Archive for the ‘Employee Engagement’ Category

The Secret to Optimizing Classroom Training

Monday, August 8th, 2011

 Most organizations recognize that the key to developing their leaders is to implement a continuous learning framework.  In such an approach, leaders are exposed throughout their careers to a variety of challenging job assignments, cross functional task forces, mentoring/coaching, e-learning, and instructor led classroom training.  Though e-learning options have built momentum over the last 10 years, the most popular mode of learning new leadership skills and perspective remains the classroom setting.  There is something about being in the same physical space with the instructor and the other learners that makes the learning richer and more energetic.  But does it stick?

A recent article in the T&D Journal of the American Society for Training and Development addressed this question.  In a learning study, participants were assessed on a measure of emotional intelligence, given feedback and trained for half a day in emotional intelligence competencies, and then tested for what they had retained.  They were also given a coaching session in which they discussed a plan created at the conclusion of the classroom training.  The results showed significant improvement in competencies like assertiveness, emotional self-control, self-confidence, adaptability, and optimism. 

Why are these results important?  Because they confirm the impact of individual coaching in galvanizing the learning from instructor led training. 

At Roselle Leadership Strategies (RLSI), we have offered a public workshop version of our Good Managers to Great Leaders™ classroom training for several years.  We are offering it again starting in October of this year.  Over these several years, we also concluded that it is critical to augment classroom learning if you want to make sure the participants apply the new skills and perspective.

Best practices in learning with adults.  Based on our 25 years of experience in training and coaching leaders, we have developed a set of best practices that we employ.  We suggest that you employ them when developing your own internal training, or use them as a template when you hire consulting organizations like ours to help you develop materials and a training framework.  Research in the field of adult learning suggests that the following components, when used together, will optimize the classroom training or e-learning you provide for your leaders:

  • Pretesting to establish a baseline
  • Providing in-depth feedback on the participant pretesting
  • Delivering classroom or e-learning training by a subject matter expert (include practice with new skills learned)
  • Applying the new skills to real work situations
  • Coaching to help galvanize the learning, apply it
  • Involving the participants’ managers
  • Spreading the learning over time

Let’s look at each one of these in more detail.

Pretesting.  In the study cited, the participants were given a test of emotional intelligence.  This type of norm-based instrument works well as a pretest, as does an established 360-degree feedback instrument, or one you might create specifically to assess the new skills and perspective to be included in the training.  At RLSI, we tend to use our FULLVIEW Feedback Inventory™ to establish a baseline of competence.  (This year, we are offering the FULLVIEW as an option when you sign up managers for our Great Leaders public workshop).

In-depth feedback.  This can be provided at the beginning of the training session, or individually before the training begins.  Either way, the objective is to help participants understand their style and approach, how others might perceive them, and what new skills and perspective would help them become more effective as leaders.  This can provide the basis for their individual development plan that generates from the training.

Classroom or e-learning training.   From the adult learning research, there are several characteristics that help make this type of learning effective.  These include the following:

  • Brief (15-20 minute) lecturettes to provide perspective, teach new tools
  • Practice with new tools within 10-15 minutes of learning them
  • Short training sessions of one-four hours total to maintain energy, focus

Application of the new tools.   Assuming participants have learned some new tools and practiced them in class, the next step in learning is to apply them.  This is a two-phase process.  The first phase is for participants to teach the new tool(s) they have learned to someone else within the first 24 hours.  The second phase is for them to apply the new tool(s) to an actual situation at work or home within a couple of weeks.  This maximizes their retention and the likelihood of using the tools in the future.

Individual coaching.  Though classroom settings and e-learning approaches usually allow for discussion and questions, participants often do not think of questions until later.  Or, they try to apply new tools and experience frustration or resistance from others.  They need time to talk through their experiences in order to create a breakthrough in the way they lead or manage.  Often, their managers are not equipped or available to provide such perspective.  Brief individual coaching can help. (This year in our public Great Leaders workshop, we are offering individual coaching as an option for participants).

Involvement of participants’ managers.  One of the most effective ways to insure that new learning is being applied is to involve the participants’ managers from the beginning.  Give them a chance to provide feedback, either on a 360-degree instrument, or informal conversation to determine what they think their direct report needs to work on.  Include them in follow-up information that updates them on which tools were learned during the session, so they can give on-the-job, real time feedback as they see the new tools being employed.

