Don't train in vain. Follow these 5 steps to achieve leadership training success.

Tom Moriarty explains that goals for leadership training often clash with reality. Here’s how to prevent that.

By Tom Moriarty

Last month I broached the subject of “one-and-done” leadership training and why the one-off approach is ineffective. Now let’s consider just how costly this kind of untargeted, generic leadership training can be for a plant.

Let’s say we have a plant manager who has been growing more and more frustrated with the situation in his or her plant: Turnover of the 300-person workforce has reached more than 23%, and grievances have doubled in the past 18 months. Climate and job satisfaction surveys show that the workforce is frustrated and unhappy. Word of the plant’s culture has gotten around, so it has become even more difficult to hire and keep qualified people.

The plant manager approaches the human resources manager and asks to have some leadership training for supervisors. The HR manager looks around and books some low-cost leadership training from a local firm.

The one-day workshop includes typical leadership topics such as communication skills, time management, group decision-making, and teamwork. Half of the plant’s 24 supervisors attend training the first day, and the other half attends a second day. No managers attend.

A couple of the attendees have had similar training a few years earlier, but to many of them, this is new. Each supervisor receives a take-home handout. The leadership training firm is paid $12,000 for its two days of services.

Back in the plant, there are a few jokes among the supervisors about some of the things discussed during the training. The training booklets get placed on a shelf. Most if not all of the booklets are never opened again.

The pace in the plant has not changed. It’s hectic. There is always more to do than there are hours in the day. Supervisors think about applying time management techniques or delegation of tasks, but their managers (who did not attend the training) want action now. Each supervisor’s crew takes some good-natured jabs at the supervisor for “trying to be a boss” now that the supervisor has been “all schooled up.” Two months after the training course, distractions and inconsistent support have made it impossible to see any tangible benefit from the leadership training.

The average loaded rate per hour of supervisor time is about $48/hour; that’s another $9,216 of cost. This does not include all of the things that did not get done while the supervisor was in training. If turnover cost per position were $7,000 ($28,000 estimated annual pay × 0.25), you would need only to reduce turnover by 1%, or three people leaving per year, to break even.

Only 20% of material presented in typical workshop is retained if it is not reinforced by timely application of the learning. Brain research has shown that people require periodic reminders or use of new concepts within the first weeks after learning something for it to be retained. This improves the strength of neuron connections. It’s important to measure leadership performance and to have managers reinforce use of leadership skills. So is there a better way?

First, select leadership training that is designed for plant environments, delivered by people with plant experience. Second, baseline team motivation levels and measures of team effectiveness. Within these survey measures, link the crew members with their supervisor and the supervisors with the person to whom they report.

Third, have plant-experienced trainers meet with the managers of those who will attend the training. The purpose of these meetings is to sensitize them to what attendees will learn and to encourage managers to watch for and support application of good leadership practices.

Fourth, get more than the basic leadership training. Get at least two days of comprehensive training that addresses delegation and how to correct underperformance – the two most important things for supervisors to do correctly. Ensure that there are lots of practical exercises and tools.

Fifth, re-survey team effectiveness and motivation, and measure changes in productivity, turnover, and grievances. Managers should hold trainees accountable to apply what they learned.

You manage what you measure. The key is to do everything possible to provide good training, make sure that training is used, and measure the outcomes.

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