Ten Features of World Class Development Programs

The times are changing but…

While our world is changing rapidly, it could be argued that our management practices have not kept pace with these changes. In fact, I think we’re trailing badly.

In reality not much has changed in 100 years. The training and development industry largely rehashes old theory and practices and makes the same mistakes. At the most fundamental level however, our overall quality of management and leadership is poor and is based on archaic notions based on the industrial age.

“We should stop trying to make people happy and instead make them better equipped to deal with the challenges of today’s organisations.”

While more than 75% of learners report high levels of satisfaction with learning programs, in our heart of hearts we know that there is no correlation between ‘happy sheets’ and the successful application of program learning and subsequent performance. We should stop trying to make people happy and instead make them better equipped to deal with the challenges of today’s organisations.

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We think we’re driving a Ferrari but we’re really driving a vehicle from the 1900’s

Our Top 10 Features / Practices

Our research and practice in learning and development over two decades has allowed us to assemble a ‘top 10’ list that all development programs should at least consider integrating. I’m not suggesting that programs should have all ten, although that goal is certainly achievable (see Actionable Conversations for example). Programs that manage to incorporate many of the practices are more likely to be effective, sustainable and cost-effective.

So here are our top 10….

1. Solid context

Ensure that programs are framed and positioned in a strong context that includes an assessment of the market / external environment, strategy, the customer and the organisation’s vision for the future. Only then can an organisation determine the type of leader it needs and therefore the type of program it should invest in. We should dispense with generic competency based models and generic programs that are not targeted.

2. Just-in-time & strategic

If point #1 is true (above), it also holds true that training should be more agile, responsive and ‘just-in-time’ to meet the specific development needs now and in the short-term. Too often organisations get caught in the trap of looking too far in to the future to try to determine leadership needs. A more pertinent question is to ask ‘What do we need right now and in the coming 12 months?’

3. Leader-led / expert-driven

Developing people should be led internally – harvesting every opportunity, everyday. This should be a blend of informal in-the-moment; semi-structured (e.g. monthly leader-led conversations around a mission critical theme); or more formal training provided by outside experts who can bring a perspective and skills sometimes not present internally.

“Developing people should be led internally – harvesting every opportunity, everyday.”

4. Real-world & practical

Please don’t read ‘real-world’ and practical as just being focused on skill building or superficial training that doesn’t challenge people around their mindsets and behaviours. The most effective development programs invite people to play at their edge. The best programs are transformational, where participants can never view themselves or the world in the same way again (the ANZ Breakout program was a good example of this where I was the head of program delivery between 2001 and 2007).

5. Transfer of learning is primary

Learning can suffer three fatal flaws: (1) it occurs in a vacuum; (2) is not linked to a learner’s role or business unit objectives or (3) learning remains in the classroom. Research tells us that the most important factor in program participants being able to apply their learning back in the workplace is their manager.

6. Supports both leader and learner

We tell our program participants that their 1-up manager should almost feel like they’re going through the program, such should be the level of communication, sharing and support that happens in that relationship. Unfortunately this is more aspirational than fact. Secondly, programs that are leader-led have the added benefit of developing both the team member as well as the leader running the session.

7. Mechanisms to support accountability

I like to call this the ‘scaffolding’ that helps support learners. Examples include regular development meetings with their manager; scheduling time for reflection on behaviours and approach; formal or informal coaching / mentoring; and perhaps most importantly, developing habits and practices (see # 9).

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8. Doesn’t break the bank

This perhaps goes without saying, however if programs are going to be rolled out in large volume then they need to be cost-effective and provide a measurable return-on-investment.

9. Focuses on the pathway to get there

One observation I have made repeatedly is that we over-invest in goal setting and under-invest in the pathways to get there. In other words, you can set all the goals you want, but if you don’t have a plan to get there, the goals are useless. And the pathway to get there is through developing habits and practices that move you toward the goal everyday. Read my post on LinkedIn on Habits and Practices.

10. Reinforced & Rewarded

Accountability is an over-used word in organisations, however if you want people to do something different, there has to be accountability built in to development programs. Also, we are all human. In a world that is quick to criticize or cut-down, the basic human need of support and acceptance is enduring. Reward the right behaviours – and oh, don’t forget to reward the right intention and effort.

By at least considering all ten features in this list and how they might be incorporated in your development programs, you stand a very good chance of delivering what you set out to do in the first place, develop people in a way that makes a difference to them and to the organisation.

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