Spreading the learning over time.  Giving small doses of learning and spacing the training sessions over several months maximizes the likelihood that new tools will be employed.  This is why our Great Leaders series meets once per month over six months.

Bottom Line.  Use these seven learning components in your leader training, and you will optimize the retention and application of new skills and perspective.  This will help you maximize your ROI on training costs and the value it brings to the organization.

The Power of Leader Charisma in Employee Engagement

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

The last couple years have been tough on organizations on many fronts.  One area organizations are now struggling with in particular is employee engagement.  Through this trying time much has been written about what it takes for leaders to create and develop engaged workers at all levels of the company.  This entry pulls together some of those conceptual threads to suggest ways of using your personal charisma as a leader to help energize your employees.

Let’s start with a quick look at leader charisma.  First, what does charisma mean?  Wikipedia defines charisma as a personality trait that features personal charm and magnetism, along with powerful interpersonal abilities.  But what makes leaders personally charming or magnetic?  It might be helpful to think about what charismatic leaders do and what they do not do, what they embrace as behaviors and what they avoid or totally eliminate. 

One way to think about it is in terms of the interpersonal signals leaders emit to others around them.  This includes their non-verbal behaviors, like eye contact, facial and hand gestures, energy and enthusiasm, or how close they stand to people.  Signals also include verbal behaviors like word choice, vocal tone, and clarity of articulation. 

Successful, charismatic leaders.  The most charismatic leaders are those who exhibit an energized, enthusiastic presence.  They are verbal and talkative, but also spend a good portion of their time asking questions of others and deeply listening to the responses.  They recognize and appropriately respond to people’s interpersonal cues.  They draw people out with their gentle queries and encourage others to speak up and participate in conversations or discussions.  Optimistic and upbeat, they motivate others and help create a collaborative environment and culture. 

Charismatic leaders often set high standards for their teams, and they hold themselves to the same metrics.  They make their expectations clear, cast a motivating vision, and help remove obstacles so their team members can feel good about the progress they make.  Though serious in their focus on achieving objectives at the highest levels of quality, they also exhibit an inclusive sense of humor.  And they make it a priority to help their direct reports develop in their careers.

Sounds too perfect, doesn’t it?  The good news is that leaders do not need to be perfectly charismatic in order to have a very positive effect on their direct reports and others.  Even if they simply avoid the opposites from those attributes and approaches outlined here, most people will view them positively as leaders.  For example, just by avoiding things like accepting mediocre work, being closed to new ideas suggested by others, displaying a lackluster level of energy, and projecting a muddled vision, most leaders will exhibit a level of charisma.  You do not need to be perfect to be charismatic.

Engaged, resourceful followers.  You can also positively affect your team members by emphasizing the importance of facilitating “followership” as you lead.  This graphic outlines the various types of followers you may currently have on your team:


In the lower left corner are those followers who are relatively disengaged from their jobs and the rest of the team, and, at the same time, likely to avoid decisions or actions that seem risky to them.  Your goal as a leader is to help team members move from this quadrant to the resourceful and engaged part of the graph.  Followers here display a good level of energy related to their tasks and responsibilities, and they are capable of coming up with new ideas for improving their approach.  One way to dial up your charisma and encourage development on your team is to identify which of your direct reports would best be described as:

  • Risk-averse and disengaged
  • Risk-averse, but engaged
  • Resourceful, but disengaged
  • Resourceful and engaged

Each category, above, requires a different charismatic strategy to generate enthusiasm and optimism on the part of your team members.  Of course, for the resourceful and engaged team members, the strategy is simple—keep doing what you are doing and try to stay out of their way!  But, what about the other three categories?

For the resourceful, but disengaged, the key is to figure out what is causing the disengagement.  Perhaps you have not sufficiently reinforced them for their resourceful ideas and actions, and, consequently, they have become discouraged.  Maybe something outside of work related to their personal situation is causing them to disengage from work.  They might even be depressed on some level and not cognizant of their level of disengagement.  Whatever the cause, your role is to point out examples of the disengagement and express your desire to help them re-energize and become engaged again.  Reinforce any behaviors you observe that seem energetic and positively engaged.

In the case of the risk-averse, but engaged, the primary need is to help them experience success in taking risks.  Start by giving them small stretches that might not seem risky to you, but may seem like major hurdles to them.  Give the degree of support they need as they work on the task, and encourage every resourceful step you observe.  Continue to give them assignments that stretch their comfort with risk, and make sure you positively reinforce every resourceful step you observe them take.

