Why Leadership Training Often Fails

There is a very simple reason why leadership training fails in so many companies across America, and it’s the same reason a lot of training fails. It’s both easy to identify, and simple to understand, yet it can be very difficult to solve. Keep reading to find out what it is and get some tips on how to solve it!

As record numbers of Baby Boomers retire, leadership positions pass to Gen X’ers  and Millenials. A massive transition is underway in America and companies have eager, but often untested employees raising their hands to take on mantles of leadership. In the process of promoting new leaders, many organizations discovered the best-qualified individuals still lacked basic leadership skills. This resulted in lower team performance, higher turnover, and missed goals.

To meet this challenge, organizations began instituting training programs to develop leadership skill-sets in their new promotees. Applying best practices in adult learning, these programs often mixed live training, reading, on-the-job training, peer groups, and self-reflection. But some programs failed because they lacked a key component in leadership training – post-training follow-up and support.

Think of it this way: imagine you live in the early 1900s and you’ve decided to design and build this new thing called an automobile. As a forward thinker, you recognize what a difference this new form of transportation can make, so you gather together the best mechanical engineers and craftsmen you can to work on your team. You get everything right. The car is beautiful, it runs smoothly, and is everything you’d hoped and dreamed.

The day comes where you make your first sales and soon your little town has fifteen cars running around. But after a week, you notice the new owners have all gone back to riding horses. How can this be? you ask. After interviewing each of the new owners, you quickly realize your mistake.

After teaching them how to fuel and maintain their new autos, you never followed-up to make sure they understood and could put their new knowledge into practice. Overwhelmed with all the change, the owners failed to practice their new skills and reverted back to old habits. The autos soon were parked until they “had time” to do maintenance on them.

Leadership training often suffers from the same errors. An incredible curriculum is written and rolled-out, teaching every concept these new leaders will need. The curriculum, developed in alignment with organization goals and executive input, also incorporated input from frontline managers, and other key department stakeholders. It exactly met the gaps identified in your research and set up new leaders for great success.

But for those new leaders, it’s also slightly overwhelming. The curriculum, for some, calls on them to change everything about how they lead others. For others, they need to incorporate major shifts in thinking. When they get back to their jobs, they fail to implement their new knowledge because they run into roadblocks they aren’t sure how to solve, and it becomes easier to “just do it the old way.”

So how do learning and development teams build follow-up and support into their plans? Here are some ideas for consideration:

  • Start with the end in mind. As you develop the leadership curriculum, keep at the forefront of your planning that you will need to provide follow-up and performance support to the newly trained leaders. Just like a good job description, try to make the key items of your curriculum measurable so you can gauge the success or challenges of the learners.
  • Provide multiple methods of follow-up. Some learners will be successful if you just provide them reminders of what they learned. Other learners will need one-on-one coaching to work through issues. Be prepared with multiple tool options that the learner can self-select to help them implement their new training.
  • Train the learner’s managers on what to expect and how to support them. The direct supervisors of the learners will be most aware of the success or failure of the training, so guide them through the analysis and support process ahead of time. This will prepare them to reinforce what you are teaching. Oh, and don’t forget to tell them the why behind the training.
  • Give the learners limited coaching sessions they can use as they see a need. This is an idea I got from Google’s management training program. Give the learner (for example) two 30-minute coaching sessions they can use with an experienced manager or HR, at will, whenever they feel the need arises. It allows them to self-direct their support and use the time on a deep-felt need.
  • Create peer groups. Set-up an online or in-person peer support group where they can openly share successes and failures, and coach each other through challenges. This also serves to knit the fabric of the organization closer together.

There are many more ways to support the curriculum, but ensuring you have a clear plan in mind is the critical first-step.


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Effective Corporate Learning Environments Need This

What makes for an effective corporate learning environment?  Does that question cause pictures of boardrooms, or training halls pop into your head?  Maybe your first thought was of an employee’s desk or an eLearning lab.  All of these can be applicable when considering what a corporate learning environment is, and certainly all of them are different physically, but they should all have one thing in common: mental engagement.

Any learning environment is less about the physical setting and more about the emotional support. Take the best, most advanced interactive classroom in the world, and put Ben Stein from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off in front of the room, and every moment of time is now a waste. Conversely, take a mud-floored thatch walled hut and put someone that is passionate and excited to be there in front of learners, and a beautiful thing occurs: engagement.

