The Ten Commandments for successful management development programs

Most organizations run executive development courses, but for the most part, results are unsatisfactory. Managers do enjoy good experiences, have fun, learn something new and even feel that the company invests in them, yet overall organizational satisfaction remains low. The reason for that, in my opinion, is the lack of a definite goal for this sort of training.

What are the reasons for which organizations invest in executive development courses? Why did your organization choose to invest in executive development? In most cases the reasons range from providing executives with a broad management toolbox, through providing executives with more knowledge, to seeking to change behavior patterns. These and other goals are generally quite vague, and the organizations usually fail to convey them to participants. Hence, when the purpose of training is unclear to the organization and/or the participants, it will fail to deliver results.

As Lewis Carroll put it so beautifully in Alice in Wonderland:

“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”

“That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.

“I don’t much care where” said Alice.

“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.

“so long as I get somewhere,” Alice added as an explanation.

“Oh, you’re sure to do that,” said the Cat, “if you only walk long enough.”

Goals are a fundamental matter that was extensively studied. Moreover, a longitudinal study published in the Harvard Business Review found that one of the elements that ensure success in executive development programs is how well managers are truly and frankly aware of the exact reason for their participation in the program. Because when they are not, executives fail to understand the importance of the process and the knowledge they gain, for themselves and their organization. They perceive the program as ‘something nice’ rather than an essential training that will affect their business performance.

Survey or Bust!

The results of an undefined and vague goal also have an impact on the process’ success indices. It is hard to measure “general enrichment” or “broad management skills”. On the other hand, it is fairly easy to measure specific behavioral changes, such as formulating strategic plans or providing feedback. One of the most significant conclusions from studies in this field is that the main reason for organizations’ dissatisfaction with executive development programs is the executives’ failure to maintain their newly learned behavior and their reverting to previous patterns of behavior.

How do you formulate successful executive development programs?

  1. * Define a clear goal for the process, supported by company values ​​and/or business results. For example, a company that wishes to implement an organizational culture of frankness with honest and productive dialogue may ask their managers to assimilate this culture. Managers will then be given tools to this end in a dedicated executive development course.
  1. * Share the program’s goal with the participating managers. Managers must know their organization’s strategy, it’s business benefits and what steps they need to take to achieve their goals. In addition, the organization must provide them with personal feedback about their progress in achieving that goal, prior to the course. This will help them acknowledge that they are personally required to change and evolve, and understand the process they must undergo.
  1. * Surveying. Define clear goals for success with an emphasis on behavioral change. For example, an increase in weekly feedbacks; a change in the nature of personal meetings with employees; an increase in indices of employee engagement (the complete guide to employee engagement ); an increase in rates of talent retention. Any goal will do, provided that it corresponds with the initial predefined goal.
  1. * Surveying tools. Ensure that the existing surveying platforms reflect the indices defined as success for the process and the behavioral changes. For example, in the annual employees’ survey or in evaluation forms.
  1. * Setting a personal example. Most organizations today are still hierarchical with their top tiers of senior management setting a personal example for the others. Therefore, you may not expect a junior manager to implement processes and behaviors that senior managers do not. A lack of personal example and discrepancies between the attitude toward a participant and the behavior expected of them will most probably hinder the process.
  1. * Encourage discussions about the challenges faced by managers in achieving these goals. Both during course hours and in between sessions, provide your managers with opportunities to practice behavioral change and discuss the personal and organizational challenges they face on the way to achieve the goal they’ve been given. Honest discussions between group members and instructors will serve as catalysts for behavioral change.
  1. * Offer personal assistance, coaching, or counseling to managers who face specific challenges in achieving their goal. Some managers may have to deal with challenging teams, geographic locations that cause difficulties or personal challenges. Individual assistance to such managers will help them overcome drawbacks and achieve their goals.

* Coordinate your expectations from the managers participating in the program with those of their managers, so that they may better support them through the process, help them overcome challenges and reinforce their successes.

  1. * Make sure your managers’ training is enjoyable and interesting; such that will make them think and reflect. People easily and readily sit through training sessions that are fun and interesting; and when given self-awareness tools, they are more likely to implement change.
  1. Remember, executive development courses are significant organizational events that focus on specific managers but have an impact on the entire organization. Prepare yourself.

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