Engineering and technology firms have a recurring problem. Their best technical employees, who will naturally move into management or leadership positions, are not natural managers or leaders. 

The challenge of upskilling technical managers with the people skills they need to lead and thrive is a difficult one.

Luckily for one engineering firm, learning had recently been identified as one of the top strategic priorities for the year. They recognized the challenge, and wanted to do something to increase the capabilities and performance of their employees, starting from a manager level.

A training program was created, designed to help managers explore their leadership style, effectively manage themselves, lead others, communicate and drive business results.

Without doubt it was an excellent program including a 360-degree profiling tool, strong management advocacy and a well-planned and executed curriculum. However, after three cohorts of 20 people, the company wasn’t seeing any change. The knowledge base of the managers was different, but there were no significant changes in day-to-day behavior.  

With people firmly entrenched in their own way of being, the L&D manager decided something different needed to be done. With time and budget restrictions, he knew that further training wasn’t the answer.

He decided a no-nonsense approach was needed. He had been seeing great benefit from the quick, hard-hitting and efficient fitness trend of high intensity interval training (HIIT). Upon reflection, he recalled a blog he had seen about a similar approach in learning – a series of 20-minute phone conversations, spanning the ten weeks after a learning intervention with a focus on behavioral change. He chose to implement this approach using a team of external specialists to create reflection and accountability, and in the process unearth some of the real barriers to success.

As the program unfolded, individuals started to move forward with the objectives they had set at the end of the training program. Challenges were uncovered through a reflective approach that often were seemingly unrelated to the topics learnt, but were the real barriers to change.

The barriers included:

  • A high performer working remotely from her manager with no guidance as to how she could contribute to the wider business more than she was currently doing
  • A participant who has struggled with authenticity, getting buy in from her team and shaking her past behavior to make a fresh start
  • An individual who has difficulty focusing in an open plan office having being controlled by distraction throughout his career
  • An individual who has outstanding feedback from peers and managers alike, but doesn’t want to move forward from the program because they don’t want to be a leader in the organization.

These, in reality, could apply to any cross section of leaders in an organization. The process facilitated conversations about growth becoming a priority that would have never made it to the top of the list without a level of accountability.

The HIIT approach provided opportunity for ownership, accountability and reflection which are the fundamental pillars of successful learning transfer.

The results were driven by:

  • The power of reflection
  • The power of focus
  • The power of making a decision
  • The power of challenging and dissecting your own truth
  • The power of being vulnerable
  • The power of facing your fears

Isn’t this the type of change that L&D professionals want to make?

Emma Weber is the CEO and founder of Lever – Transfer of Learning.

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