“We trained them. Why aren’t they performing?”

Recently, our training department of two was given a limited budget and tasked with creating a leadership training program for front- to mid-line managers in a nearly 90-year-old organization with a 450-person, predominantly contract-based workforce. We put a lot of thought into understanding how to define leadership within the context of our company’s vision, mission and values, and a flexible definition emerged: Leadership is influence. It involves modeling what you want to see in others, making good decisions about the bottom line, cultivating relationships to execute business strategies and influencing people to be their best.

As ADDIE users, in the analyze stage of the program development process, we used the acronym AKSBAMM, which stands for attitude, knowledge, skills, behaviors, aspirations, motivation and mindset, to analyze our demographic needs. Through interviews and focus groups, we discovered that many of the supervisors and frontline managers had been with the company for years and chosen to step out of their contract to rise up the management track. During their extensive time at the company, they received little to no direct leadership training. Thus, many had developed negative feelings toward one area of the company or one leadership level, meager attitudes about their people, and little motivation and aspiration to change. Despite the challenges, these experienced leaders had a myriad of knowledge and technical skills, pride in what they did, and strong loyalty to the company. We identified that we needed to calibrate basic leadership knowledge and concepts (knowledge) and challenge our learners to start thinking about leadership (mindset) as the hidden tool they needed to sharpen (behavior) in order to positively impact the business.

To bulletproof our program, our first step was to gain early buy-in from senior leaders to support our efforts. To that end, we created a leadership steering committee, comprised of two representatives from each of our executive team’s business area. Their approval and ongoing support became key and still serve as a sharp tool in our program’s health today.

After finalizing a design (the second stage of ADDIE), we worked to gain buy-in from the leadership steering committee for a blended 42-hour program for front-line supervisors and a 43.5-hour program for frontline managers. The program is aligned to our five customized leadership competencies clusters and their accompanying leadership behaviors. This program was the first of its kind at this organization, and it included the following components:

  • Through the arduous development stage, we realized that having multiple people design for the same program provided an opportunity to create alignment with our end goal. We turned to a curriculum map to help us with that alignment.
  • At best, most leadership training programs offer ways to assess value from soft metrics but lack the story of causality to show how hard metrics are aligned to robust business outcomes. As a former K-12 educator, I knew that it’s important to articulate an assessment strategy and framework for your program before going too far down the road with your program development.
  • We created a self-coaching tool to provide guidance on what “good” looked like.
  • Providing a reality check by identifying the challenges our learners were facing when trying to implement their new learning stirred the right conversations and opportunities. As we progressed in the implementation and evaluation steps, we iterated continuously, working with our operational and senior leaders to improve our program.

Today, we are implementing the last few classes of the program. Our preliminary data collection identified a boost in morale as learners experienced quick wins using the leadership tools we introduced in the classes. We also learned that the feedback at learners’ job sites, coupled with our corporate priorities, were initiating long-needed conversations all the way up the leadership chain to address key system challenges.

Blame- and bullet-proofing your leadership training program requires deep thinking to uncover what exactly you are trying to accomplish. Define your outcomes through operational standards and behavior-based assessments based on customized leadership competencies. Give learners usable tools, offer feedback on why learners are unable to implement their learning and iterate your program to continually address the needs of your learners. This approach will ensure that everyone involved moves past the classic blame game of, “We trained them. Why aren’t they performing?”.

Want to learn more? Join Melia for her session at the free upcoming TICE Virtual Conference: Leadership Training, the Driver of Organizational Performance.