I have been a corporate and certification trainer for several decades. I love to train! I enjoy seeing people understand something new, seeing their faces light up when they make a new connection, and presenting new and different ways of thinking. These are all the benefits of training, and I did a heck of a lot of that for over twenty years.
Then I became disillusioned with all the training that I did. My attitude changed when I was engaged to train about 250 Information Technology (IT) professionals on excellent customer service skills to help the organization boost its customer loyalty ratings. I learned during the first two hours of the first class I taught that a lack of customer service skills on the part of these dedicated, smart and resourceful IT professionals was not the problem. The real problem was the toxic culture that leaders had embedded due to their mean-spirited and commanding leadership style. The IT professionals were routinely yelled at, belittled and abused by upper managers. They were often left out of important decisions affecting their work hours and environment. They were held to impossible deadlines and not provided adequate resources to meet them. I concluded at the end of that two-hour class session that the executives of this organization desperately needed to have leadership skills training and one-on-one coaching to repair the damage done to the organization’s culture. Only then could they create a new culture of great customer service.
You see, poor customer service is always a reflection of poor culture and leadership. Surely you need to train people in your standards of customer service, but that training will ring hollow unless leaders uphold the same standards. Customer service skills are a subset of leadership skills.
No doubt, training is the best way to expose your people to new concepts, to teach new skills and to introduce new procedures. But does it change behaviors once the participants get back to work and hit the daily grind? Not often, I am sorry to say. That is because of the daily grind, which is mesmerizing and so fast-paced as to leave no room for reflection and review, both of which are key to changing behaviors.
It was at this moment that I decided to become a trained and certified coach alongside being a trainer. I figured with both training and coaching, I could really effect change in leader’s behaviors.
Coaching, whether it’s one-on-one coaching, or group/team coaching, allows the participant to stop, reflect and review what they’ve learned, and more importantly, to develop an action plan that is designed to make the participant a better leader through improved behaviors. Coaching focuses on changing actions for the better and holding the client accountable to his or her own development plans. When meeting with a coach several times a month, the participant is held responsible for practicing – or at least experimenting with - more productive leadership behaviors in the workplace. Training, on the other hand, exposes the participant to some new concepts and behaviors, but has no accountability loop built in.
Many of the best leadership development models are adamant in their stance that leadership is a learned skill, made up of behaviors that anyone can adopt. My favorite model is The Leadership Challenge by Barry Kouzes and Jim Posner in which they posit that leadership is everyone’s business, and anyone can become a good leader by utilizing their “Five Practices of Exemplary Leaders”. Because leadership is a set of learned behaviors, coaching is the perfect vehicle to help leaders develop better behavioral habits.
The research supports my observation that training alone does not significantly impact on leader’s behavioral change as much as coaching does. In a study published in Training and Development Journal, it was discovered that training with no follow-on coaching produced only a modest improvement in behaviors and results, while training plus follow-on coaching created measurable improvements in outcomes. The graphs looked like this:
Figure 1: Behavior Change with Training only (green bars) and with Training & Coaching (blue bars)
In the figure, you see that when the training even occurs, behavior changes immediately afterward. This is good. But with training only (represented by the green bars), the behavior change is short-lived and returns to near the old normal. However, with coaching, the behaviors change not only rises immediately, but picks up momentum as the weeks go on, resulting in greatly changed actions.
The Take-Away Idea
What does all this mean for your organization? Training is by far the best way to introduce new skills, concepts and policies into your organization but unless it’s followed by activities that embed the training, participants will do not change their behaviors. However, if you combine your training investments with one-on-one or group coaching, your investment is likely to create a sizable return in the form of changed behaviors and improved business results.
1. Kouzes, B. and Posner, J. The Leadership Challenge.
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