According to Forbes in 2019, leadership development funding is estimated at $166 billion annually in the U.S., but does it produce results? Typically, no. Now, let’s also assume leadership development must be performed remotely. Sounds difficult, but it doesn’t have to be. Here is a formula for in-person and remote leadership training that works.
An effective development program goes beyond creating engaged, motivated and competent employees. When executed correctly, the program produces maximum workplace performance and organizational results.
Whether you are a training professional tasked with designing a remote leadership development program, an executive looking for an effective solution or a vendor hoping to provide training, the Kirkpatrick Model provides a framework for programs that measurably increase performance and produce business results.
Document What Success Looks Like
For any training request, start by asking what Level 4 results the program will support. What high-level organizational outcomes will the training positively influence? For example, will better remote leadership reduce employee turnover, increase productivity and customer satisfaction, or reduce waste?
Get clear on the high-level outcomes the training should deliver to be considered a success. Ideally, these outcomes are discussed and defined in a two-way conversation between the training provider and the stakeholders.
Invest in a Comprehensive Implementation Plan
Organizations are usually clear on the outcomes that are most important to them, but less clear on how to achieve them. They expect training magic: Send your people to a one-day program, and achieve the desired results. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way. And simply converting in-person training to virtual training is not the answer either.
The most critical part of any training program, remote leadership development included, is a well-defined Level 3 implementation plan. There is strong agreement that formal training on its own yields only a fraction of desired outcomes. On-the-job experiences are the biggest source of learning for employees. Therefore, on-the-job environment and organizational culture significantly impact how employees perform, regardless of their knowledge. Decentralized teams and remote leadership add an additional layer of importance to the Level 3 plan.
Training and the business should work together to define what needs to change or occur reliably in the on-the-job environment and employee performance to yield desired results. Then, they should create a support and accountability package to help employees and their managers succeed.
Training budgets are often cut, because data connecting learning to organizational outcomes is missing, due to lacking a Level 3 implementation plan. Therefore, creating a plan and defining roles and responsibilities early in the planning phase is critical not only for the success of a remote leadership program but for the continued existence of the training function as we know it today.
Define Critical Behaviors
The first step in creating a Level 3 plan is to define the critical behaviors that future remote leaders need to develop and exhibit in observable, measurable terms. For example, critical behaviors for remote leaders could be:
- Publish organizational, departmental and personal goals to all direct reports.
- Conduct daily team meetings and weekly employee touch-bases via video conference.
- Review weekly status reports and provide feedback for each direct report.
Critical behaviors often influence organizational processes and systems due to underpinned assumptions. In this case, the organization has a goal-setting process and a culture that employees must complete and submit weekly status reports. The more structure and accountability that exists organizationally, the easier it is to build a Level 3 plan.
Create a Support and Accountability Package
Human nature dictates that, even when people know what they are supposed to do, many factors influence their behavior. For example, leaders know that spending time with their direct reports is important, but sometimes deadlines and workload influence them to delay or cancel one-on-one time with their team members. In remote working situations, there could be environmental influences such as children and pets that make video calls inconvenient.
Effective remote leadership requires a Level 3 plan, including a variety of methods and tools to support leaders in performing their critical behaviors and hold them accountable. Providing support is usually enjoyable. Look for ways to help your busy remote leaders do the right thing – such as providing templates, checklists, small rewards and reminders. If resources are available for formal coaching and mentoring, these can be very effective tools.
Holding remote leaders accountable is less enjoyable, but it is necessary for remote leadership to produce expected results. Begin with existing accountability tools and techniques, and see if there are gaps that should be filled. Possible examples include:
- Time tracking software.
- Weekly reports.
- Performance tracking systems.
The key is to ensure that you track not only the results but the steady performance and adoption of critical behaviors by managers.
Monitoring performance takes time and resources. During remote leadership program development, discuss post-training roles and responsibilities and obtain buy-in for a plan. If resources are tight, look at methods of self-monitoring, reporting and peer mentoring as viable alternatives. Remote leaders can also have regularly scheduled meetings to discuss their successes and challenges in adopting critical behaviors and support each other.
The Level 3 plan is the most important part of your remote leadership program. The quality and execution of your plan are the biggest contributors to the success of your remote leaders. Define post-training support and accountability as part of the training package, and build it at the same time as formal training materials. Broadening your definition of training better positions your program for success.
Define Specific Metrics
Training is often evaluated cumulatively when the program is complete. Refocus most of your analysis on formative evaluation – data collected during training and implementation – so you can correct issues and maximize performance and results along the way.
Before training, find out what metrics are important to the stakeholders, the managers of learners, the learners themselves and the leadership development cohort. Make sure you have metrics for both performance and outcomes. Determine who will gather and report the data and in what format. Decide which data will be reported throughout the initiative to track progress and identify areas for improvement.
Connect the Dots
Prior to and during training, let learners know what they are expected to do after training, what support is available to them, how their performance outcomes will be tracked and how they contribute to organizational success. Making the connection between training, performance and high-level outcomes has many benefits. Participants come to training with a higher level of interest and are more engaged. Therefore, they learn more, and – when applying their new learnings on the job is difficult – support is available to them.
Perhaps the most critical time for creating training success is when training graduates return to the job. Ensure there are regular checkpoints to verify that support and accountability actions occur. Use technology to set automated reminders for yourself, supervisors, stakeholders and the training graduates.
Most programs are not instantly successful. Expect to have setbacks, and be prepared with a remediation plan. This is the reason that continual monitoring and reinforcement is required for success in most programs. Program plan changes are to be expected; they are not signs of failure.
Report Meaningful Data
Powerful program data are a combination of numbers and supporting metrics on performance and results. Connect learning, performance and results to tell your success story. If you attempt to report program results with no on-the-job performance data, expect objection that some other factor created or influenced the outcomes. If you provide numeric data and no supporting stories or evidence, it is also difficult to make the connection.
There are always multiple factors that influence results. A simple way to collect this data is to survey the remote leaders and their supervisors on what factors contributed to their success. Ensure respondents can provide open-ended responses, so you capture their stories.
Remote leaders would likely say their success is due to a combination of things, such as training, technology tools, support from their peers, supervisory guidance, personal initiative and regular progress checkpoints. With a reasonable investment of resources, you can show the relative contribution of these factors at Kirkpatrick Levels 2, 3 and 4.
The blended data shows the value that training brings to the company and highlights other important factors in company success, giving credit where credit is due and contributing to a team-based approach to success.
Do not be intimidated if you have never created a training plan including performance support and accountability. Select one important initiative with executive sponsorship and support to use as a pilot. Create a committee to work with you. Focus more resources on the post-training plan than on the training itself. The time you dedicate to the pilot is an investment that will make subsequent programs faster and easier.
Before you know it, you will be building and implementing Level 3 plans for all important company initiatives and successfully connecting training, performance and results. More importantly, you will be maximizing program outcomes and minimizing resources invested. And, that’s a blueprint for training that works.