The instructor has more power to create an engaging learning environment than any lighting, color, desk, tool, or background music. Too often companies try and fix these physical things to improve their training programs and forget the lower hanging fruit: training the trainer. How many SME’s (subject matter experts) attended training that helped them be better instructors/discussion leaders/classroom-control experts? An expert in PowerPoint is not automatically an expert at teaching PowerPoint. Head knowledge doesn’t always translate to teaching skill.

So how do we help our SMEs be better teachers? Let me tell you a story:

John was a sales rep that was consistently recognized for his ability to meet sales goals while maintaining exceptional relationships with his clients. If you read the top 10 books on how to relationally sell, John exemplified all of them. In an effort to help his clients sell more of the product they bought from his company, John agreed to come to a live training the client was hosting and put on a training seminar on his product.

Talking about his product was something John could do in his sleep. Unfortunately, it ended up being the learners who were sleeping, not John. He approached his training session just like he would a sales pitch. He had slides packed with text about the products, how they were manufactured, what their key features were, their supply chain, and pricing matrix breakdowns. As he went from slide to slide pointing out key items, the learners became more and more disengaged. By the end of the 90-minute session, no one in the room was even paying attention.

John could sense he’d lost the room, but had no idea why. In a private moment later that day, John approached me and asked for feedback. He admitted that it was a rough session but didn’t know what he could do better. Excited at his teachability, I sat down with John and started reviewing his session.

“John, the first mistake you made was with your slides. They had way too much text, not enough images, and you read them to the group almost verbatim.”

“Yeah” he said, “but I didn’t want to forget anything.”

“Tell me the top five features of product X” I asked. He looked at me oddly for that question, but then rattled off the top 5 features like I expected. “Now how can those features be turned into benefits?” Again he had a quick and thorough answer.

“See John, you won’t forget anything important. You’re putting people into cognitive overload, in other words, you’re overwhelming their brains, with so much information. They don’t need to know the nine fabrics that make up your product; just that it can stretch and is more comfortable because it has mixed fabrics.”

John thought for a moment and started to see the point. “So, key points only without overwhelming detail?”

“Bingo. Now the next thing I’d like to see you do is to involve the group more. Call on people. Get them to participate. Have them do some structured activities that teach them about your product and get hands-on with it.”

…our conversation went on like that for a while, with him taking notes and me mentoring him on how he could impove. I also sent him a Guide to Live Training pamphlet I’d written for our SMEs. Ten months later John came and presented again. His was one of the highest rated sessions in the entire two-day event. He took to heart the items we’d discussed and put together a great seminar. After he finished we talked about how well it went and he again asked me for improvements. If only all my SMEs were that eager to improve!

L&D folks, two take-a-ways for you from John’s story:
1. Mentor your SME’s (preferably ahead of time) to help them be successful. Many are experts in their field, but not experts in ours. So help them improve!
2. Never stop critiquing and learning how to improve your own training. As the world moves forward, if you are standing still, you are actually moving backwards. Never grow tired of perfecting your craft.


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Stop Blaming the LMS

There is a fast growing movement in the learning and development industry that has me troubled. Across all channels, I see L&D Professionals, especially those that are not experts in their field, espousing “the LMS (learning management system) is DEAD.” A quick Google search yields hundreds of articles focusing on this “emerging trend in learning.” There are also numerous twist on this same topic such as:

  • the traditional LMS is dead
  • the LMS is dead but what the article says is replacing it is actually an LMS
  • the stand alone LMS is dead
  • Moving to Learning Engagement Platforms
  • and more…

As far back as 2015, the Twitter-verse was proclaiming the LMS’ demise and how the best companies were moving on. Yesterday, I was in a LinkedIn discussion started by a guy who was writing an essay on how the LMS is dead and looking for sources he could cite. He’d clearly taken a position without even researching it. Frankly, if the LMS had an AI, I’m sure it would quote Mark Twain right now: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”

There is no doubt that the older versions of LMS’s are dying off. Like any software, when something doesn’t keep up with technology trends and modern programming, it tends to go away quickly. This early form of the LMS is often where horror stories exist of forced compliance, long boring trainings, and extremely poor user experience. This is also the type of LMS that big companies are finally moving away from, and why there is suddenly so much press about it “dying.”

Yet even with this traditional form of the LMS, the sad reality is that it’s not the tool that was the issue (though it certainly did have its problems.) The real failure lies in the way training departments were using the LMS. My favorite quote in all of Learning and Development is by Marc Rosenberg – “Bad training + technology = more efficient bad training.”

