improvement on behalf of the employees.

This will take a longer engagement, and an increased cost, but will ultimately reduce budget wastage.

Companies with a strong L&D team should be able to take responsibility of the non-workshop elements of the program, thereby saving money, however they need to look at the opportunity cost of their involvement versus the increased training cost.

"Companies with a strong L&D team should be able to take responsibility of the non-workshop elements of the program, thereby saving money, however they need to look at the opportunity cost of their involvement versus the increased training cost."

There is no reason why so many leadership programs should fail in the future. It does take a shift in mindset from all parties, but if they all work together for the greater good, we should see an increase in success rates, which can only benefit the wider economy.

What do you find makes your leadership programs a success or a failure? Please leave your comments below.

Mark is a sought-after Innovation Speaker, a leadership and innovation trainer, and executive coach, based in Singapore and delivering speeches, ideathons, and workshops across the world Mark attained his Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) status in just 5 years from starting his career as a trainer - testament to his popularity, consistency of bookings, and high-performance results with clients. WINNER - FUTURE OF WORK...

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Why Most Leadership Training Programs Fail | Asia Professional Speakers Singapore

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