Mistakes to Avoid When Implementing Leadership Training—Interview with Virginia Kinon of MidFirst Bank

There is little doubt that if you want to improve employee engagement, accountability, and performance, you should train your managers to be better leaders. The question is how to go about it.

Virginia Kinon is First Vice President, Learning & Performance at MidFirst Bank. She has spent over 20 years in the training and performance improvement field.

JATHAN JANOVE: What are the most common mistakes human resources (HR) and training & development professionals make in leadership training?

VIRGINIA KINON: Often, the first is failing to get C-Suite support. For any change initiative to be successful, senior executives should be program sponsors and key stakeholders. If the senior executives model the behaviors—or at least see the value in developing these skills—you have a better chance of buy-in, not only at the top, but throughout the organization. Bottom line, we need to find ways to engage senior managers to ensure that their support for key initiatives, like leadership training, are evident to the organization.

JJ: What’s the best way HR and learning professionals can get that support?

VK: We need to demonstrate a strong grasp of the business and where the company is going. What are the corporate strategy, mission, vision, and core values? How will the program support these? Explain your learning strategy in the C-Suite’s terms—their needs, priorities, and objectives—and how the changed behavior will help them.

JJ: What else will help get C-Suite support?

VK: Your reputation is important. Have you demonstrated good stewardship of company resources—time and money? Do you have a track record of providing highly effective training while keeping costs in check?  Also, keep your pitch to executive leadership short and sweet. My goal is to make my case in three bullet points. Less is more. We HR and learning professionals are passionate about what we’re doing and the details about how it will be accomplished. With the C-Suite, when it comes to details and emotion, less is also more.

JJ: Assuming you have executive support, are there still things that can go wrong?

VK: I’ve seen four common planning and execution mistakes:

1)      One common mistake is failing to conduct effective needs assessments to uncover the key business issues, the needs behind the need, current knowledge and skills gaps, and the desired results—what will success look like? As a result, the training can miss the mark.

2)      Another barrier to program success is attempting to fit the learner into the training instead of designing the training to fit the learner and his or her environment. Employees are constantly under pressure to do more with less while increasing productivity. We need to uncover the ‘natural’ barriers to attending, completing, and applying the knowledge and skills on the job. For example, are sales goals adjusted to allow for time out of the office? How will being out of the office impact the manager and the workload of the business unit? If considering virtual delivery options, are there technology constraints?

3)      Failing to take into account how people learn, especially as the demands on employees increase and available mindshare decreases, is another common mistake. A great deal of “brain research” has been done recently. These lessons need to be incorporated into the learning design. How and when we deliver learning must evolve to incorporate these new findings and support the changing work environment. We can no longer afford to treat training as a single event that is packed full of everything the learner needs to know and still expect to be successful. Instead, consider designing smaller learning opportunities that support skills development and will ensure ongoing reinforcement and on-the-job application. Also, instead of placing all training within a Learning Management System, consider placing some of the learning segments where the learner can easily access them at the time of need, like embedded in an application, on the desktop, or intranet sites.

4)      When buying an off-the-shelf leadership program, avoid attempting to sell senior management on the entire skills package. I’ve found it easier to get buy-in when focusing on one or two courses that will address immediate needs and then integrate additional modules over time, as needed. The cost is easier to absorb and you are introducing courses that will be used immediately. This goes back to stewardship of company resources.

JJ: When circumstances or support aren’t optimal, what do you recommend?

VK: It depends. You may need to do more homework, conduct additional research into needs, or make more of an investment in gaining support for training initiatives. It’s also possible that, even though the need exists, the organization is not ready for the change. In that case, I find opportunities to plant the seeds that will eventually take root. On the other hand, conditions are rarely perfect. If you realize that the initiative will not receive enterprise support, an alternative might be to consider starting with a business unit that has expressed the interest. For each employee you’ve helped improve skills, performance, or engagement level, you’ve made a difference worth making.

How is training done in your organization? How does it stack up to Kinon’s observations? If you’ve found ways to improve C-Suite buy-in and training return-on-investment, I’d love to hear about it and will share it with our readers.

Virginia Kinon is First Vice President, Learning & Performance, MidFirst Bank. She can be reached at Virginia.Kinon@midfirst.com.