How to Avoid Unproductive Leadership Training

Leadership training is all the rage these days. Companies collectively invest millions of dollars under the assumption that training will increase productivity, generate higher revenues, and create a market leader out of a company that has been a follower all along. Unfortunately, it doesn't always work that way. Far too many companies invest in leadership training only to discover that it has proved unproductive.

According to data from SH!FT, a global training content development company, companies spend upwards of $13.5 million per 1000 employees, per year, on ineffective training. Your company might not be spending even a fraction of that on leadership training, but the money you do spend could be wasted if you are not approaching leadership training the right way.


What Unproductive Training Looks Like

It can be awfully disappointing to invest good money in leadership training that doesn't work. The question is this: what does unproductive training look like? How do you know if the money you have invested has been well spent? For that, we turn to another well-known training company, Fierce Inc.

Fierce's Ronna Detrick wrote an excellent piece published on the company's website in early December 2019. In that piece, she relates some of the experiences she and her colleagues have had with other training programs. She says that an unproductive leadership training program:

  • leads to no measurable shift in trainee behavior
  • costs employers money without delivering expected results
  • offers good content that isn't applicable outside of training.

It's key to understand that the first and third points are inexorably linked. The reason unproductive leadership training does not result in measurable changes is the fact that content, as good as it might be, is not actionable in the real world. It is theoretical, emotionally driven, and perhaps even a bit profound. Yet it doesn't carry into the workplace.


Training Should Be Real-World

The single most important thing a company can do is make leadership training real-world training. What does that mean? It means limiting classroom and lecture time. It means limiting time spent watching slide stacks and listening to inspirational presentations. Productive training involves real-world, hands-on experience that teach people how to be leaders as they work, where they work.

Workshops involving role-playing do not cut it. A role-playing exercise is just that. It is not a real-world scenario because everyone involved knows it is just fiction. You have to get trainees out of the classroom and back into the work environment so that they can immediately apply what was learned in the classroom.

Think of it like law enforcement. Very few police departments would train future officers in a classroom setting and then turn them loose immediately upon graduation. No, police departments pair rookie officers with their more experienced counterparts for 6 to 12 months. The point is to allow rookies to apply what was learned in the classroom in a real-world setting, under the supervision of experienced officers.


Actionable Training Requires Experience

If leadership training is to be productive, it must be actionable. For it to be actionable, it must involve real-world experience. Trainees need to see that what they have just learned in the classroom is actually applicable to what they do. They need opportunities to put what they've learned into practice and, if necessary, fail a time or two.

Leadership training that does not go beyond the classroom is at risk of being completely unproductive. Some of it may stick, but most of it will not go beyond the confines of the conference room. On the other hand, productive training teaches concepts in the classroom then follows up with experiential training.