Your Leadership Training Is Probably a Waste of Money. Here's What's Missing.

Training effectiveness may be short-lived without the opportunity to follow through.

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As evolving technology increasingly changes the way we work, businesses are investing more and more into workplace training to ensure their employees remain leaders in their field. Corporate training is a $160 billion industry, with even small businesses spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year on training their employees. Unfortunately, all that investment may be accomplishing very little. Increasingly, research suggests that -- for all the effort and money directed toward the issue -- typical approaches to leadership development are very limited in enabling leaders to form new, better habits.

Related: 50 Rules for Being a Great Leader

Dr. Robert Brinkerhoff, an internationally recognized learning effectiveness expert, published a study in his book Telling Training's Story that shows 15 percent of people don't try a new concept after they learn it, and 70 percent try but fail or give up. Just 15 percent of leaders who get training are actually able to establish permanent change after traditional learning experiences. Other experts report only 10 percent of such corporate training is effective.

So, how can we make the training stick? There are two key ways business leaders can ensure the long-lasting effectiveness of workplace training.

The first is through disciplined reflection. There is an important connection between action and reflection, and too few employers ensure workers explore that relationship. We live in a very busy world and engage in many experiences, but seldom do we step back to have disciplined reflection, asking ourselves: What did I learn, and how I can I live that today? The learning process shouldn't end when a training module does.

Related: 15 Ways to Lead With Effective Communication

Companies that are doing this right encourage reflection by prompting learners to share their reactions to each lesson with fellow employees. Following a lecture, they engage in a structured dialogue and put forward ideas on how to apply the content to specific business challenges. Participants take small steps to practice principles and embed new behavior every day. Simple habits -- performed on a constant basis -- can help leaders break the pressures of task pursuit and instead facilitate deep change.

Similarly, business leaders must ensure the long-lasting effectiveness of workplace training through follow-through and deliberate practice. Just as disciplined reflection helps to extend training, follow-through gives employees the opportunity to adopt lessons in their own work.

Thankfully, technology creates new ways for employers to scale, systematize and measure the learning that happens after training. Since few employees proactively find ways to follow through on learning, employers can set goals that utilize what's been learned and use software to trigger daily practice. It also allows companies to execute follow-through as quickly as possible; the longer learners wait to use their training, the higher the chance they will forget what they have learned.

Related: 22 Qualities That Make a Great Leader

Thankfully, when leaders and their employees become masters of disciplined reflection, they are already naturally more inclined to pursue results. The results themselves then become energizing because they are self-chosen, purposeful and constructive. When we embrace a higher purpose, we have a greater sense of meaning, we feel more empowered and we take more action. People that are inner-directed and outer-focused are change agents.

Workplace training is just the beginning of leadership development. By incorporating these two elements into training, leaders can create change that continues long after the training is over.

Alan Todd and Robert E. Quinn

CEO of CorpU | Co-founder of The Center for Positive Organizations

Alan Todd and Dr. Robert E. Quinn have co-developed leadership development courses for the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business, where Dr. Quinn is a chaired professor. Todd is the founder and CEO CorpU, a digital leadership development platform.

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