Is Your Leadership Training on Track?

A smiling man in a shirt and tie leads a workshop, engaging with attentive participants who are raising their hands to answer a question.
October 5, 2023

Leadership initiatives are among the most popular training topics. When properly executed they can maximize all other initiatives and be a true force-multiplier.

Unfortunately, many leadership initiatives yield only a fraction of the potential benefits due to a lack of strategic focus. Failure is likely if any of the following are missing:

  • High-level outcomes with measurable criteria for success
  • Competencies based on performance and business needs
  • A support and accountability package on the job

We typically see at least two of these items missing from the multimillion-dollar leadership initiatives we review. Take an honest look at your leadership development program and ask yourself these questions:

  1. Are our competencies measurable and directly related to mission accomplishment?
  2. Is our training focused on preparing participants to perform specific actions and behaviors on the job?
  3. Do we challenge and refute statements like, “It’s too difficult to measure soft skills?”

This article will help you to create a clear focus for your leadership initiative or any other important program.

The End is the Beginning

Kirkpatrick Foundational Principle #1 is, “The end is the beginning.” We didn’t invent this idea; it is the cornerstone of many good frameworks, models, and theories.

For your leadership initiative or any important program, the first step is to think about how it will support the highest-level mission or goal of your organization. You might think everyone does this, but evidence shows otherwise.

Dr. Jim Kirkpatrick was working with a large hospital chain that had a multi-year leadership development program called Transformational Mountain. The organization was clear on the fact that some type of change was needed, and they had invested millions of dollars in training their leaders.

The challenge was that over a year into the initiative they were not clear about if it was helping them to reach their organizational goal of improving the quality of life for their patients and families. The training group could not articulate how the program specifically could or would contribute to that goal, either.

For your major initiatives, is the connection between the program and your highest-level organizational goals crystal clear? If not, formally review the program through that filter and agree on the highest-level organization goal and what will best help to accomplish it.

Creating Predictable Program Success

Do you identify specific business metrics that will be impacted if your training participants apply what they learned in training on the job? These leading indicators are one of the biggest predictors of program success.

Leading indicators are short-term observations and measurements suggesting that critical behaviors are on track to create a positive impact on desired results.

Leading indicators should be identified in the planning stage of your initiative. Select six or more for major initiatives to show if the behaviors being performed are having an impact.

It is silly to try to answer the ultimate question, “Did the program work” after a period if one does not monitor progress along the way and make adjustments as needed to maximize program results.

Common examples of leading indicators for leadership initiatives include:

  • Achievement of weekly key performance indicators
  • Positive comments from direct reports about their supervisors
  • Increased morale from direct reports
  • Decreased absenteeism and turnover
  • Increased confidence and commitment from the leaders involved in the initiative

Once you are clear on your goal or destination, the next step is to determine what actions will be most effective in getting you there.

The Most Impactful Part of an Initiative

Critical behaviors are the actions that if systematically performed, will have the greatest impact on desired organizational results. Interestingly, many major training initiatives are launched with little or no thought to exactly what people are supposed to do when they return to the job.

Critical behaviors are few; perhaps one to five for each job function involved. They are not a job description or laundry list of everything a particular person does in their work.

For major initiatives, here are some tips for incorporating critical behaviors and staying focused on business results:

  • Work with line managers, identify the critical behaviors that training graduates will be expected to perform
  • Design training that prepares graduates to perform the critical behaviors on the job
  • Communicate the critical behaviors before training to all managers and training participants, and set the performance expectation
  • During training, remind participants about the behaviors they will be asked to perform after training

Focusing training on preparing participants to perform critical behaviors on the job is also a good way to prevent scope creep and make training as efficient and cost-effective as possible.

Required Drivers: Your Secret Weapon for Success

You have designed, developed, and delivered a training program that was met with favorable feedback. Training graduates have returned to their jobs. What happens next? Statistically very little, unless you create a strong support and follow-up plan with required drivers as the centerpiece.

Required drivers are processes and systems that reinforce, monitor, encourage, and reward the performance of critical behaviors on the job. They represent one of the biggest keys to success for any initiative, and also tend to be the most absent from plans.

The support and accountability package after training is a shared responsibility of the training function, line managers, support departments such as Information Technology and Human Resources, and training graduates themselves. It should be designed and approved during program design and development.

Required drivers create a support and accountability package to ensure that training graduates actually do what they learned how to do in training. Common examples of leadership drivers include coaching logs, peer-to-peer support, high-level coaching, mentoring, 360-degree feedback, self-directed learning modules, self-reporting forms, job aids, refreshers, and role modeling.

A realistic post-training support and accountability package should be a key piece of any major training initiative. Smaller scale programs or courses can have a few drivers selected to enhance their success.

If you or your organization has a leadership initiative in progress or in planning, apply the ideas to maximize your investment and ultimate impact on the business.

Take the First Step

Starting an important program from the top and working your way downwards can feel daunting the first time you do it. Do not let this stop you from achieving success through creating and demonstrating program value.

Enlist the help of others on your training team and work together. See if you can find an executive sponsor who sees the vision. Build a program plan for one key program and use it as a beta test. Document what you learn, and then apply it to another program. Soon you will realize you have created the training doctrine for your organization.

Authors: Dr. Jim Kirkpatrick and Wendy Kayser Kirkpatrick

Additional Resources

Free white papers, templates, articles, and recorded webinars

Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation book

Kirkpatrick training and events calendar

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