The missing ingredient to leadership training: feedback that sticks

For the fourth installment of our twelve month series of posts on how to create a feedback culture, we’ll be looking at the link between leadership training and feedback. One of the most important steps to creating a feedback culture is training leaders on how to give and receive feedback effectively. As your company’s role models, leaders play a key role in introducing and diffusing new norms in the workplace. As such, receiving extra training on feedback can be a good way to help them overcome the fear and discomfort that can develop when people are new to open feedback environments.  

In fact, corporate training programs are a common method for companies to develop, reskill and redirect management when needed. This can be on interpersonal skills (such as giving feedback), technical skills or how to adopt new tools.

However, training programs are not enough. According to the American Society for Training and Development, US companies spend $156 billion on training programs. At the same time, they also warn that participants risk losing 90% of what they learned upon returning to the job. Are the billions of dollars spent on training each year worth it? There are three reasons why your training programs may not be working:

1. Hard to break old habits

Old habits are notoriously hard to break. We all naturally come up with routine habits and ways of dealing with common tasks. Research conducted by MIT, showed that when we get used to doing a task over and over our brains fire less neurons, letting us go into a more relaxed routine mode. New behaviors, on the other hand, take more strategizing and brainpower. This explains why it can be difficult to change habits once we’ve conditioned ourselves towards certain daily routines.

2. Not believing change is necessary

A major part of breaking old habits or creating new ones is actually believing they’re necessary. If you organize a training program to teach managers how to use a new tool to improve interdepartmental communication, but fail to explain the losses your company has suffered due to miscommunication between sales and IT, they may be less likely to actually integrate the tool into their daily habits. Communication is key. Be sure to explain thoroughly why change is needed and how it will help their job in particular. You’ll find people will be much more active in taking steps to implement new habits on their own.

Furthermore, if leaders don’t understand why change is necessary, they also won’t be effective in communicating that to their employees. When any change takes place you need leaders on your side to motivate and shape this change at the team level. A study by Meliorate found that 70% of all change initiatives fail. They attributed 33% of this to management behavior that does not support the change, 39% to employee resistance to change and 28% to budget and other obstacles.

3. No practice/forgetting

A major reason why training can fail is when there is no follow up to make sure managers are utilizing the skills they learned during company funded training courses. Without follow up managers may implement changes for a few weeks and then fall back into old habits. Or in other cases, they may find it difficult to transition what they’ve learned to their actual job.

According to the American Society for Training and Development, if new skills are not practiced and reinforced soon after returning to the job, participants risk losing 90% of what they learned. Another study showed that adults only retain 10% of what they learn in the classroom, but retain two-thirds when they learn by doing.

The only way to make training stick is through continuous real time reinforcement. This is especially important when it’s a key issue to your business, whether it’s how to deal with customer complaints or diversity training.

Reinforcing training with feedback

Getting feedback and support from superiors and peers is essential to helping your managers get the most out of the training they’ve just received. If leaders only give and receive feedback once a year it won’t become integrated into their daily habits. Feedback on these new skills should be given both informally and during the formal review process. For example, a formal review question could include, “how timely is this person with their feedback?” or “do you feel the feedback you receive from them is actionable and clear?”

Also encourage leaders to ask for feedback on their progress from employees. Bottom up feedback is essential as employees are directly affected by new management strategies and can therefore provide helpful insights on which areas they need to improve. For example, when introducing a feedback culture in your team a manager should gather clues about the barriers that could exist. For example, “Do you feel encouraged to voice opinions on the direction of projects?”

Finally, remember it’s best to work on one new skill at a time to avoid overwhelming them with information. When providing feedback training, you could consider having one short session solely on how to receive feedback and another on how to give feedback.

 

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Photo by Jo Szczepanska