Before You Buy Training

You’ve decided to invest in leadership training for your company. Good choice. Business acumen and technical skills cannot make an effective leader by themselves.

Buy carefully. Up to $16 billion is spent annually on training that produces few lasting results. For example, the average half life of impact from attendance at a one to three day offsite is about forty two days. If you have been disappointed by previous experience, you are not alone.

Many factors are needed for lasting impact. Buy training that accounts for them. Cary Cherniss, Ph.D., of Rutgers University, reviewed decades of research to identify what is required to achieve lasting change in behavior. He distilled the results into suggested best practices for leadership training. (See ) Many of Cherniss’ findings are discussed below. To take advantage of these practices, you may have to revise your mental picture of “training.”

Set the Stage for Success

First, assess the needs of your organization and each learner. Determine which leadership skills are key in your organization. For example, sales firms often need strong assertiveness, whereas marketing professionals need good impulse control.

Different leaders need different training. Assess each leader to determine which key skills need development. Then be sure that assessment feedback is given carefully. Constructive feedback motivates. Feedback given the wrong way demotivates.

Make training voluntary. While performance is mandatory, forced training creates resentment that impairs learning. Don’t train the unmotivated. Identify barriers to motivation and start there. Link training to the values and goals of each leader. Show how the development of key skills will help them achieve career goals and solve real problems that they face in their work, i.e., their own ROI.

Create a culture that values learning. The alternative is a culture in which failings and mistakes are hidden at all costs.

Keys to Training that Works

The relationship between trainer and learner is the most powerful factor of success. Select trainers who are warm, genuine and empathic, i.e., willing to care about your leaders and their success.

Each leader needs clear goals. Be sure that the goals serve your organizations’s needs. Then identify short term objectives needed to be taken to achieve long term success, so that learners can gauge their progress along the way.

Training must give learners ways to try out new behaviors within the formal training situation. No one learns leadership skills from a theoretical discussion. Then training must provide opportunities for leaders to practice new skills back at work. This is a major piece missing in traditional offsite training. What happens at the offsite may be great but is unlikely to become habitual at home without guided practice. Learners will need kind but honest feedback about how their practice is going. Such support provided by those interested in the learner’s success makes a huge difference.

Leadership training must be able to build insight and self awareness. Otherwise, leaders are unable to monitor themselves.

Measure change

Credible measurements of change provide support in the difficult process of learning to lead. When possible, measure changes in behavior as well as the impact on the job or bottom line. Imagine the commitment your leaders will make to the changes that you have paid them to make when evidence of success shows up in profits.

Want training ROI? Take these guidelines into account.

Dana C. Ackley, Ph.D., founder and CEO of EQ Leader, Inc., helps executives and companies solve problems and build skills. He can be reached 774-1927, and by e-mail at

The comprehensive science based EQ Leader Program builds lasting change in EQ skills that make a dramatic difference in performance.

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