I work almost exclusively with adults, but it wasn’t always that way. A challenge that often shows up in my work with adults is a species of self-criticism that I don’t see as much in children. There’s a weird expectation that somehow we adults are supposed to just know how to communicate effectively, navigate conflict, manage our emotions or demonstrate leadership. And when we fall down in any of these areas, we beat up on ourselves for not knowing or doing better.
But how are we supposed to know how to do effective behaviors, especially in a diverse environment, when we were never taught how to do them? When we were never effectively role modeled – not by parents, bosses, peers, or the media? Except for the very bright, kids don’t typically beat up on themselves for not knowing how to do stuff – they understand they’re here to learn. So are adults! It’s a travesty that we aren’t taught – in any consistent, systemic way – how to do the things most necessary to our maximum long term happiness, but the workplace can make up some of this gap through realistic leadership expectations and effective training.
Few promoted into leadership get the memo that the skills that got them noticed and promoted aren’t the skills that will make them successful in their new role or move them up in their organization. We promote people for technical expertise and excelling at tasks, then give them a job where the skillset is entirely different – managing themselves and leading others to excel at tasks. Organizations usually put people in this new job with little-to-no training, onboarding, or mentoring. Being a middle manager is tough even for the highly skilled, and the mismatch in expectations and even competencies (not every star performer will be an excellent leader, and some less-than-stellar performers might be excellent leaders) takes a tremendous toll on the promoted, their reports, and their organizations. This is especially tough and risky when managing a diverse workforce or in a global environment.
Leaders need to set their middle managers up for success with four things: a meaningful examination of fit prior to promotion, clear expectations for the new role, a realistic timeline for onboarding, and effective training. Whether it’s leadership, D&I, unconscious bias or communication skills, effective training:
- Has clear goals and objectives for what participants should know, think, do and/or feel by the end of the training. Training should never be done for its own sake, to check off a box. This is a waste of budget and the cost of high priced talent sitting in a room away from their regular responsibilities.
- Has clear goals and objectives with clear, measurable, stated relevance to organizational priorities and business goals. Effective training doesn’t require participants to guess how the training will help them meet needs and accomplish goals they already care about.
- Engages multiple learning styles and personality styles. A solid training curriculum involves some lecture and lots of interaction in the form of quiet reflection, dyad or small group discussions, large group discussions, visual stimuli, auditory stimuli, physical movement of some kind, valuable handouts with space for notes, hands-on activities and adequate breaks.
- Expertly facilitated by seasoned learning professionals. Effective trainers and facilitators make their jobs look easy, but demonstrate a balance of critical skills: creating structure, creating safety, time management, flexibility, subject matter expertise, emotional intelligence, self-management in the face of challenge or conflict, integrity, role modeling, adequate transparency, and inclusive facilitation. A charismatic personality or keynote speaker isn’t always a learning professional, nor an effective trainer.
- Gathers participant feedback and follows up on training effectiveness. You won’t know if you’re getting an adequate ROI (return on investment) for training unless you gather feedback on the value gained from the training. Such feedback should not be limited to “smile sheets” completed at the end of the session. Seasoned learning professionals will work with you to capture three-to-four of the Kirkpatrick levels of evaluation (reaction, learning behavior, results).
- Is responsive to your needs and feedback. Effective learning only takes place if training curricula and training professionals tailor their work to your goals and your organizational culture, while also providing pushback and advice where needed from their areas of expertise. Feedback should also be incorporated into ongoing changes and improvement over time.
Insisting your training meets these criteria will ensure you get high value for training and sets you and the participants up for sustainable success in a diverse, global environment!