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For Learning & Talent Executives

Part 2: How to Ensure Your Programs Change Leadership Behavior

By August 18, 2022No Comments

Okay, so welcome to another one of my Todd Talks, which always exist to equip you with immediately applicable ideas that you could use to improve your leadership, make a greater difference in the world, and help other people do the same. Several weeks ago, I argued that complaints about time on leadership programs are often not complaints about time at all. More often than not, they’re complaints about value. Leaders going through their programs, their managers, and the business, don’t feel the programs are creating enough value to justify the amount of time invested in them. And they wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, because a raft of studies demonstrate that leadership programs are ineffective. And a great HBR, Harvard Business Review, piece reports out on some of these studies in their article entitled Where Companies Go Wrong with Learning and Development. And here are just four of the findings.

Number one, 75% of 1,500 managers surveyed from across 50 different organizations were dissatisfied with their company’s learning and development functions. Number two, 70% of employees report that they haven’t mastered the skills that they need for their jobs. So this goes to the ineffectiveness of programs. Number three, only 12% of employees say they apply new skills learned in programs to their jobs. So no wonder why their programs are having so little impact. And number four, only 25% of respondents in a recent McKinsey survey believe that training measurably improved performance. As renowned Harvard professor and organizational change thought leader Michael Beer said, “For the most part, the learning that’s happening in leadership programs doesn’t lead to better organizational performance, because people soon revert to their old ways of doing things.” So what to do about all this? Because it’s pretty easy to critique the field, but it’s a lot harder to come up with workable solutions.

And this is where I think and hope that a developmental methodology that I’ve been advancing for three decades can be of real service, and I call it my real work process. And my hope is that it’ll be used by training buyers and providers alike to improve the value of their leadership programs. In last week’s video, I talked about the first step of the real work process, real world problem selection. This is where your leaders select high stakes, real world problems to bring and work on during your leadership programs. And while I emphasize the importance of leaders bringing high stakes problems that they, their managers, and the business cares about, it’s not enough. And that’s because to kickstart real behavior chains, leaders need to work on real world problems that are just beyond the reach of their current leadership capabilities that can only be solved by changing their behavior. So in my mind, this takes the action learning methodologies, which many of us love, to the next level, because we’re not only working on real world problems that people care about.

We’re also doing that in a way that’s transformative of people’s behavior and their problem solving capabilities. So in this video, I’m going to provide an overview of step two of the real work process, get real world data on how your leaders actually behave. So what’s real world data? Real world data is data on how your leaders actually behave, not how they say they behave. And this is really important, because if we’re going to help leaders change their own behavior, we have to give them access to how they actually behave in real life. So I know this might sound simple in theory, but it’s a lot more difficult in practice for at least three reasons. Number one, because personality assessments, the traditional lever that we use to help leaders become more self-aware, don’t reveal anything about people’s actual behavior under real life pressure. So static personality assessments, like the Hogan profile, which I really like, might tell you something very valuable about leaders’ preferences and what truly motivates them, but it doesn’t tell you anything, or very little about how they actually behave in dynamic leadership situations.

All right. So you might be asking if we can’t use personality assessments to get access to how leaders actually behave, why not just ask them? Why not just get it from the horse’s mouth? Because it turns out that such questions only access the part of the brain that stores our espouse theories, our beliefs about how we think we ought to behave, not our theories and use, the part of our brains where our algorithms that determine how we actually behave are stored. And number three, while direct observation of your leaders in person would be ideal and would probably be incredibly entertaining, your company probably won’t let you mic up your leaders or follow them around with a video camera. Hey, would you mind if I film this really awkward conversation you’re going to have with your team? Not so much.

And since you can’t be a fly on the wall, which, by the way, wouldn’t be all that helpful, because flies don’t have ears and they die after two days, what to do? I think one very helpful answer is the personal case study approach. The personal case study tool was originally a behavioral research tool developed by Chris Argers in the 1970s at Harvard, that we converted into a developmental tool for leaders. Recognized for both its validity and reliability in qualitative research circles, the tool gives a systematic fool-proof way to get access to how leaders actually behave that only takes them about 45 minutes to complete. So if you’re interested in learning more about this tool, click on the link below this video, and someone from my team will be more than happy to demo it for you.

Okay. So I hope you found this valuable, and I’ll be back to discuss step three with you next week. But in the meantime, be candid, be collaborative, be compassionate, but most of all, be curious.

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