4 Steps to Build Strategically Critical Leadership-Development Programs

Don't just tell employees why training is important -- show them: Use hands-on learning that connects your content to real-world business situations.

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By William Hall


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This article is included in Entrepreneur Voices on Effective Leadership, a new book containing insights from more than 20 contributors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders.

Your business is growing and hiring people at an amazing rate. Customers love your product, and it's gaining greater and greater attention. At the same time, you've noticed yourself growing ever more nervous about the byproducts of this success: Increased competitive pressure and employee fragmentation. In fact, these two realities have you concerned whether you can effectively sustain this level of success.

As we all know, success is like blood in shark-infested waters: It creates competition at an amazing rate. To fend off competition, many companies expand within the market faster than others, gaining a larger foothold and raising the barriers to entry. In many cases, this works. But such rapid growth creates an employee base with widely varying skills and focus. As a result, the company's strategic alignment looks like a spilled package of dried spaghetti. Employees are pointing in an infinite number of directions.

Related: 3 Ways to Coach the Leadership Coaches

The good news is that with some thought, planning and competent guidance, you can turn this challenge into a killer weapon. Imagine the power of a shared focus, with all workers aligned behind the company's direction and execution plan. It's very possible. And it starts with effective leadership and corporate training. You can use four core steps to build a strategically critical leadership-development program within your growing company.

Step 1: Task your HR head to build a program around strategic outcomes.

To begin, you'll need to work with Human Resources to assemble a program that focuses on accelerating strategic execution. It all starts with effective leadership development. Move a step or two down the organization chart, and you'll quickly see managers who have a foggy idea of your company's strategy and what it will take to execute it.

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orse yet, moving a layer or two below will reveal employees who don't know the corporate strategy at all. Those who are somewhat familiar with the overall concepts have very little idea how they fit in or how they can help execute the strategy. Your leadership-development program should concentrate on aligning people with corporate strategic outcomes. Do this, and you'll immediately supercharge your strategic execution.

Related: Getting Clarity on Your Big-Picture Vision

Step 2: Apply training content directly to business methods, products and results.

Your company's training must be stepped up to a whole new level. Your new program should challenge the participants at a very deep level in leader behavior, strategic fundamentals and business acumen. Most important, the training will require hands-on action learning.

It's likely you'll need to use tools such as business simulation, customized case studies with actual quantitative data, applied situational training and more. Topics must be real, applicable and challenging. Give your trainees a day in the life of the CEO.

Related: 7 Ways to Help Your Employees Become Better Problem-Solvers

Step 3: Demonstrate how the training will prove effective for participants.

Your lofty promise that "This will have a positive effect" can be difficult -- and empty-sounding -- for your employees to grasp. It's essential to engage training participants in exercises that demonstrate how these lessons will have financial or market impact.

For example, more effective budgets, personnel and leadership might result in more productivity, lower employee attrition and greater customer satisfaction. You can tailor a wide range of inexpensive tools to align with your training program and match leadership development with business outcomes.

Related: It's Time to Evaluate Your Leadership-Development Program

Step 4: Determine the feasibility of integrating executives in leadership training.

Hands-on learning tools that apply training to actual strategic outcomes is complicated but well worth the effort. Involving executives in the training will go an exceptionally long way toward making this task easier.

Deep, usable learning takes place during open and applicable dialogues between executives and managers. It doesn't take long. Affording participants even 30 minutes with an executive after completing the hands-on training is invaluable.

Related: How to Bridge the Leadership Perception Divide

This formula can be adapted to create action learning for nearly any growing company. Make the training's content highly relevant to the business and your employees' roles, and you'll align your entire organization behind your corporate strategy. It's the best way to speed up execution and ensure your company reaches its stated goals as soon as possible.
William Hall

President of Learning and Strategy, Simulation Studios

William Hall is President of Strategy and Learning at SimStudios where he builds business simulations for Fortune 500 companies globally. He has more than 20 years experience, working with Apple, Skype and more. He’s a five-time Apple MVP and Golden Apple award winner and has an MBA in entrepreneurship and economics.

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