Sunday, August 26, 2018

Is Your Leadership Training a Success?

Any form of training and development is an investment, for which there should be a measurable return in the short, medium and long term; hopefully in excess of the original investment. Organizations should spend the right amount of time identifying specific training and development needs; identifying how success will be measured; identifying potential suppliers and gaining the usual three or more quotes, (where the supplier identifies and commits to some form of measurable outcome for their service); and then implementing the solution and measuring the success. But is this what your organization is doing?
Michael Beer, Magnus Finnstrom and Derek Schrader in their HBR article write that “corporations are victims of the great training robbery. American companies spend enormous amounts of money on employee training and education - $160 billion in the United States and close to $356 billion globally in 2015 alone – but they are not getting a good return on their investment. For the most part, the learning doesn’t lead to better organizational performance, because people soon revert to their old ways of doing things,” (p.51).
What Beer, Finnstrom and Schrader identify is that organizations aren’t identifying specific needs, but instead seemingly responding to an organizational cultural need that simply says (or implies) ‘we have to have done some training this year’ – lets go and spend some money! If you don’t have a specific need in mind that is ‘owned’ by those taking the training and those they report to – is it any wonder ownership, implementation and change don’t take place after the vast amounts of money have been spent.
Beer, Finnstrom and Schrader mention how “education with the objective of individual growth is worthy in its own right, of course, and people are eager to acquire knowledge and skills that will help them advance in their careers. However, the primary reason senior executives and HR invest in management training is to make their leaders and organizations more effective, and results on that front have been disappointing. Three-quarters of the nearly 1,500 senior managers at 50 organizations interviewed in 2011 by the Corporate Leadership Council were dissatisfied with their companies’ learning and development function. Only one in four reported that it was critical to achieving business outcomes. Decades’ worth of studies show why it isn’t working, but, sadly, that understanding has not made its way into most companies,” (p.52).
In some organizations training just seems to be like a production line, i.e. let’s just show that we’ve put x amount of people through x number of courses and that will impress the bosses. But a good CEO or executive will always ask to see the impact of the return on investment and won’t be fooled by numbers. Great organizations look for quality that makes a real difference, rather than quantity that has no impact, other than on the ‘expenses’ column of the HR budget.
Beer, Finnstrom and Schrader highlight how “from all the streams of research we’ve learned that education and training gain the most traction within highly visible organizational change and development efforts championed by senior leaders. That’s because such efforts motivate people to learn and change; create the conditions for them to apply what they’ve studied; foster immediate improvements in the individual and the organizational effectiveness; and put in place systems that help sustain the learning,” (p.53).
I know some organizations where their employees have a reputation of being ‘training tourists’, because when they are assigned to a training program they hardly ever show up, as they know they’re not actually expected to ‘change’ once they get back to their organization. Often the training organization doesn’t mind, as they’re getting paid whether the employee turns up or not, so it’s a complete farce all round.
Beer, Finnstrom and Schrader remind us how ‘a poor return on investment isn’t the only bad outcome of failed training initiatives. Employees below the top becomes cynical. Corporate leaders may fool themselves into believing that they are implementing real change through corporate education, but others in the organization know better. Why don’t leaders get this? So what happens is HR defines the requisite individual competencies according to the company’s strategy and then sells top management on training programs designed to develop those competencies, believing that organizational change will follow. This widely embraced development model doesn’t acknowledge that organizations are systems of interacting elements: Roles, responsibilities, and relationships are defined by organizational structure, processes, leadership styles, people’s professional and cultural backgrounds, and HR policies and practices. And it doesn’t recognize that all those elements together drive organizational behavior and performance. If the system doesn’t change, it will not support and sustain individual behavior change – indeed, it will set people up to fail. Second HR managers and others find it difficult or impossible to confront senior leaders and their teams with an uncomfortable truth: A failure to execute on strategy and change organizational behavior is rooted not in individuals’ deficiencies but, rather, in the policies and practices created by top management. Those are the things to fix before training can succeed longer-term. It’s much easier for HR to point to employees’ competencies as the problem and to training as the clear solution. That’s a message senior leaders are receptive to hearing,” (p.54).
Organizations need strong leaders that demand an ROI on training and development solutions; and leaders that demand that those solutions meet a specific need that is identified and owned by the key players (the employee and their boss); and leaders that hold HR, functional leaders and the training suppliers to account. These three attributes are essential to stop the drain of money and the failing of training solutions.
Finally Beer, Finnstrom and Schrader indicate how “part of creating a favorable context for learning is making sure that every area of the business provides fertile ground. Soil conditions will inevitably vary within an organization, because each region, function, and operating group has its own needs and challenges. In our studies of corporate transformations and our work with clients, unit leaders have told us that their companies’ education programs were not wrong in substance but failed to align with their local priorities and stage of business and organizational development. In other words, their groups were not ready for the training yet. So companies should invest in capability development unit by unit. The corporate-level unit links everyone at the top – the CEO, their senior team, and key business units, regional and functional leaders and their key people. Individual units must consider their needs and their capabilities in the context of their own strategies and goals,” (p.56).
Beer, M., Finnstrom, M. and Schrader, D. (2016). Why Leadership Training Fails – and What to Do About It. Harvard Business Review, October, p.50-57.

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