Of course learners will rebel when forced to sit through voice-over PowerPoint compliance training that goes for 65 minutes, with the “instructor” simply reading what is on the screen. It doesn’t matter what tool is used; even in a Learning Engagement Platform that behavior is revolution-worthy.

Call it whatever you like – learning engagement platform, content curation platform, eLMS, LMS 3.0, etc., if the training is bad, it still won’t help people learn any better. I’ve seen “traditional” LMS’s used incredibly well, with high learner engagement, when they were loaded with effective content.

Stop blaming the LMS. That’s like going on a bad date and then saying all dating is dead. Get off the Fad wagon and work on developing effective, engaging content for whatever tool you have.

Yes, there are newer versions of LMS’s that run better, smarter, smoother, with more user choice, improved functionality, and focus on multiple media types. But guess what, they are still LMS’s (whether they are called that officially or not.) I don’t doubt that a company running original versions of Moodle wants to shoot the server and declare an end to all LMS’s (I would too in that case,) but be realistic about the real source of the problem and takes steps to fix that first, before investing a new “cutting edge” platform where you repeat the same mistakes.

The LMS is not dead. It’s not even dying. It’s just morphing, like all software does, into a better version of itself. The rest is just hype, marketing, or ignorance.


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Reflecting on the Frustrations of Learning and Development

Working in Learning and Development (L&D) can be a very rewarding career. Few jobs allow you to impact so many people on a daily basis without an emergency involved. As I develop and implement training, what I do has a measurable effect on my co-workers.

L&D can also be very frustrating and mind jarring. Any full-time L&D professional I’ve spoken with over the years shared a similar story of joy and woe. Common frustrations often include:

  • too many people in the company wanting training and all of it is high priority
  • not enough people in the company supporting training
  • not enough support from the top
  • not enough support from the bottom
  • technology problems
  • software failures
  • overloaded schedules
  • resources pulled without warning
  • failures of others that affect your own output
  • lack of recognition
  • recognition of others for work you did alone
  • budget cuts
  • lack of professional development

All of these and more I’ve faced in my career as an L&D professional working across several companies. I’ve faced days, weeks, months, and even years where I wanted to throw in the towel, tap out, and walk away.

But then, I have a moment.

A moment where someone unexpectedly thanks me for helping them finally accomplish that thing they’ve been trying to do; a moment where genuine recognition comes after a really hard job; a moment where the light suddenly goes on for a group of people I’m training and they leave to have a huge impact on the company. I first learned of moments like that when I taught Jr. High and High School history classes. There is something really special about watching the light turn on for someone.

In between moments, when the road seems dark, I think of something Rory Vaden said. Rory Vaden is an author, trainer, and inspirational speaker that focuses largely on sales training in his consulting firm. He wrote a blog post called the Myth of the Lifestyle Entrepreneur and in it, he said something the resonated with me as an L&D professional. Here is a partial quote of that article:

Quit buying into the lies. 

Quit allowing yourself to be deceived. 

And instead, put your head down and go back to work. 

When you get tired, suck it up and go back to work. 

Then, when you’re ready to quit, go back to work. 

After you’re sure you can’t take anymore go back to work. 

Once you’re completely empty, keep going back to work.

While he was speaking to entrepreneurs, it was a really good reminder to me that the work I choose to do isn’t always, or even often, glamorous, or fun, or exciting. Sometimes it is drudgery, pain, and anguish. When those times come, and they will, I find myself thinking of Rory’s statement above, putting my head down, and getting back to work. When it gets really bad I channel a little Jimmy V and my mantra becomes “survive and advance.” I hold out for that next ‘moment’ that reminds me why I do what I do, and why, in spite of it all, I love it.


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When Training Fails Epically

Tonight, Greg Gianforte, the Montana candidate for the House of Representatives seat that was opened due to political appointment, allegedly body slammed a reporter for asking him tough questions. Tomorrow is the election. True or not, this can’t go well for him.

Greg Gianforte (Getty)

I’m going to skip an overall account of what is being reported (read more about the incident here.)  I want to focus on something Alicia Acuna, the Fox News reporter that is an eyewitness, said: “At that point, Gianforte grabbed Jacobs by the neck with both hands and slammed him into the ground behind him.” Grabbing someone by the neck and slamming them to the ground speaks of either great fear or great rage. That’s an extreme action taken under extreme emotion.

I feel fairly confident in saying Gianforte’s advisers coached him during the campaign to avoid doing something extreme that would grab media attention. That is Politics 101. I also feel confident in assuming that Gianforte understood that coaching and worked hard throughout his campaign to properly implement it. Now, whether the allegations are proven true or not, this happens on the eve of the election. Uber.Epic.Fail.

