In 2018, I was asked to redesign a new supervisor training program. The program was a set of seven sessions with eight hours of training and a half-day capstone session. It was a typical design using instructor-led training (ILT), with hours of PowerPoint presentations on performance management, coaching, strategic thinking, and similar topics. The only interactive exercises were group discussions of questions raised in presentations.

If this program sounds boring and ineffective, it’s because it was. In fact, on my first day as the program manager, I had a meeting with a business unit that refused to send its managers to any future supervisor training until we made significant changes.

The pressure was on.

My first act was to attend every training session in the first four months of 2018. I changed nothing, because I wanted to experience all aspects of the training from the participants’ perspective. I sat in every class and took extensive notes on the presentations, the presenters and group exercises. After all, as the change management literature will tell you, making changes before you understand your situation can backfire on you.

I reviewed the literature on leadership development and consulted several experts. I even earned the Training Industry’s Leading Leadership Development certificate. Based on my research, I instituted four improvements to the new supervisor training program:

1. More Interaction

I cut the hours devoted to PowerPoint presentations in half and introduced more interactive in-class activities. The learners watched a presentation every 50 minutes and then had 50 minutes or more of an interactive exercise, such as group discussions and table debates. My favorite activity was the leadership quote wall. Our facilitator posted inspirational leadership quotes around the room and, at specific points during the training, encouraged the students to walk around the room to read the passages. Learners then stood by their favorite quote and explained to the rest of the class why it was their favorite.

2. Invite a Special Guest

I also asked an award-winning supervisor to give a special presentation to the class. The organization had an annual award for the best supervisor, and I invited the award-winners to address the class to discuss lessons they’d learned as a supervisor. The students often said that meeting successful supervisors was the highlight of the training program.

3. Incorporate Real Case Studies

Each session of the course included a two-page case study based on that day’s topic. The learners would read the case study before coming to class and would then devote an hour and a half to discussing possible solutions to the case study. This approach is a great way of demonstrating how to apply theory to a real supervisory challenge.

4. Rearrange Topics to Build on Each Other

Finally, I rearranged training topics so they built upon each other more effectively. For example, I moved the communication unit before the coaching and mentoring unit, so the supervisors learned essential communication skills before they learned how to use them in coaching and mentoring. I also paired the emotional intelligence training with the performance management unit, so supervisors could have more fruitful performance discussions with employees. To build leadership skills further, the facilitators stressed how all the supervisory skills work together.

I received many anecdotal reports that the new supervisors and their supervisors were happy with the course redesign. I crunched the numbers and found significant levels of satisfaction in the course evaluations:

    • “The information in this course was relevant and applicable to my job”: 51% increase.
    • “The connection between the course content and the [work] environment was clear”: 51% increase.
    • “The knowledge and experiences shared by the instructor enhanced my learning experience”: 41% increase.
    • “I was given ample opportunity to participate in this course”: 35% increase.
    • “The materials aided in my learning”: 46% increase.
    • “My knowledge and skills increased as a result of this course”: 50% increase.
    • “I plan to apply the knowledge and skills learned in this course”: 53% increase.

The most personally satisfying result of the course redesign was that I was recognized as one of 25 “2019 Emerging Training Leaders” by Training Magazine. Leadership development is a vital necessity for organizations, especially now, because of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Hopefully, my experience will help you improve your own leadership training programs.

Editor’s note: Don’t miss our infographic on modern leadership development, which shares insights from learning leaders like this one.