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The 1-Word Question About Leadership Training That Often Goes Unanswered


by Janice Burns

Microcourses. Self-study online learning. Mobile learning. Podcasts. Technology-based methods like these are often touted as the future—or even the present—of leadership development.

But are they really replacing traditional methods of leadership training? Should they?

It’s true that getting training right is all about the questions. And while there seem to be a lot about “how” training should or will be delivered, the most important question often goes unasked: “What?”

Yes, “What?” That one little one-word question (as in “What is the purpose of the training?”) the answer to which determines whether leadership training will have personal and organizational impact.

To get the best outcomes from your leadership training programs, it’s much more important to understand the “what” that’s driving your training before you focus on the how.

Here's why...

For leadership training, technology isn’t a silver bullet

Start with this “what” question: What is it you’re trying to accomplish by using (or considering using) technology-delivered learning? Is it because you think your learners want it? Or is it because you think it’s what you’re supposed to be doing?

Your reason for leveraging technology must run deeper than just trying to keep up with the latest learning trends. You must have a purpose. To determine yours, begin with questions that lead you to start with the end in mind:

What must you do to transform your leaders to transform your business?

What behaviors do your leaders need to consistently demonstrate to engage employees, impact your customers, and support your business strategy?

Once you have an end goal, you can work backward to put the pieces in place to get your leaders where you need them to be. Some of those pieces may be grounded in technology, but maybe not all of them.

Technology needs to be used smartly

Technology has grown increasingly invaluable to enabling, supporting, and sustaining learning transfer. And in this age of digitization, personalization, and instant gratification, most learners expect it, and you’ve probably been asked by the business to provide it. But technology must be used smartly, and the smartest way still to employ technology is to use it to bolster an already-robust leadership training program.

Learners—including surprising learner populations—bear this out.

According to recent research DDI did with The Conference Board, Millennial leaders don’t particularly want only the self-study online courses, mobile learning, and social learning that have become trendy in HR and L&D circles.

So, what do they want? It turns out they’re more interested in traditional learning methods such as development assignments, coaching, and formal workshops. Keep this in mind when designing development programs for this critical audience.

Still not convinced? DDI research also shows that adding tech options to the tried and true approaches such as coaching, development assignments, and formal training is very worthwhile. In fact, tech boosts leadership capability by 14 percent when compared with formal training alone, and financial performance by 6 percent when combined with formal training and coaching and development opportunities.

You need to determine where to start

So, what’s the best way to go about designing a training program? First, decide on your goal—the “what.” In other words, what are you seeking to accomplish? This could be anything from developing frontline leaders who are better communicators and coaches in a rapidly changing, remote environment, to accelerating the growth of mid-level leaders to make them more skilled at driving innovation or developing their teams. Another consideration: Is there a sense of urgency related to a critical company initiative or to stock and grow your leadership pipeline?

Once your goal is determined and you have a clear vision for the end state you hope (or need) to achieve and how quickly you need to get there, then¬—and only then—should you begin to figure out how you are going to do it.

What do your leaders really need?

Armed with answers to the ‘’What?” question—tied directly to your business priorities— then you are ready to determine the technologies to use and how best to use them to ensure your development investments are optimally effective. For example, how can leaders use their mobile devices to access just-in-time tools and reinforcement? Do they need access to microcourses for shorter bursts of learning in between formal, synchronous sessions, to personalize their development efforts?

And don’t forget the old, but important adage—practice makes perfect.

You can teach your learners every skill in the proverbial leadership book, but without the opportunity to practice those skills before applying them on the job, and opportunities to keep them sharp over time, well, then you’re wasting everyone’s time.

It’s just like playing the piano. Your parents may have put you through lessons for years as a kid, but if those lessons weren’t supplemented with practice then, and you haven’t practiced lately, you’re not going to be able to sit down and play “Fur Elise” anytime soon.

Likewise, your leaders can take classes on coaching or delegating, but they need practice and feedback, in the classroom and in the workplace, to gain confidence and competence. The good news is that in-person and virtual practice with peers and learners’ managers can be reinforced with self-directed, technology-based practice. This powerful combination gives leaders the flexibility to spend more time, if and when they need it, to focus on their individual development needs.

So, what’s your purpose?

Technology may end up being the greatest thing to ever happen to leadership training—some would argue that’s already true. But for now, there’s little argument that when designing training programs, we’re wise to pick our spots for the most effective way to employ technology.

How we use technology is all about what we need to use it for.

Are you asking the right question?

Janice Burns, leadership development product manager, works with organizations around the world to achieve business results through strong leaders. She is an experienced presenter on a variety of topics, including the design and implementation of learning journeys and blended learning best practices. She is a consummate shopper, particularly for shoes, and loves to attend auctions with her husband.

Learn more about DDI’s development solutions for today’s leader.

Posted: 10 Nov, 2017,
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