7 Leadership Development Buying Mistakes to Avoid

I’ll begin with a generalisation. The performance of an organisation can be very clearly linked to the people that work there. Like any generalisation, there are cases where it may not be accurate (for example, despite the people, performance has moved due to ‘market forces’, innovation or simply luck), but I trust you’ll agree that this holds water for the purpose of this article.

On the basis that this is true, management or leadership training (an investment in those people accountable for many aspects of performance) can be an extremely effective and valuable addition to an organisation. However, just like the performance we seek to influence, there is a spectrum of management training.

We’ve seen plenty of teams that ‘went on training’ with little or no discernible result, so if you’re considering training, here are 7 common buying mistakes that people make. Hopefully this can help you avoid them! *NB Leadership and Management training are used synonymously.

MISTAKE 1: Not having an outcome in mind at the start

Management training can be expensive in both cost and time, so just like any other investment it is critical to make sure the reason for doing it is clear. Typical reasons might be to: upskill your managers to overcome an issue with retention, learn some new skills, remind leaders of key practices or even to build relationships between attendees. Without a clear outcome in mind, once the training has been completed, how can you judge its performance and value?

MISTAKE 2: Being unable to measure the outcome, even if there was one

Let’s imagine we’ve taken the time to agree what the outcome for the training should be (e.g. a reduction in churn, an increase in teams taking ownership or more open honesty around errors so that we can learn). Most leadership programmes (especially those that are short/external) have no follow up, so it’s up to you in the organisation to draw the benefit from the training. How will you know that you’ve made any progress? What is the metric that you want to shift? What’s your expectation for how far it will shift, and have you discussed that with the training provider? In summary, how will you know that you’ve achieved your aims?

MISTAKE 3: Missing accountability in leadership programmes

What are the consequences for people when they either improve (they take on-board the lessons and some measurement of progress moves) or when nothing changes (they stay with the same, existing behaviours)? Many classroom-based leadership programmes (indeed, a great deal of training in general) finishes at the door to the room, and you’re left with your notes or some manuals. If that’s what the training offers, how are you picking up the slack in your organisation, or how can the training provider help you to embed behaviours? Coming back to the idea of value, leaving the learning in the classroom decimates ROI.

MISTAKE 4: Doing leadership training as a “box-tick” exercise

Running training to meet a people development goal (e.g. an accreditation to hang on the wall) can be a very expensive box tick! Millions of pounds are spent each year on leadership development (the US had a $15.5 billion in 2013 according to Deloitte), and as a box tick, the inclination will be to buy the cheapest. As we know, the cheapest doesn’t always work out to be the cheapest, so think about ROI on your spending!
Moreover, it’s normally clear to teams when training is done in this way – there’s unlikely to be follow up or support, and it may be more forgivable if individuals choose to miss training, all of which erodes value further.

MISTAKE 5: Thinking that a one-off, sudden programme is going to reap large rewards

Leadership training typically looks at behaviours, habits and skills. This is where the gold is. As we know from other aspects of our organisations, affecting these is normally considered ‘business change’ and is rarely, if ever, an immediate result; often the reality is that change takes months if not years to embed. Linked to other points here, if an individual coming back from training picks up methods, motivation and ideas, how will they be supported and practice regularly for the behaviour to normalise? It’s often much more effective to have a programme or series of courses that build upon each other and deepen delegate knowledge and skill.

MISTAKE 6: Not comparing leadership training providers and seeing which fits best

Leadership training provides are not the same, even if some of the concepts and content can be. That being true, it’s critical to line up options and make a rational choice based on what you need. If you don’t have skill in making behaviours change in teams, make sure the providers you look at can. If you have an issue with ownership, trust, or something similarly specific, who can evidence that they’ve solved that issue? Which of the providers really understands your business and the goal you want to reach?

MISTAKE 7: A leader books training and then doesn’t attend it themselves

Unless there’s a very good reason to exclude people, leadership training is a great way to deepen working relationships between managers, leaders and departments. It allows time to understand more about what other people do, and shared experiences create bonds and trust over time.
That being so, it’s particularly important that the leader(s) ‘above’ the group being trained is part of it too. This means you don’t miss the opportunity for shared experiences, ensure that everyone speaks the same language about what they’ve learned and demonstrates a strong commitment to the investment.

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