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Most Leadership Development/Training is “Stupid.” Four things you can do now to help avoid stupidity.

{ 22 comments… add one }

Dunce cap Managers, companies and trainers continue to deliver training and send employees to workshops without an important concept in mind – accountability. Without it leadership development is stupid. Why the word stupid. Because stupid according to Merriam-Webster means given to unintelligent decisions or acts; acting in an unintelligent or careless manner. Frankly I couldn’t think of a better word for most of the leadership development I have seen.

Often time’s leadership development is nothing more than “pay, spray and pray.” You see it with seminar companies all the time. The participant pays and shows up to the seminar. Then the trainer sprays what he or she has to say. Finally, as the class leaves the seminar, the trainer prays everyone is able to apply what they learned; this is assuming the trainer cares, of course. As a result, very little of the learning is retained and far less transfers to the job. What is the result? There is a lot of wasted money and time on the participant’s part.

Four things need to be in place for learning to transfer. Accountability is the thread through it all.

1) Full Circle Leadership Assessment (360). Before a training event occurs, leaders must be assessed. Assessments help determine where the gaps and strengths are. It would be difficult to imagine a golf instructor teaching an experienced golfer how to become better without observing them hitting a few balls first. Why? Because the experienced golfer already does some things right, and the golf instructor doesn’t want to change those things. Instead, he or she wants to change the things that aren’t being done well and build upon those that are.

Full circle assessments should give the leader feedback from peers, their manager, those they manage and themselves on competencies specific to the training course/process. Once an assessment has been completed, the training participant now has a baseline and reference point for the course.

It is important to note that another full circle assessment should be administered 6 –12 months after the initial one to mark whether gaps have been closed and improvement has been made.

2) Training Event or Course. Now that the participant has a baseline, the competencies can be taught and will result in a more focused and meaningful training event. I once trained a course in which a participant, after having a full circle assessment administered became worried due to some of the low scores he received. He stated that the assessment was a little hard to accept. However, during the class when we covered a concept he didn’t score so well on he was able to focus better on what would help him close the gap.

3) Accountability Tool. At the heart of accountability during the training process should be an accountability tool. The accountability tool is simply an electronic journal with reflective type questions the participant answers each week. The questions revolve around goals the participant has set, how the participant is applying what they learned, what the participant plans on applying the next week, barriers the participant is encountering and so forth and so on. The accountability tool should only take about 10 minutes a week for the participant to fill out.

The trainer of the course should be able to access the tool and provide comments each week to the participant. A “study buddy” can be assigned that also has access to the participant’s comments and should be encouraged to leave comments each week as well. All along the participant is provided encouraging feedback and is held accountable to answering the reflection based questions.

4) Coaching. Either individual coaching or small group coaching is effective for two reasons. 1) It helps with learner accountability because the participant knows he or she will have to demonstrate how they are applying what is being learned. And 2) it allows for continual training and learning as concepts are applied. If we go back to the golf instructor example, rarely does one lesson make a dramatic change in someone’s golf game. What does make a difference is consistent practice with a coach; someone who can guide and remind.

It is crazy to think of the money spent on ineffective training. My thought and philosophy as both a trainer and participant is that if I am not willing to invest in the above process, then I am only going to retain and apply very little of what I have learned. The reality is, without assessment, accountability and coaching, you might as well fall to your knees at the same time your trainer does and offer a prayer because pay, spray and pray really doesn’t work all that well.


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Mike Rogers

Leave a Comment

  • Heman Smith July 13, 2010, 10:33 am

    Mike, I believe accountability, coupled with ongoing mentoring create a near-perfect combination. John Wayne allegedly said: “Life is hard. But it’s harder if you’re stupid.” You bring out an excellent point in that training, without a path to successful change, is neither smart, nor successful; it is stupid.
    When I train, I invite follow-up with me so that each person has the opportunity to hold themselves accountable for real change.

  • Andy Radka July 13, 2010, 10:34 am

    I agree with the sentiment. Programmes now need to be self financing where participants take responsibility for their learning and are held accountable for positive outcomes of deploying new skills and behaviours.

  • Bonita (Bonnie) Lay July 13, 2010, 5:09 pm

    10 years ago, I would receive excellent feedback from workshops, seminars, retreats I facilitated…folks would return to the work site and “nothing” would change. I was teaching ethics one semester and pondering what I could do different. Then I found a process how to integrate People Development and Quality Engineering…demonstrating an ROI or value for dollar and accountability from the top down and bottom up. You are correct…without accountability and measurement, it is stupid

  • Liz Cosline July 13, 2010, 5:11 pm

    I agree that training though great to do for employees and managers has no follow up. What is the reason for giving the workshop which takes much time and cost from all involved. What’s the purpose of the workshop?