The most entrenched and difficult to move are the risk-averse and disengaged team members.  They need a consistent combination of reinforcement for small steps they take to optimistically solve problems or take a risk, as well as any expressions you observe that suggest energy and engagement.  You might consider pairing them on projects with someone who is both resourceful and engaged, to see if the enthusiasm of the one rubs off on the other.  As a last resort, you should consider replacing the person in the position.  Disengaged, risk-averse workers are not happy in their work, and might blossom in a very different role.  Sometimes, the most compassionate step you can take as a leader is to help someone exit their role or the organization.

The bottom line.  To function as a charismatic leader, you must exhibit energy, engage others in communication in which you both listen and convey your thoughts and feelings, and use humor to disarm stressful situations.  Make certain your expectations are clear, set high, but attainable goals, and ensure that the team makes good progress.  Prioritize the development of your team members so that they become more engaged and resourceful in their work.  The result will be one in which you, your direct reports, and the organization all win.

Pay for Performance?

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

The goal of organizational architecture is to create an organization which will be able to continuously create value for present and future customers—essentially creating systems that will optimize and organize themselves.  Organizational Architecture involves three important aspects:  the assignment of decision rights (who makes what decisions), the methods of rewarding individuals, and the structure of systems to evaluate the performance of both individuals and business units.  Corporate America has re-engineered decision rights fairly well over the last 15 years by flattening out organizations and shifting manager responsibilities.  However, most companies are falling painfully short when it comes to administering rewards and evaluating performance.

Rewards are extremely important in corporate America.  Rewards can be anything from receiving a restaurant gift card for finishing a project, to getting a 100-inch plasma TV for being the best sales person in the nation that year.  In order to make a reward system successful three things must be true (expectancy theory).  The first is that employees must feel that if they put in the requisite effort, that they will be able to achieve the desired performance level.  Second, they need to trust that if they achieve the desired performance level, they will receive the reward from the company.  Third, the valence of the reward must be such to motivate the employee to put in the effort in the first place.   

Increased emphasis in American corporations is being placed on incentive pay, or performance-based pay, in an attempt to incent workers to achieve maximum results (or at least perform above the minimum level required).   One of the problems with performance-based pay is that in order to institute a policy of rewards, the company has to put some of each employees’ pay at risk—money is taken right off the top of their salary, and now they have to earn it by performing, in many cases, at a higher level than they have in the past.  This problem is often alleviated by the company building in the ability for the employees to earn more than they used to earn by achieving the highest performance threshold.  However, this system is suboptimal for employees who will never be able to perform up to the highest level, no matter how hard they try.  Although some degree of turnover is beneficial and necessary, most organizations can’t afford to lose up to 50% of their workforce at one time.  For this reason, sometimes companies will implement an incentive program without putting any of its employees’ money at risk all—simply by adding the incentive on top of regular compensation. 

So why doesn’t every organization use a pay for performance system?  Critics of incentive pay have two arguments: the first argument is that money does not necessarily motivate employees; and the second is that it is difficult to design an effective compensation plan that truly rewards the highest performers.  To me, the second argument is a lot closer to reality than the first. With increasing reliance on teamwork in companies today, the already vague line between acceptable and poor performance is getting evermore hazy.  For this reason a system for performance appraisal is vital to organizational architecture.  In order for a performance appraisal system to work, the employee or team output must be observable at low cost and difficult to manipulate by employees or the company.  In addition, when evaluating teams of employees, a measure of team performance is required while still recognizing individual contributions to the team.  For example, giving individual bonuses for work toward the team goal, and then giving a separate team bonus if the team reaches its goal.

Where most incentive programs fall short is in the expectancy link between achieving performance and being rewarded.  That is, when a company asserts that high performance is necessary to stay in business, but does not reward high performers, what does that say to those high performers who could go to another company and perform at the same level and be rewarded for it?  The opportunity costs for high performers to work at companies that do not adequately compensate for performance are the rewards (money, recognition, job security) they could be receiving elsewhere for the same effort.  To me, the extreme disconnect between performance measures and rewards is what will drive these companies out of business.

It all comes back to operant conditioning: why would the mouse keep trying to learn how to get out of the maze if she never got cheese when she found her way out?  Business leaders need to invest the requisite time and resources needed to design a maze that truly separates the high performing mice from the poorer performing ones.  Then, give your mice the cheese they deserve!