5 Keys To Sustaining Effective Leadership Development Training

You’ve just spent $1,000, $10,000, $100,000 – whatever amount – on a training program to teach your managers and leaders to communicate better with others, to lead situationally, to give better feedback, or some other relevant topic that you believe will positively impact leadership, productivity and engagement at your organization. The happy face feedback is spectacular – a roaring success.

How do you keep this work alive in your culture?

A client recently posed that question. He’s the President. He’s also a change agent, leading a cultural evolution.

His is an unusual request, actually, as most organizations fall into the Check It Off the List box. One and done. Then, months later, they look around and notice, gosh, nothing has changed! That class must not have worked!

Here’s the fact of the matter: any leadership training, or communication or interpersonal training is a change initiative. Treat it with the respect it is due. 

Here are ideas for successfully sustaining the work.

1. Senior Leader Buy-in

This sounds incredibly logical and obvious…but so many times the executive team does not go through the program and while giving it lip service – “oh, yeah, sure, we want our leaders to become more engaged, and sure, we want to develop our leaders, but we don’t need to go through the program ourselves etc.”

a. Put all leaders in the organization through some version of the program

b. Expect the senior executives to own and role model the new behavior 

2.  Pre-Participation

a. Engage participants before the session(s) – either through a self assessment, an interview, an article, or other preparatory materials

b. Have a pre-training meeting between the participant and her manager to explore expectations for the training – what I hope, what you hope to get out of this program. This dialog sets up an anticipation and clearly establishes expectations for impact.

c. Build some sort of buzz about the upcoming workshop/offsite/training by finding a respected change agent within the participants who can start to talk about looking forward to the work. You’re not only building awareness of the program but positive anticipation by using marketing concepts to help fuel engagement.

3. During the session

a. Be relevant: use real work situations as examples that the participants can relate to

b. Be immediately impactful: invite participants to work on a particular issue relevant to them

c. Get personal: debrief their self assessment of the skill so they know where they stand now and what they need to do to work on it going forward

d. Establish that this is an organizational commitment – include comments from a leader of the company as a role model of the behavior (if you can find one)

4. Get Commitments

Before they walk out of the room depending upon the topic and the behaviors needing to change, some of the forms of commitment we support include:

a. Working with a peer

b. Written commitments that are then summarized and sent to the entire group (for review at a later time, see below)

c. Ideas from the group as to how to sustain the work going forward – some teams are very creative in how they plan to keep the work alive

The goal is always to create a safe environment for peers to support each other in these behavior changes within and beyond the classroom or retreat setting. That’s the magic and the challenge. The magic is that at the peer level they begin to hold each other accountable to new behaviors; it’s not just the responsibility of the manager – consider how potent that would be!

The challenge is incorporating the forums or processes so they are organically and easily embraced, not perceived as yet one more thing I have to do.

5.  Post Workshop/Training/Retreat

Leadership and training literature is full of powerful results pointing to the impact of follow-on conversations in small groups and the use of coaching to encourage application of the material. Plan to create change through several means. One method never quite seems to impact in the way several in combination do, and each organization is unique in the way it embraces change. So get creative about this. A sample of ideas include:

a. Small Groups for Relevant Interaction:  to build peer support, accountability and creativity; assign small groups (4 to 6 members) who agree to meet every 2 weeks or so post training to share how they are applying the information/learnings and the results they are seeing.  With our clients, one of us facilitates the discussion initially (first few months) to establish the pattern, the habits of questions, and to coach them toward application of the content.  After that, they take over the role of peer collaboration and coaching to support each other.

b. Visual reminder and resource: treat the takeaway notebook or printed material as resource rich, go-to material; otherwise it becomes another bookend, rarely if ever referenced.

c. Email tips: effective as one of many outbound initiatives, but not a solo method for reminding the participants of tips and content.

d. Coaching one on one – for the senior leaders of the class/team/group, especially those who are struggling with the new content, or who are the anointed leaders of the change; this effectively keeps them focused on their behaviors, helps them apply to their direct reports, and builds the muscle for application on a daily basis.

e. Performance competencies: when relevant, incorporate this new behavior set as something that is acknowledged and tracked through performance reviews.

five coworkers toasting after Champagne

So if your appetite is to truly sustain the work initiated in the workshop or retreat, map out a few creative elements that will work in your particular culture. Test the waters. Pilot a few here and there. Scale and celebrate.

What ideas do you have? We would love to hear from you.