You have just arrived back at the office after a great experience at a leadership development seminar. Your head is brimming with visions and ideas of the goals you want to implement as the new “You 2.0” leader you want to become. Then, reality hits in the form of 400 unanswered emails, a major project to deliver in the next two weeks, followed by a family vacation. The leadership seminar workbook goes on the shelf. You might review it again once or twice, but it is more likely that it will gather dust until you move offices or leave the company, when it will probably be tossed in the trash bin as old data.
Because the definition of “leadership development” is so broad, there is little agreement on how much organizations spend on leadership training. It is safe to say, however, that total spend is in the billions. A 2017 Conference Board study found that 14 percent of organizations spend over $7,000 per executive, per year, on leadership development programs. In some cases, companies can spend up to $150,000 per person on customized leadership development programs. Even with this enormous investment of time and money, in a 2016 Korn Ferry survey of 7,500 executives from 107 countries, 55 percent of respondents ranked their return on leadership development as “fair” to “very poor.”
This lack of effectiveness is why more and more companies are pairing leadership development with post-learning coaching. Organizations that do so achieve a higher implementation success rate. An executive from a large leadership development provider recently told me that their program participants were 60 percent more likely to use the skills and knowledge they acquired from formal training if they were offered a coaching engagement when they returned to their work environment.
Following are five ways coaching can magnify the investment in formal learning.
- Coaches help leaders clarify and distill their formal learning experience into a few powerful action items. Leadership training events often present a large array of potential behavior changes, which can be overwhelming for the learners. Coaches can help leaders create a focused plan that is challenging but reasonable.
- Coaches help leaders create accountability to themselves, their teams and their managers. Commitment to others can be a significant motivator to create new habits. Coaches help close the accountability loop by asking probing questions and challenging leaders to make these commitments.
- Coaches help leaders overcome company culture and system barriers that might discourage the change brought on by new learning. Leadership development is not just about learning new skills but also creating a personal change in an old environment that can resist new behaviors. Coaches help leaders respond to this resistance.
- Coaches help leaders build strategies to sustain their learned skills over time as a part of becoming a new version of themselves. Formal learning becomes the springboard for lasting change instead of “the week I spent at a seminar in Dallas.”
- Coaches can help leaders measure their progress over time through focused interviews, team meetings and personal reflection. Leaders who receive consistent, unbiased feedback on their performance are better equipped to continue their improvement.
Of course, not all companies can afford to hire personal coaches for every executive who attends a leadership program. Many organizations have solved this dilemma by certifying internal coaches, conducting small group coaching, assigning buddy coaches or implementing some combination of these formats.
The benefits of formal learning should extend well beyond the leadership development seminar. Providing an opportunity for follow-up coaching significantly increases the likelihood that your organization’s leadership development investment will pay lasting dividends.