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What’s Missing in Leadership Development Programs Today?

Posted by Rick Lepsinger January 2, 2018

Are the new leaders in your organization being provided with all the skills they need to succeed?In many organizations, there is a lack of energy and excitement about “leadership development” and training in general. This leads to a lack of focus and engagement that can reduce the ROI that companies see from leadership development programs.

The cause, we believe, is that a few elements are missing from these programs; guidelines and best practices that, if present, can help companies ensure that their development programs are engaging and valuable to their employees. Some of the factors that negatively impact the ROI for a leadership development program include (but are not limited to):

1: Lack of Focus on Critical Behaviors

A common problem with many leadership training and development programs is that they have a “flavor of the month” feel to them. For example, a higher-up sees a rise in a specific problem and decides to focus on training to address that one problem.

The issue is that the program isn’t being driven by a comprehensive needs analysis. Instead, the training is being driven by the perception of a skill deficiency from the perspective of an individual or a small group of people.

While training on these “squeaky wheel” skills can be helpful, it isn’t an effective long-term solution for meeting business objectives. Instead, companies need to identify the critical behaviors that will drive success in their organization.

Prioritizing these behaviors is vital to ensure that leaders at all levels are successful.

2: Not Basing Program Design on Adult Learning Theory

Another common problem with many leadership development programs is that they don’t apply adult learning theory to maximize engagement and results. Instead, these programs are structured like a traditional classroom that can be boiled down to “I lecture to you and then give you an written assignment to practice.” In addition, everyone sits through the same programs, regardless of whether they need the information or not.

This approach to training just isn’t engaging for an adult audience. Adult learning theory encompasses more than just classroom teaching/lectures. It involves experiential learning and accounts for the needs of the learner.

Having people learn by doing something relevant to their goals makes the lesson more engaging and memorable. When learners understand why a particular skill or piece of information is important for them, they are more likely to actively engage with the content and benefit from it.

This, of course, requires that programs use targeted content that is meaningful. Learning content should be custom-targeted to the needs and goals of each learner to maximize results.

3: Not Leveraging Technology

Technology has improved by leaps and bounds in the last few decades. Modern training solutions can leverage the power of multimedia to deliver content suited for the needs and learning styles of different people—helping to ensure better overall results.

The issue is that a lot of development programs are stuck in the past. If they use technology, it’s only in a very basic capacity—such as emailing lecture transcripts, pre-work assignments, or other basic tasks.

Integrating technology effectively means leveraging multimedia to create a variety of content types—such as text, video, podcasts, and interactive activities. It also means using technology tools to reinforce the skills and knowledge provided in the classroom and to track the progress of each person participating in the development program so it can be modified as necessary to produce the best results.

By blending technology with traditional in-person session, companies can improve the convenience and accessibility of their learning resources. This, in turn, helps to engage a wider variety of people.

4: Failure to Recognize That Most Development Takes Place Outside the “Classroom”

Research indicates that roughly 70% of learning takes place “on the job.” This means that people are learning by doing or studying the examples around them at work. Another 20% of learning is achieved through coaching, where an experienced coach or mentor provides the employee with tips and pointers to help them succeed. Formal training programs account for as little as 10% of the learning that employees experience at work.

In other words, up to 90% of what employees learn about how to work takes place outside of the “classroom.”

Creating on-the-job learning opportunities for employees can help them to develop the skills they need to succeed as leaders—as well as directly relate the content covered in classroom sessions to their work so that it’s more memorable and meaningful. For example, action learning (having learners work on real work problems) and job assignments are both effective ways to relate training program content to an employee’s work.

Organizations need to examine problems from every angle and assess whether the issue is one that can be resolved by training, or if it requires a different solution.

By prioritizing critical behaviors based on needs assessments, using adult learning theory, integrating technology and creating “out of class” learning opportunities,organizations can maximize the impact and benefits of their leadership development programs.

Need help optimizing leadership development in your organization? OnPoint has years of experience in providing high-quality, large-scale development programs that start with a series of research-based modules focused on critical skills and are customized to meet each client’s specific needs. These programs can be delivered both face-to-face and virtually. We also work with you to ensure the development program is integrated into the your performance management and succession management systems.


Topics: Leadership Development

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