Corporate Leadership Development: The Challenges and the Solutions

Wednesday, September 12, 2012 | Category :

By Rommin Adl

Rommin Adl Photo

On Thursday, July 19, 2012, Rommin Adl, Executive Vice President, BTS USA, Inc., and Jason Redlus, Managing Partner, Argyle Executive Forum, discussed techniques that engage learners and managers to ensure that strategies and objectives are understood, retained and applied in the workforce to maximize the success of the business.

L&D professionals often struggle in making their learning and development initiatives effective, ensuring that they strongly impact the company’s bottom line. Studies have found that most learning and development in corporate settings is not particularly effective. In particular, professor and expert training evaluator Dr. Robert O. Brinkerhoff has published studies that show that only 15 to 20 percent of all corporate training initiatives actually lead to on-the-job application. In other words, 80 to 85 percent of people who go through training don’t apply what they have learned to their jobs.

Many L&D leaders ask if there is a more effective way of developing people.

JASON REDLUS: What are some of your ideas for solving those challenges?

ROMMIN ADL: First, we recommend having a strong process for engaging the leader of the learner upfront. We focus on creating a line of sight in the learning process to the ultimate business objectives and then developing the skills and behaviors needed to execute the company’s business strategy so that learners have the ability to go back to work and do what needs to be done.

The secocond part of the solution is customization. Programs should be tailored to the client’s business and their strategic challenges so that trainees will know exactly how to apply what they’ve learned to their jobs.

We’ve also found that effective methods involve a lot of practice. By engaging people in business simulations and other experiential tools, learners are able to practice new skills in a meaningful way. It’s like learning to ride a bike: you don’t learn to ride a bike by reading about it; you have to get on the bike and try it out, maybe make some mistakes, and do it again and again until you’re proficient. Learning new skills is done in much the same way. You have to practice at it.

A strong results focus is another part of the solution. It’s important to get people to focus on applying what they’ve learned and then measure it. Our learning interventions over the years have consistently delivered a 10-12 time return on investment. Additionally, we focus our results measurement process on gaining insights on how to make the learning intervention even more effective for future audiences.

Finally, leadership development programs need to be scaled globally. You have to come up with something that can be deployed across the globe and, at the same time, allow for some localization to reflect different cultural norms and local ways of doing business. That’s a very important component. It is key to have tools that work across geographies, which experiential learning really does, and a strong global footprint of designers and delivery resources.

You clearly have a framework that proves the effectiveness of a leadership development initiative. How do you use that framework to help clients through the process?

We’ve found that, first and foremost, learning should be a journey. There should be a well thought-out progression for a learner to go through over time that is bookended by the involvement of the leader. Up front, the leader needs to ensure that the learner has clear expectations of the training process and why it’s important, and at the end there needs to be a process for holding the learners accountable to apply what they’ve learned. We help our clients figure out how to manage that process and stay involved.

For the learners, we hold a series of classroom-based experiences that leverage business simulations and experiential learning tools so that people can practice the skills in a fun and meaningful way. We also use a series of web-based and virtual modules that help to sustain and build on the program and allow for the practice of additional skills.

So that’s our model: heavy leader engagement and a blended learning and execution journey. It’s a process that continues to build over time and allows learners to acquire knowledge, practice those skills, and then come back for more knowledge until they’re proficient and ready to go to the next level in the organization. Some of our clients have taken this journey over a two- to three-month period, and we have a client right now that’s talking about doing a two-year experience. So it varies from organization to organization.

Let’s talk a little more about the results of using the process.

When the learning and execution journey is executed effectively and comprehensively, we’ve found that the impact of our robust approach is significantly higher than traditional event-based training. For example, in a BTS program involving 150 people, 80 percent of those participants had heavy leader engagement throughout the process, and over 70 percent of those participants applied what they’d learned in the program back to their jobs. That’s a very high percentage—about 250 percent higher than the traditional level of application—so we’ve seen significant behavior changes and on-the-job action.

Read the full interview.


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