Numerous studies over the years have shown that only a limited percentage of training and development efforts lead to improved performance. Why? One reason for this is that training has been done in isolation, without strategic connections and without leadership commitment. Leadership commitment is critical if you want to have a long term impact from your training initiatives. For years, training professionals have asked how they can gain this commitment, especially when it feels like no one pays attention to what is being done in development until it is time to cut costs.
Some of the best ways to gain leadership commitment are to show how training creates value for the organization's performance. In a recent study conducted by Wilson Learning, one of the respondents stated it most clearly, "Work place learning must align with business strategies and change, and ideally be a top down action. Isolated training without executive support would create no value for the organization." In order for training initiatives to be viewed as strategic, the outcomes must show a positive impact on the organization's performance - not just training ROI, but strategic impact on growth, market share, investor return and other financial and non-financial indicators.
There are several levels of leadership in an organization and all are important to the long-term success of any training initiative, for very different reasons. Let's take a look at each.
Ideally you want commitment and support from the highest level, from the CEO or president. They are able to communicate the value and importance of the learning to the organization at a level that can't be ignored.
Recently we worked with an association that wanted to improve relations with its members. While the organization was at the leading edge of its industry in terms of the services it provides and the satisfaction levels of its membership, the CEO felt that future competition could place them in a precarious position. Rather than wait until relationships became a problem, she proactively sought ways to stay ahead of the competition, one of which was to provide customer service training for all of her employees. She communicated to them what the organization wanted to accomplish with the training, who was going to be involved, the benefits to each of them of learning and using the new skills and how she was going to support them as they began the process of changing their behaviors. It was very clear to everyone the importance the CEO placed on the training and its outcomes. It was clear why they were putting this effort into improving member relations, when they were at the top of their industry. Her communication and commitment paid off. The impact of people using the new skills was immediate.
Members commented on how much easier it was to work with the employees of the association. As a result, their loyalty to the association increased significantly and the association is continuing to grow, even while their counterpart associations are floundering.
Vice President and Mid Level Managers
Because they are closer to the execution of strategies, it is beneficial to gain the commitment at both the mid-manager and vice president levels. At this level, without commitment, training efforts can be severely sabotaged. In their departments, these leaders drive the culture that promotes excellence and improvement. They set the standards for supervisors around developing their people. They are also in a position to connect the use of the new behaviors to performance expectations and compensations.
At a telecom company, we worked with two vice presidents of sales for two divisions. In one division, the vice president was lukewarm about the training. He provided the sales team the time to attend training sessions but did not include and follow up or reinforcement of the new skills. As a result, his team made their goals but only saw marginal improvement.
Conversely, his counterpart in another division made training and use of the new skills a priority for his team. His sales managers learned how to become better coaches and provided feedback and coaching on the new skills. Annually he conducted review sessions which allowed the sales team members to share best practices with each other. An emphasis was placed on using the new skills, and consequently the sales people were closing more business and increasing their marketshare. Not only did the team make its goal, they surpassed it by about 15% annually.
It is at the direct supervisor level where the rubber meets the road. The way they talk about training can have a huge impact on how the participants view the training experience. If the talk is positive, the participant will view it as an opportunity. If the talk is negative, the participant will follow suit.
They are also the people who help reinforce the use of the new skills by providing coaching, feedback, and encouragement, as well as remove the barriers that prevent people from using their new skills. Studies by several groups have shown that when management supports using the new skills, this leads to improved performance, not only for the individual, but also for the team and organization.
In one organization, we worked with their consultants to help them be more effective in selling their service to their clients. This was a critical need as the organization was in dire need of more business to stay afloat. While the training initiative went well and the participants were all very excited about the new skills, once they were back in the field they reverted back to their old ways of meeting with their clients. What happened to their excitement and enthusiasm? Their managers did not support the new behaviors, and even discouraged them from using them at all. The managers didn't quite understand the importance of using these new skills. Sales weren't happening and now the company is scrambling to survive.
In my next post I will share some strategies for gaining leaders commitment.
Can you afford not to have leadership commitment?