Stop one-and-done leadership training

Tom Moriarty says don’t take the generic route if you want to to ensure your leadership training actually works.

By Tom Moriarty

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The plant manager knows there’s a gap between what he/she anticipated in terms of leadership performance from managers and supervisors and actual leadership performance. The plant manager puts the human resources department on the task of finding a leadership training provider. Several trainers submit bids, and the one with glossy brochures and a low cost is selected.

A dozen supervisors and junior managers attend the training. A couple of them report that it's really good training, and they're appreciative of the opportunity to attend. A couple of others grumble that it was a waste of time. The rest feel like it was good information but are skeptical that they will be able to apply what they learned. The trainer gets paid. The attendees go back to work. Very little changes. This is a one-and-done approach: short-term activity with little lasting benefit.

What has happened? First, the plant manager and human resources staff treated the gap in leadership as a single issue that could be solved with a single training event. In fact, the issue reflects a systemic problem. Most plants today don’t have effective leadership development and sustainment programs. They expect a high-performing hourly employee to somehow have all the right leadership attributes, skills and tools to magically become a solid leader because his or her title changed. The 2015 Plant Services/Alidade MER Leadership Survey indicated that less than half of supervisors and managers get adequate leadership training. Many plants have no recurring program for refreshing skills or developing potential leaders.

The second problem is the content typical of one-and-done leadership training. This training might be conducted at a local hotel conference room by trainers who were working with hospital staff or local bank supervisors the week before. It likely will cover time management, communication skills, group decision-making, yadda, yadda, yadda. Generic, one-and-done leadership training lacks comprehensive content, presented in a way that resonates with plant operations, support, and maintenance people.  Productive leadership training must include background on why good leadership practices are important, the attributes of good leaders, and different leadership roles, as well as the typical skills listed above. There should be practical exercises offering tools that attendees can use to properly delegate tasks and help leaders comfortably and assertively correct behaviors when needed.

The third problem is that once the attendees complete the training workshop, they go back to work and get consumed by the demands of the day. They are not encouraged or supported in their attempts to use what they just learned. Managers of the people who attended the training assume that attendees learned time management and communication skills. They expect that attendees will just apply those new skills without the need for their managers to do anything. That’s wrong. For a productive leadership program, senior and mid-managers must ensure leadership best-practices are used. Senior and mid-level managers should participate in productive leadership workshops.

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