  • John Prpich July 13, 2010, 5:17 pm

    Mike, you make some valid points and I agree with what you are saying conceptually, but don’t necessarily agree with your approach.
    The concept of accountability is good, but it needs to be better defined as part of the learning process. For many practitioners of the learning discipline, they believe their work is finished when they’ve delivered the learning, oddly enough it’s really the start of the process.
    Learners should meet with their boss prior to any learning event to discuss the reasons and goals for attending, generally speaking it should be to improve a particular competency. The learner attends the session and then after the session they meet with their boss to discuss what they learned. The next step is to develop a strategy for practicing and applying what was learned. This is perhaps one of the most critical steps in the process, practice(for the sake of retaining what was learned) and then application. If the practitioners of learning in your organization have done their homework, they may have created a measurement tool that’s referred to as a Level 3(measuring behavioral change).
    I often suggest giving the learner 60 days to practice what they’ve learned and then observe and measure that practice at the end of 60 days. With this focus and commitment you will find a better ROI and a better functioning organization.

  • Joseph Scime July 13, 2010, 5:19 pm

    That was great I sent it out via Twitter

  • Siddhartha Bhattacharjee July 13, 2010, 11:21 pm

    Most leadership training programs address some qualities and principles making it more rule driven. While it does build knowledge it rarely drives awareness. Most participants cannot see the relevevance till they do not experience. Leadership is more forward than backward. While I agree with the assessments bit, the subsequent learning process must be more hands on and individual driven.Simulations, gaming and case studies developed in house can help create a sustainable leadership development process. Much has been stated about competencies and it’s importance and business relevance. While acknowledging it , the way forward is more opaque than clear and hence, seggregating the generally good to have, from must have, is neccessary. The learning formats must change to reflect new realities and provide specific performance support based learning- therefore coaching, mentoring, and access to on demand expertise would be key.

  • Ralf Weiser July 15, 2010, 7:08 am

    Forget about sending people to pro-forma seminars. Self initiative rules. Sometimes as a leader you can suggest courses, but ultimately the decision for participation needs to come from the trainee. One successful measure has been to let the participant reflect upon what he has learned about or compare and contrast the experience in front of peers and perhaps whole departments.

  • Mike Rogers July 15, 2010, 7:09 am

    Thanks everyone for your comments! I agree Ralf. Ultimate responsibility must be with the participant. But can’t the facilitator (emphasis on facilitator) take some responsibility in creating a learning experience that promotes accountability?
    Mike Rogers

  • Daniel Andrino July 15, 2010, 7:10 am

    The Princeton learning model shows that 70% of comes from real-life and on-the-job experiences, tasks, and problem solving, 20% comes from feedback and from observing, sharing with colleagues and working with role models and 10% of learning and development comes from formal training. So we must to provide experiences more than training (in-class, workshop, outdoor or online) The training (even coaching) is perfect but we need to provide the experiences, opportunities and transitions before and linked.

  • Lynn Scott July 15, 2010, 7:11 am

    As a facilitator (right word, Mike!) I promote accountability in my short Performance Coaching courses. At the end of the first day, delegates commit to doing something they have been avoiding or need to address and reporting back on it at the next session…(it might be having a ‘difficult’ conversation, getting some feedback, speaking at a meeting where previously they have been quiet, etc – we have worked on and with these issues during the training). Most people do what they say they will and this can be hugely transformational for them. The challenge, of course, is keeping up the good work after the training is complete. I like Ralf’s ideas on follow up.

  • Dr. Shalu Nigam July 15, 2010, 7:12 am

    Hi! Agree. The training needs to be followed by a followup. Have been following several steps like asking a trainee to share findings with others in the department/unit. Secondly trainee is supposed to prepare a project keeping in mind what he has learned and how he can implement in his/her work life. The project needs to be submitted along with its action plan/results while maintaining co mplete confidentiality. Thirdly, 360 is done not only before the training but also before participant applies for the next programme after a period. Fourth, trainee may remain connected online with the trainer and can share further issues, queries, followup etc

  • Phil Wrzesinski July 19, 2010, 10:29 am

    Mike, where does the burden lie in the accountability? In the company that does the training? In the company that pays for the training? Or in the person who takes the training?
    I can see a need here for a training company to build in simple follow-up procedure in the training that either the company who hired them or the individual who took the course can use to evaluate effectiveness of the course.
    The key element, however, will be on a mutual definition among all parties of what will be considered a “success”.

  • Mike Rogers July 19, 2010, 10:33 am

    Phil, thanks and good to hear from one of the first followers on my blog. How is the toy business? And I noticed you have a new book – very cool. I think the accountability lies with all three, but is mainly on the learner. However, most training companies I have seen take a “dust the hands off” approach to any accountability. Thanks for your comments.

  • Liz Cosline July 19, 2010, 10:34 am

    To me accountability lies with the leader. Yes each member must be responsible for the work that each does, but it is the leader that keeps that on track and keeps each member accountable to the goals. If the comapny pays for the training, the company must make sure something is gained from that. Too bad it doesn’t always happen that way.

  • Mike Rogers July 19, 2010, 10:34 am

    Thanks Liz. I believe the leader has a critical role in accountability as well. But it is helpful if the training company provides tools to facilitate that if possible. But a critical role of leaders is to develop their people. Thanks for your comments.
    Mike Rogers

  • Gail July 17, 2013, 10:24 pm

    Fabulous site Mike.
    I receive your newsletter and love it. You sent out a fabulous ice breaker, either last week or beginning of this (mid July), with lots of activities including making a paper plane and coming up with a team name and a song. I’ve lost my copy and would be so grateful if you could re-send.

    Yours hopefully


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