Why Leadership Training Fails to Deliver and How to Fix It
The leadership training industry totals close to $400 billion in size. It is one of the most costly yet essentially underutilized tools in business globally. Most of the money spent is wasted and efforts fail because companies aren’t really committed to actually developing managers. As a result, research by Gallup shows 82% of managers aren’t prepared or qualified for their jobs. Consequently, most fail or perform poorly. This creates huge negative impact on business results and equals lower employee morale, customer service, engagement, sales, productivity and creativity. Why? Because the single greatest impact on an employee’s performance is his or her direct supervisor or manager.
While it’s valuable to learn new knowledge and skills, few programs deliver what they promise. For example, a manager that knows a leadership principle but doesn’t use it, does she really know it? If she has a skill but doesn’t apply it do she really have it? Similarly, when a company trains managers on key competencies but the organizational culture prevents them from applying them, what good are they? Is the company really committed?
For comparison, magicicadas or locust remain underground for 17 years. Then they pop up to get the essential work of their lives done efficiently in teamwork with others. Most manager’s are like that. They do their jobs and it’s not that noticeable. However, every manager has hidden potential. With dynamic training and genuine organizational support most transform into great leaders. They generate positive influence on their employees while achieving incredible results.
The failure described above is avoidable if a company reduces the reasons for failure.
6 Reasons Leadership Training Fails
Lack of Vision
Company executives have to be clear on what they hope to accomplish. Why is the project being considered? How do they want their managers to behave differently or better? What changes are they willing to make to ensure success?
Lack of Executive Collaboration
Organizations also need to solidify consensus from all key executive leaders on the vision, as well as the reality of the cultural changes that may have to be made. A lack of collaboration or consistent communication from the executive team will sabotage a leadership development effort. For example, let’s say continuous improvement is a key objective. Managers can learn to build teams to help improve efficiency or lower costs. Yet, if their bosses don’t support the efforts the new skills are useless. Thus, this damages trust and demoralizes the team. Then, things get worse not better.
Lack of Integrity
This involves the organization’s willingness to have frank discussions about problems. Moreover, if employees bring up problems but management doesn’t listen, honest communication will stop cold. The lack of genuine commitment is revealed. The execution of various new management skills or strategies will be blunted. And now, King Sisyphus, you aren’t rolling your boulder forward on level ground; you’ve created distrust and it’s all uphill.
Lack of Departmental Teamwork
Silos rip leadership effectiveness apart. One VP of Sales routinely told false truths about other department leaders so his team looked good. This detracted from sales efforts and customer service in that company. Efforts like this block management effectiveness no matter how many training classes managers attend. It is like hobbling a prize horse.
Lack of System Support
Deming, the ‘Guru of Quality’, said that more people fail because of poor systems than because they can’t do the job. So, for example, if you want better team performance but you’re paying 15% below industry average, you are going to miss out. Another example: if you want a high performance work culture but lack a robust performance management system you will fall short.
Go online and checkout companies on Indeed and Glassdoor. You will learn about system problems from current and former employee comments. The latter have nothing to lose and are generally quite candid. In leadership training we can teach people to set goals and to communicate better. However, the lack of an effective performance management system will be a roadblock to improvement.
Lack of Effective Training and Coaching
Too many leadership programs are academic in nature. Training needs to focus on real work-related needs and problems. It needs to be taught experientially, with passion, and integrated into business building applications.
For example, poor communication is often the #1 issue on employee engagement surveys. What does that mean? It’s more than just doing better presentations. In one organization it meant information. The team wanted to know about changes in one another’s work schedules, more timely details on customer feedback and on-going company results. They also wanted to give input on procedure changes. So the manager set up weekly team meetings which before were monthly . He learned to do effective participatory meetings and team-building. The manager also added an action committee to review policy and procedural effectiveness. As a result, the team increased customer satisfaction by 21%, and decreased customer complaints by 50%.
Consider these steps as an overview of how to change an organization positively to support leadership training.
- Include the executives in the process. They need to set a clear vision, clarify expectations and establish outcomes that can be measured.
- Gather candid information anonymously from employees and managers. The goal is to assess the management training needs of managers. Likewise, identify the organizational obstacles to success. In most cases these first steps can’t be done internally by a company without bias or some level of malice. Work with an outside group to gain a clean and true assessment. A good partner will have a fine track record. They will also include some kind of collaborative team (company stakeholders that work with their team) to guide the initiative from start to finish.
- Design the initiative to be a continuing process. Training done over time is more successful in achieving sustainable results. In addition, implement the wide spread organizational changes to support the leadership training.
- Establish a robust communication, coaching and reinforcement process. Learning with sustainable results requires review, recognition, and reinforcement.
- Measure results by looking at 3-5 key areas. This should include learning gains, applications and business results.
Research shows that the difference between great leadership and so-so is a 7% differential. This means it helps create a high performance workplace. Consequently, this percentage becomes an advantage in revenue to the organization over the competition. What executive leader wouldn’t want that?
A top North American company came to RCI wanting to improve sales and service to existing customers. They had 100 locations across their markets. In addition, they were celebrating being in business eighty years.
After meeting with executives, RCI put a Partnering Team together including managers from their field. The team gathered input through interviews of key leaders and employees as well as using a field survey. Survey results showed high priority challenges to success. In addition, the team created goals and measures for success. Four areas of change became critical: field team communication, training competencies, performance management strategies, and team recognition. The team fleshed out the details. Executives committed to necessary changes.
The roll-out plan hit the ground and was instantly successful. One key reason is that all employees were in on and therefore knew about the changes coming, the new goals, and the tools to help. Company-wide training and coaching supported the implementation. By the end of the first quarter sales were up 42% and customer retention improved noticeably. By the end of the year sales were up 78%, and retention up 33%. The company blew away their goals! The executives reviewed outcomes. They learned that team involvement and input, plus strategic changes to organizational systems made the difference. The company achieved a significant ROI of over 20 to 1.
Finally, as Richard Branson of Virgin Companies declared, “Train people well enough so they can leave, treat them well enough, so they don’t want to”.