Leadership is not for the faint of heart. It takes a special set of skills, learned over time and practice, to be effective. However, it’s challenging for future leaders to find the right kinds of career development opportunities. Many corporate learning programs geared for managers are focused on a set of skills do not tie very closely with organizational objectives.
A Harvard Business Review article mentioned the high cost and failure rate of leadership training programs. Each year, as much as $160 billion in America and nearly $356 billion globally was spent by companies. Training is a costly venture and therefore, the smartest organizations are looking for a more effective method of embedding strong leadership and soft skills into employees.
What does achievement have to do with leadership training?
Research has shown that achievement, rather than one-size-fits-all leadership training, has a more direct impact on trainees. By practice and experience, leaders learn how their actions produce real results, such as changes in employee behavior and better relationships with others.
Achievement learning has been referred to as the ‘next evolution of leadership development’ because it produces rapid and dramatic skill development as trainees achieve and learn higher levels.
Jonathan Stearn, managing partner, and Danny Dworkin, partner, at Schaffer Consulting, a consultancy firm that partners with clients to accelerate innovation, told HR Dive more about the concept of achievement learning.
HR Dive: In the workplace, who benefits the most from achievement learning?
Stearn: Generally, we are working from the top down, engaged with senior level executives who are actively looking to enhance their skills across the organization. These are leaders of established, global-oriented companies that include high expectations from customers. The industries they work in are changing rapidly and sometimes, faster than they are used to. This forces many to deal with difficult legislation and the need to become more adaptive in their approaches.
HR Dive: What does the achievement learning process look like?
Stearn: Schaffer Consulting uses what we call ‘low risk experiments’,which are scenarios that are based on skills that need enhancement. Things like soft skills, improving processes using lean six sigma theory, and decision making. All of these experiences must be learned by doing.
HR Dive: Why does this approach to leadership development work well?
Stearn: It’s one thing to expose professionals to skills, but it’s far more effective to help internalize them by focusing on real business outcomes. This helps to fully integrate the learning process, because a real urgent business challenge creates the context for effective learning. Leaders benefit from a powerful environment in which their learning takes place in rapid order. We call this ‘rapid results’ and it comes about as a result of a sense of urgency, under the conditions of a crisis (perceived) to elicit different behaviors from learners.
Dworkin: The urgency is very important. With achievement learning, we take issues and make them urgent and important in order to challenge, test, and help learners adapt.
HR Dive: Why is achievement learning more effective than traditional leadership development?
Stearn: We have found that simulations and case studies often fall short. They are too safe. With achievement learning, we use methods to energize people. Traditional L&D leaves intelligent people frustrated, and therefore there is no change in behavior. Achievement learning is “Action learning on steroids”.
We essentially create spaces to propel people out of their safe spaces – this is where the greatest growth comes from. We set a goal to address specific business impacting skills in 100 days, and create the new norm for leaders.
Dworkin: The key to success is that there must be the right sort of sponsorship to make it work. If L&D is asking employees to do it (for example, like a homework assignment) vs. leadership sponsorship requiring it, the learning becomes part of organizational dynamics. This provides a much better adoption and engagement
HR Dive: What is the biggest obstacle to success with leadership training?
Dworkin: Time. People get it, but they deal with time challenges, so they often push back when it comes to anything extra. They may think that they don’t know if they will have the capacity to take on another project. However, achievement learning narrows down on pockets of readiness where leaders can see new capabilities and try something new. With executive leadership behind things, the learning and design team can be more effective and step outside of their usual realm of control.
Achievement learning works best when organizational leaders explore the business issues being faced and then connect them to business outcomes, understand the priorities, and deliver on the specific skills that are needed to propel the team forward.