Leadership development training: How to deliver real results

Leadership development training helps improve productivity

Everyone needs help sometimes, even the most talented leaders. This is especially true when it comes to leading organisational change.

Creating a transformation in culture is extremely challenging and it’s a task that has to be led from the top; bluntly, it is the organisation’s leaders who will make or break any change process. That’s a lot of responsibility, but it’s also a massive opportunity to steer an organisation’s future. But where do you start when it comes to something as big as organisational change? Change that could touch every single member of staff? How do you make sure you get it right? And where can leaders get the help that they need?

Why leaders are the key to unlocking change

In 1995, John Kotter, a professor at Harvard Business School, wrote one of the ‘go to’ books about leadership and change management.  Entitled Leading Change, the book sets out brilliantly why leading change is all down to you, the leaders.

Kotter talks of an 8-step change process. First off, and crucially, managers themselves need to buy into the change and get the momentum started. They then need to filter the momentum and belief through the organisation with the help of a carefully-selected coalition of change leaders within the organisation. The leader has to communicate their vision for change clearly. This will certainly mean having some difficult conversations with people along the way.

Kotter demonstrates ways of tackling the obstacles encountered on the change route and lists the steps leaders need to take to enable successful change that sticks. Going forward, leaders also need to be part of the continuing process of embedding the change into the corporate culture. Otherwise you might find yourself back where you started.

Not all leadership development training was born equal …

Leaders can’t do all of this on their own. They’ll need effective training, with the emphasis on the word ‘effective’.  A 2015 report by UK organisation Towards Maturity revealed that when it comes to leadership development, much of the training being offered is failing to deliver objectives.  

The report, ‘Excellence in Leadership Development’, found that in their sample of organisations, leadership development accounted for quarter of overall training budget, yet few were achieving the wide range of goals they seek. Nine out of 10 of the L&D respondents said they expected to achieve all of the following organisational benefits from their leadership development programmes:

Delivering business impact:  More effective leadership of change; improving business performance; increasing employee engagement.

Getting the right people in place: Improving career planning for potential leaders; improving retention for current and future leaders; addressing the overall talent shortage.

Improving the process: Improving performance management; improving talent management; improving succession planning.

On average, only 17% reported that they were largely achieving these goals. Of course, they had way too many goals to ever succeed; focusing on fewer targeted aims is the way to go.

Some organisations, however, did better than others. These were labelled in the report as ‘higher achievers’. These had a number of things in common compared to the ‘lower achievers’. Notably, higher achievers are more likely to offer online programmes and to extend these programmes to leaders at all levels. Higher achievers were also more likely to include immersive, interactive, engaging experiences and rich content in their online learning programmes. And they were three times as likely to use mobile devices to support learning, enabling access 24/7 – vital for busy managers.

The report also found that higher achievers were encountering fewer barriers – including cost – when delivering leadership development training globally.

For online learning to work best for leaders, they should be engaged in the process of building a bespoke model with relevant, absorbing content. Crucially, the learning has to be linked to objectives. According to Towards Maturity, these elements are often missing in ‘lower achievers’. As a result, their training is failing their leaders.

Keep it simple, keep it real, keep it absorbing

The Royal Mail has been delivering the post in the UK for 500 years. It has 140,000 staff, including 9,000 operational managers with direct responsibility for dealing with employees day to day. Managing difficult conversations – which requires self-confidence – was identified as a key area that could be assisted with digital learning. This training was seen as organisationally important as internal surveys showed that staff productivity was higher where managers were better able to resolve difficult situations.

Sponge UK was invited to work with Royal Mail to deliver a learning programme. Initially, it was developed as a pilot programme for evaluation prior to wider roll-out.  As many staff had been Royal Mail employees for a long time, introducing a new approach had to be done in a positive and inclusive way so that they’d want to  use the training. The training would also need to reflect real situations and be cost effective and quick to implement.

A screen shot from the Royal Mail leadership development training module

Using the key types of difficult conversations identified by frontline managers, the Sponge UK development team scripted a compelling interactive first person video with different branching scenarios. This created impact and credibility. The course was delivered as a SCORM-compliant packaged module. Feedback was taken throughout the course and assessed, providing demonstrable evidence that key objectives were being met.

The result? A sample group of 177 managers were surveyed over 60 days. 90% said they had made lasting changes in their approach to potentially difficult conversations after completing the training. Royal Mail is rolled  out a second interactive video programme to all of its managers on the strength of the pilot’s results.

2,500 years ago the Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote: “The only thing that is constant is change” – and who are we to argue with him today?  We know that change is absolutely necessary in any organisation that wants to succeed and grow. Thankfully, we now have the technology and the skills to ensure that change, even organisation-wide change globally, can be delivered with amazing results.

Get in touch

Contact the Sponge UK team to discuss a bespoke training programme for you and your organisation.

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