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Fail to develop your leaders and your whole organization will suffer – both in the short and long term.

By Tom Moriarty, Alidade MER

There is fierce competition to find and retain qualified tradespersons, supervisors, and managers. If your organization is facing a shortage of skilled labor, it’s especially critical to keep the people you have, and be recognized as a preferred place to work. That depends on your supervisors and managers being productive leaders.

Employers often believe employees walk for a better-paying job. But that’s not the only reason. Tradespersons, and especially those who are highly skilled, will walk in a heartbeat whenever another alternative looks better. Better opportunities appear more readily when workers have the chance to get away from a bad boss. They may say they are leaving to get better pay, career development opportunities, or improved work-life balance. The motivation is to reduce stress. Stress results in reduced productivity and health issues.

Those who are less likely to walk are the ones who are treated fairly and who encounter a consistent, predictable workplace culture. This workplace culture is a result of productive leadership.

A good leadership development program that leverages best-practice tools and information can achieve significant return on investment (ROI) via lower turnover and higher productivity. Recognizing that there is a massive, long-term, skilled worker shortage , organizations can and should do what they can to improve their work environment. A dedicated program to develop productive leadership can improve the workplace, reducing the risk of workers leaving.

Where do employers go wrong when it comes to leadership training? The following are the most common problems.

For problems 1 & 2, read “Leadership lag: Are you investing in leadership training? Part 1”

Problem 3 – Use it or lose it

Unless training gets applied soon after a training event, people will not retain what they were taught. The brain can hold about seven pieces of new information for only 30 seconds. If you consistently re-expose yourself to the information, it can be retained in working (or short-term) memory for several minutes to several hours. In brain science, this is called memory rehearsal.

When we sit in a classroom and are bombarded with information, we typically retain that information in short-term memory. To cement information into long-term memory, you need consistent exposure to the basic facts, followed by detailed elaboration of impressions. This is why you were taught a concept in math class and then had to work problems for homework. That process is called elaborative rehearsal.

To really cement the information, spaced interval repetition of the information is vital. In other words, the most effective way to retain information is to use it often.

If senior managers and managers aren’t actively looking for leadership skills to be applied, there’s less effort for managers and supervisors to recall and apply leadership training information. Senior leaders drop the ball when they don’t discuss with trainees what leadership behaviors they expect to see and what should improve. There are often no good measures to benchmark. There’s no analysis to confirm the training’s return on investment (ROI).

Does it feel good, or does it do good?

There is a difference between doing something that feels good and doing something that does good. A one-and-done training event feels good. But not acting to implement the training doesn’t do good. What is needed is an actual improvement in leadership – productive leadership.

Why do feel-good leadership events fail? The main reasons are these:

  • Leadership training is thought to be expensive and ineffective, so it’s often done when managers don’t know what else to do.
  • The content changes every time you change training providers. There’s no consistency with the terminology, topics, tools, or depth with which each subject is covered.
  • When leadership training is infrequent, there is no development of a productive leadership culture.
  • Managers of the training attendees are focused on other things; they aren’t assertive in ensuring that the leadership skills are applied.
  • Organizations don’t measure the right things to know whether the training generated a strong ROI.

The alternative to no-lasting-good leadership events is a productive leadership development program.

Productive leadership development program

A successful leadership development program should provide a consistent way for organizations to instill best-practice skills and knowledge in current and future leaders. The five requirements of a successful leadership development program are:

  1. Training content is comprehensive and consistent (in terminology and subject matter) and provides best-practice materials and methods.
  2. Reference tools need to be available for refresher or independent review of leadership best-practices between training events.
  3. A means to measure individual supervisor and manager leadership performance in terms of team effectiveness and motivation levels. Overall measures, such as turnover, grievances, and absenteeism, can also be used.
  4. Training for each leader must be provided not less than every two to three years. One-half to one-third of supervisors and managers get training every year, so socializing leadership behaviors and common practices happens every year.
  5. Senior managers hold managers and supervisors accountable for using leadership best practices. They are reminded to focus on leadership each year as training is repeated.

A productive leadership development program should start with a baseline survey assessing current team effectiveness and motivation. This will provide a starting point from which leadership gaps can be measured. Team effectiveness measurement should address team mission, goal achievement, empowerment, open and honest communication, and positive workplace norms.

After supervisors attend productive leadership training, you can measure changes in them or their teams. Leaders who have low and unchanged motivation levels after training may need more coaching, or they may need reassignment.

After selecting and conducting the survey, decide on the leadership training content that will become the standardized productive leadership training material. Acquire or develop the training materials, presentation slides, workbooks, and exercises. You should also create a reference library (consisting of books and articles) and other tools. This further stabilizes the content and encourages trainees to refresh their skills and knowledge.

If your organization develops its own new leadership content, my caution to you is to make sure the content is robust enough yet easily comprehensible. If the content does not cover the roles, attributes, and skills required of a productive leadership culture, you won’t be providing your leaders with what they need.

Next, schedule initial productive leadership training. It’s best to train all supervisors and managers at the start of the productive leadership development program. If you have a lot of supervisors and managers to be trained, provide several sessions spaced over the first year. For subsequent years, create two or three subgroups of supervisors and managers that will be scheduled for productive leadership training biannually, or triennially. The end-state will be an ongoing schedule of training sessions.

For larger organizations, a recommendation is to develop or acquire productive leadership training content and have a group of people from your organization get trained as internal leadership trainers. This way you can reduce the cost per trainee. For this model, you should have enough annual trainees to hold four workshops per year (at least 12 attendees × 4 workshops, or 48 total). This is because in-house trainers need to stay current on the content and workshop facilitation skills.

Two to three months after productive leadership training, administer the team effectiveness and motivation survey again to those who attended the most recent training and those who work under them. What has improved? What has not changed? Who needs more coaching? You can also measure changes in turnover, safety incidents, productivity, or other important measures and calculate an ROI.

When done correctly, senior managers and managers will have data that will help them provide recognition for productive leadership, set improvement goals, and initiate coaching when more improvement is needed.

Repeat this program every year. As leadership acumen improves, establish a leadership network across work centers, business units, or functions so leadership is peer-supported and driven to common practice.

Even though organizations can do these things for themselves, most haven’t. Whether you purchase training and surveys or generate them yourself, get it done.

Failing to support productive leadership for supervisors and managers makes life tougher for the workforce. If you want to keep your rising leaders, make it harder for them to find more-appealing opportunities.

To learn more, read “Leadership lag: Are you investing in leadership training? Part 1”