I cringe when I think about the number of times executives have challenged me to come up with results for a training program or development initiative AFTER the fact.  I relished the opportunity to have a conversation about their questions on the front-end – How will we know that this has been successful after we have spent the money and the program is over?

Maybe those of you in the development field are still struggling with this reality.  Maybe executives who are reading this still wonder how they can remain supportive of their human resource development staff, while at the same time holding them accountable for successful outcomes.  Here are 5 ways to build a successful track record.

Initiate the Conversation Early

Whether you are the executive or the training officer, the time to ask the question is in the beginning.  Someone needs to start the dialogue – What are we trying to achieve with this effort?  Better to plan the outcome and create a design that supports your intention, than to not have the right answer at the end.  People have been fired for less.  I know.  What’s the worse that can happen?  Maybe the manager or executive asking for the initiative is better informed, and once they realize that it will take too many resources and budget dollars to reach the outcome they envision, they decide not to proceed at this time.

Agree on What Success Looks Like

As our firm plans out strategic leadership development initiatives – competency models, 360-degree assessments, custom development experiences, executive coaching & succession planning – we have a methodical process and responsibility matrix for making decisions and creating success.  These are often initiatives that fuel the effort for organizations to reach their strategic blueprint and intent.

Not all work has to be strategic in nature, but it all should begin with shared purpose and intent.  The person requesting the development initiative and the person designing and implementing the initiative need to agree on what they are trying to accomplish, what it will look like in the end, what resources will be required to accomplish it.  At a minimum, if this isn’t clear or shared, don’t move a step.

Develop the Right People

I spent 17 years inside very strong and purposeful organizations.  Each of these organizations had a focus on who they wanted to become and supported the journey with training and development in the right areas.  As I look back to those projects with organizations, I realize that one of the areas we needed to spend more time on was identifying the right people to invite into the development and training programs.

Since our heart and mind was in the right place, we invited all managers to attend the latest leadership program, or all customer service representatives to attend the upcoming workshop.  I have since borrowed the use the term, ‘sheep dipping’ to describe this method.  In other cases, we invited a select group of leaders who were ready, willing and able to engage in the development experience we were ready to roll out.  Much better.

Add to this the practice that everyone is invited to training because they share the same job title, and the fact that we follow the Pareto Principle to the ‘t.’  We spend 80% of our time reactively developing people because of the poor performance of the lowest performers at the bottom 20% of the company.  This is foolish, ridiculous and very expensive.

What’s the alternative?  Tell people what you expect of them (effectively coach and mentor team members), and when you expect them to perform at standard (end of 2009).  Share with them that you will have self-study, peer discussions and development workshops to help them get there.  They may opt into any of the development solutions they need to successfully be ready.  They choose how to get there, and how to develop their skills.  Just in time development for just the right people.

Note:  As I write this I wonder if I should call this blog, All the things I wish I would have known then, that I realize now!

Shared Accountability

One of the most significant shifts in thinking in leadership development that I have experienced over the past 5 years is that staff shouldn’t own the leadership development process, executives and presidents of company’s should.  Does this put me out of a job?  Absolutely not.  Does it mean that the president of the company is only developing their team and leaders below them?  Of course not!  What’s left?  Shared accountability.  Executives sponsor and participate in management and leadership activity that defines, prioritizes and models what is expected of leaders.  Functional (HR, training, OD) leaders help design, implement and measure the development initiatives to get there.

I remember approaching a neighbor of mine who is a general manager of a large enterprise with multiple facilities a few months ago.  In an attempt to better understand his business and the role he played within it, I asked him what role he played in the organization and how that played out.  His response?  He said that he seems himself as a coach; a coach to those who managed the different facilities, so that they and the organization could be successful.  I don’t hear that response all that often.  Sounds about right to me.

Invest in the Right Phase

We spend the vast majority of our time investing in the Big Event, the development initiative that we are rolling out to the organization, and we expect a major return on what we’ve invested.  There’s something wrong with this picture – can you guess what it is?  If we expect people to be successful after we’ve worked with them, we need to invest a lot more in our planning:  what do we expect after the people are successful, not what does a successful training event look like!  In addition, we need to invest even more in how we plan for the skills to be transferred and applied back in the workplace.  Wow!  I wish I could go back and start some initiatives all over again.

Bonus Answer:  Stop Sending People to Brochure Training

Those of us who often pay our dues inside the organization and make a successful transition to the external consulting world have a lot of wisdom to share.  What irritates me is that we are always talking about all the things we need to start doing and improving.  Where do people find the time?  Let’s focus some time on all the things we know you can stop doing as development leaders or business owners who have a stake in the organizations future.

  1. Stop sending people to training when they come into your office with a brochure.  It’s too random.
  2. Stop sending everyone from the department to training because one or a few people are abusing a policy you have in place.  Look those people in the eyes, tell them what you are concerned about and why, and ask them if they need your help to change.
  3. Stop all mandated training.  Be clearer about expectations and outcomes, and offer different resources to meet the goal.
  4. Stop training that will not advance the strategic intent of your organization.  Education is fine, healthy and wise; but it is not training.
  5. Stop thinking that you’ll offer the training initiative and the devleopment effort will be complete.  There is no silver bullet.   Learning is an ongoing process.  People learn at different rates and in different ways.

Enough of the soap box.  There are many other ideas to increase impact by changing how we develop talent, or things to stop doing because we know they don’t work well anymore.  Please share your ideas with us so this list can continue to grow.