Leadership development is my job, and I continue to see articles about leadership development programs not working. I totally get the fact that sometimes development programs just don't do what they were intended to do. However, I also think that leadership programs (really, any development programs) can fail because the people attending and supporting the programs are not willing to put in the required work. Below are ten questions that I think participants and managers of participants should be asked before deciding a development program is a failure.
Research from CEB (Corporate Executive Board) indicates that a manager's involvement before and after a learning program can improve a participant's performance 17-55%. As a manager, if you decide to send an employee to a leadership development program, you should ask yourself questions like:
- Have I talked with my employee about the program and the expectations I have for him or her attending the program? Is the timing right to attend? If you're not sending your employee on an all-expense paid vacation, you probably have some type of expectation - maybe the class is targeted toward first time managers and the transition from individual contributor to manager is key. Share that with your employee so you are both on the same page.
- Do I, as the participant's manager, have any kind of pre-work to complete? For many programs, we (learning folks) create content that is helpful to a manager - coaching guides, content guides, program videos, etc. If these are available, use them! This way, you're more able to help coach your employee when they return from their program.
- Am I giving my employee space and time to develop? You cannot send your employee to a development program, call them out of a program to handle various issues that come up, and expect them to benefit from the program. One of the biggest complaints I hear from people who attend programs is that they just don't have the time to concentrate on the content of the program. Make sure your employee has that time!
- Do I have a meeting with my employee to discuss what they've learned and how it impacts their development? If not, get a meeting on the calendar. This shows your employee that you're serious about their development and what they're learning. You can also use this meeting to talk about how you can support your employee in implementing new ideas they learned.
Let's be clear - it's not just a participant's manager that has accountability for supporting the learning process. Participants need to be accountable for their own learning and should be asking questions of themselves:
- Have I looked at the objectives of a program to determine if they are in alignment with my development plan? Does it make sense to attend the program at this time? These questions assume that you have a development plan in place and that you've discussed it with your manager. If you don't, start creating one.
- Is there pre-work that I need to complete? Pre-work is part of a course design, and the intent is to typically baseline the knowledge of all participants before coming to a class. If you don't do the pre-work, you're doing a disservice to yourself, the instructor, and the rest of the class.
- Am I committed to attending the entire program? You would be surprised at the number of people who register for a program with the intent of "checking it out" or plan to leave early because they want to catch an earlier flight home. The saying "you get out of it what you put into it" definitely applies to learning.
- Am I spending time reflecting on what I'm learning and how it applies to my role? Research tells us that reflection positively impacts performance through improved cognitive and emotional processing. If you just consume information without thinking about how it applies to you, your learning experience will fall short of any expectations.
- Do I have a meeting scheduled with my manager to discuss the development program after attending? If your manager hasn't scheduled a meeting, take it upon yourself to do so. This meeting is a great way to discuss what you learned and how your manager can support you in implementing new ideas.
- Do I have check-ins scheduled on my calendar? If you're trying something new that you learned, schedule "check-in" times on your calendar so you can keep track of what you are doing and if it is working. You may also want to schedule a call with a fellow participant to keep each other on track (that's called peer coaching) or schedule that check-in time with your manager.
If you're the CEO (or part of the executive team), you're still not off the hook. You should be asking if your actions support leadership development in your organization - do you teach other leaders in your programs; do you fund leadership programs globally; do you require people to spend time learning new things? Remember, your actions define the learning culture for the entire company!
I think when we see articles that point to a problem - leadership development doesn't work - it's easy to jump on the bandwagon and use that excuse as a scapegoat for our own lack of effort. Rather than be a bandwagon groupie, make sure you're giving 100% to get the most from the opportunity. Companies send employees to development programs as an investment in the person and in the future of the company. If you treat that opportunity like the investment it is, you might just be surprised to find out that the program actually does work for you!