Right about now I imagine political advisers all over the country, from both sides of the aisle, are placing themselves in Gianforte’s advisers’ shoes and thinking about what they would have done differently to prevent this. Their thoughts aren’t all that different than what trainers feel after coaching a team and then having something go badly awry.

So what is the trainer’s next step when something goes so badly wrong? Here are some suggestions:

  1. Perform a frank analysis of the training that was originally presented. It’s important to deeply understand what was attempted in the past that failed to prevent the current situation. The last thing that should be done for better results is what was tried before. That’s the definition of insanity. Look at all aspects of the original training: communication, learning environment, curriculum, evaluations, engagement levels, interruptions that occurred, discussions or lack thereof, etc. and then search for improvements.
  2. Discuss the findings of your analysis with someone impartial, if possible. Fresh eyes and minds on a problem can yield incredible results. There is wisdom in the counsel of many. Get expert opinions from others that can see things you might have missed.
  3. Formulate a plan for retraining. Unlike with politics, most situations are recoverable long-term and people will need to be retrained to prevent further disasters. The plan for this retraining needs to address repairing the initial training gaps, as well as properly training new learners.
  4. Schedule retraining as close to the incident as possible. You want to prevent further mishaps. If the incident calls for it, put the breaks on further activities that could lead to the current disaster. Be decisive in your actions at this point. For initial retraining, I strongly recommend keeping new learners separate from those that are being retrained. The conversations will be very different between the two groups. Don’t fall into the trap of adding a few new people to the group for cost savings.
  5. Discuss the incident openly and frankly in the retraining session(s), if at all possible. There may be a lot of questions, heated emotions, or maybe even hurt feelings. Be prepared and ensure those delivering the training are properly armed with answers.
  6. Follow-up with extra performance support materials after the training ends. Re-enforce the new training stronger than you would otherwise, because you need to rewire the brains of the learners to stop thinking of the original training (which has had more time to settle in) and think or act in a new direction.

While Gianforte’s political career may be over at this point, most training failures aren’t  permanent. Quick action can prevent further failures and begin to repair the damage.



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7 Tips on Training Software

In my experience, training someone to use software is one of the more difficult types of training to create effectively. It is so easy to be boring, use technical jargon, extend the training too long, or fall into the dreaded “trying to be funny but come across as terribly cheesy” trap.

Throughout my career I’ve trained, or been trained, on software scores of times. While learning software I’ve fallen asleep, walked away with a commitment to figure it out on my own later, and been wow’ed by an 8-hour training session. As an instructor I’ve lost classes in the first five minutes, fallen asleep (yes, I put myself to sleep once,) and made significant impacts on the work lives of my class.

So, what is it that makes software training move from the dull drudgery of cleaning grout with a toothbrush, to the exciting adrenaline rush of flying in the backseat of a fighter jet?

Nothing. It’s software training.

But you can certainly make it better than cleaning grout. Here are some tips to help you on your next project:

