Sunday, June 26, 2016

6 Reasons Well-Intentioned Leadership Training Backfires

a cartoon figure holds a chemistry experiment that backfires

You may have all the right intentions, but unless you design your leadership training programs very carefully, they can potentially do more harm than good. 

You want your leaders to learn, grow and perform.  Leadership training may be one of the best paths to take to support their development, but you should know that few executives believe that investments in leadership training and development are having a real impact on changing on-the-job behaviors or performance. 

Our training measurement research of over 800 different training programs found that only 1-in-5 participants changed their behavior and performance from even well-designed training.  With what is expected and required from leaders today, we believe that leadership development and performance is an experiment you can’t afford to have backfire.

Here are some of the six of the most common reasons leadership training has little effect:

  1. Not enough relevance.For leadership development programs to be set up to succeed, the desired outcomes, design and scope must be highly relevant to three key stakeholders (1) The Target Audience, (2) Their Bosses, and (3) The Executive Team. We call this 3×3 Relevance – without it, learning leaders and your target audience will struggle to get leadership initiatives off the ground or fully implemented.  We find that the most relevant leadership development solutions take an action learning approach that develops leaders while moving the business strategy forward.

  2. Not enough facilitator credibility. Yes, the facilitator may be able to command a room and have many years of experience leading meaningful discussions, but what really matters when facing an audience of executive leaders is their level of business acumen and real life experience leading and managing businesses and people.

  3. Not enough of a challenge. Don’t turn your leaders off by roping them into a leadership program that is far beneath them and what they are being asked to do. Repeating the ABCs of good leadership when they are ready for XYZs will only frustrate and torture them.  Focus only on the critical few scenarios, challenges, competencies and situations related to what they need to succeed both now and in the future.  Ensure that you push them out of their comfort zone enough to get them where they need to be.

  4. Not enough interaction. Any training program worth its salt will heavily engage the learners in relevant and powerful experiential activities. Be sure there is a lively mix of simulations, role playing, small group exercises, relevant scenarios, reflection and discussion. If lecture or the sharing of content and models takes up more than 30% of the session, you probably have an instructional design issue that needs to be addressed.

  5. Not enough follow-up. Training by itself, even if it is well designed, will do little to change on-the-job behavior or performance. To be effective, you need a meaningful and aligned system of measurement and reinforcement that includes tools, job aids, refreshers, ongoing performance coaching, incentives and consequences that matter to the learners, their boss and the business. 

  6. Not enough accountability. Put a fair, accurate, timely and transparent measurement system in place to monitor success and hold learners (and their bosses) accountable for embedding the desired behaviors into their day-to-day routines.

Don’t invest in leadership training programs unless you have made sure that the training is appropriately targeted for your audience, teaches the behaviors you know will help them and the business succeed, has effective follow-up, and will be monitored for application in their real world.

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  1. For the "1-in-5 participants changed their behavior and performance from even well-designed training", what was effective about the programs?

  2. Hi Patricia...We appreciate your question. Our research and experience tells us that two components matter most when it comes to corporate training changing behavior and performance.

    #1: High Relevance to the participants, their bosses and the company as whole. To learn more, please visit:

    #2. Strong accountability, reinforcement and follow-through. To learn more, please visist:

    Overall, any learning solution seeking to change behavior and performance should be treated as a change initiative, not a "training event." I hope this helps. Please let me know if you have any other questions.