  1. Tell them Why. Adults want to know why this training applies to them, so be up front with that. Don’t use boiler plate statements about how this software will make their daily jobs easier either. Be specific. For example, instead of saying “by the end of this training you’ll understand how to use Microsoft Outlook more efficiently” say this: “by the end of this training you’ll be capable of creating folders and rules to help you manage your email more efficiently, and be able to use Outlook like a pro. This will give you more time in your day not dealing with the email monster.”
  2. Be Practical. Like all other training, getting adults to engage works best when they understand and see how they can apply the training to their lives immediately. Software’s ultimate purpose is to make our lives easier; to perform some task that otherwise would be significantly more difficult for us. The best way to grab a learner’s attention and keep them engaged throughout the training is to constantly solve their problems. Give a lot of practical tips that shortcut longer processes, make tasks easier, or help users understand complicated actions easier. You can even purposefully plan to space these tips out so you have built-in engagement bumps throughout the lesson.
  3. Keep it Short! Especially when giving web-based training, but also when teaching in-person, keep training segments short. How ‘short’ is defined can be rather subjective, so let’s look at the principle behind it. The average adult attention span when engaged in a learning activity they feel is important is about 12 minutes. This drops off exponentially if you haven’t performed #1-2 correctly. YouTube recommends no videos over 4 minutes in length due to the significant viewership drop-off they see when videos are longer. Those videos would fall into the ‘entertainment’ category most of the time, which is why the attention span is shorter. The social media attention span for adults is one second shorter than that of a goldfish. When you look at the length of your training, keep those things in mind. For long sessions, create natural break points and split them up.
  4. Speed-up Unimportant Boring Stuff. No one wants to see you type your user name and password into a system. People perform that action dozens of times per day. They get it. If you’re doing a web-based recording, use an editor to speed the video up in that spot. If you’re teaching live, tell them “After you log in…” They all get it. Do the same for anything else in this category. Treat the learners like understand the basics unless you have a reason to assume otherwise. It only takes a few minor ‘time wasters’ to lose engagement for the whole training.
  5. Avoid the Cheese. I’m not talking about cheddar here. Common cheese you see in software training falls into these categories: silly names of example people, unrealistic or unbelievable examples, funny graphics that aren’t, and trying to drop in an unrelated joke as an attention grabber. They don’t generally work. Keep it practical, realistic, believable, and to the point.
  6. Get a Good Voice. If you have narration in your web- or video-based training, nothing is more valuable than a good voice. An example I recently cited was Corbin Anderson in his Camtasia 9 Essentials course on Lynda.com. This guy has a great voice and he kept me engaged for all 8 hours of the training. You can find voice talent relatively cheap if you hunt around, but a good voice is usually worth the price. I’ve even found in-house talent that rocked the project I needed narration for, so start there to save yourself some money.
  7. Beta, beta, edit. Any new training should be tested, then analyzed, then edited, then tested again. Don’t make the rookie mistake of recording and releasing, never to look at it again. If you’re training clients on the use of your software, find a few trusted voices that will give you honest feedback of new material, then get new stuff in front of them first so you can make changes before the whole world sees it.

There you go – 7 quick tips to help you train software better. It’s never too late to go back and fix old projects if you’ve realized that’s necessary. Good luck!


Posted in Technology, Training, Webinars | Leave a comment

Trainer’s Guide to Camtasia 9

I recently taught myself how to record and edit in Camtasia 9. Prior to this, I haven’t personally edited video before, though I’ve managed video editors for years. Because of that, I had a basic idea of good practices, but no hands-on experience on how to actually do editing.

To start my journey, I jumped onto Lynda.com to take their training on Camtasia 9 Essentials. Corbin Anderson does the training and he was excellent – great voice to listen to, very practical in his instructions, and overall did a superb  job. His wealth of experience in video editing shines through in the way he presents and shares easy-to-apply tips. (There are also many videos available direct from Techsmith or on YouTube that teach how to use Camtasia, I just love Lynda.com so I went there.)

After finishing the training, I tackled my first project: a 5-minute screencast on the Fair Labor Standards Act. Camtasia ran smoothly during the recording. I didn’t miss the hiccups, down-sampling, or clunky controls found in other screen recording software I’ve tried in the past (most notably Adobe Captivate.) Once the recording was complete, based on my settings, Camtasia opened right up into editing mode of the video. I found it very simple to follow the basics of what Corbin taught me and turn those into screen zooms, smooth transitions, content highlighting, and even some reinforcement of material.

My next project was similar, except the recording was a video I saved from a live webcast. It came from GoToMeeting and then I imported it into Camtasia for final edits and rendering. Again it went very smooth and the final output was significantly better than the original webcast, since I enhanced the audio and zoomed into text that was hard to read during the live event.

My third project was a full-fledged edit of raw video footage shot on an iPhone, with a secondary audio recording. This required me to pull in the auxiliary audio file, pull in the video file from the iPhone, split out the iPhone audio from the video (as easy as right-clicking and telling Camtasia to split it), sync the two audio tracks, and then delete the iPhone audio so I was left with the iPhone video file, and the external audio file. It was super easy. Then I went through, added effects and transitions, made necessary cuts, and rendered a completed .mp4 for use as a training video.

The only struggles I ran into were associated with learning new software. Techsmith did a great job automating certain common things and making editing effects (called Behaviors) easy. I wish there were more Behaviors available, though it’s possible to create custom ones and I may just need to understand that better.

Overall, a superb product. For anyone in training that need good, basic, easy-t0-use video editing and screen capture software, this is definitely the way to go. It may not have as many bells and whistles as Adobe Premier or other high-end video editing programs, but it also doesn’t carry the price tag. At only $200 per license, it is very easy to get started, and it doesn’t have any monthly subscriptions. It is quick to learn, easy to edit, and outputs a great video when done correctly.

For trainers, the ability to bring in multiple media types and sources, and export the video in a format that works well in eLearning software, make this program a very versatile tool.

Bottom line: highly recommended


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