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  • Writer's pictureDave Veale

Research causing shift in how employees are trained

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

How does your organization prepare employees to become leaders?

Dr. Bill Howatt

Dr. Bill Howatt

One common path is that an employee who is a proven subject matter expert excelling in their assigned function is promoted with little to no preparation. Within a few months, many such new leaders are struggling, or even failing; a smaller percentage thrive.

The cause of failure is often overlooking, or a lack of consideration for, the importance of the micro-skills required to be an effective leader. Selection decisions are based solely on the individuals’ technical skills and industry expertise. Some reasons for the above are a lack of HR succession planning, capacity building, and effective training and development.

How much does your organization spend on training and developing employees? The Conference Board of Canada reported that Canadian employers spent an average of $800 per employee on staff training in 2014-15, up from $705 in 2012-13 and $688 in 2010. Having a training and development budget and plan is an important first step toward developing leaders.


Online learning can be a valuable component of leadership development and can be done around employees’ schedules. (

Research is influencing employers to shift their training and development from simply focusing on desired output and behaviours to having training more focused on facilitating the cognitive skills required to perform the desired behaviours.

For example, providing employees exposure early in their careers to developing foundational intrapersonal skills can promote better coping skills (e.g., problem-solving skills) that improve resiliency. These skills enable new leaders to manage their emotions under pressure and to create conditions to effectively engage employees in two-way, trusted conversations.

Putting unprepared employees into leadership positions can be costly. Dr. Brad Smart’s research suggests that the cost of a mis-hire can be 15 times the leader’s salary. This includes hiring costs, compensation, maintenance, severance and disruption costs (e.g., lost productivity).

The solution for developing leaders is not to simply spend more money on leadership training. If it were that easy, we’d have more effective leaders in the workplace today. Sadly, billions of leadership development dollars are wasted every year due to gaps in HR and senior leaders’ knowledge with respect to adult learning.

It’s not the training that’s the problem in most cases; it’s a lack of awareness with respect to how people learn and retain information. Whether a leadership program costs $500, $5,000 or even $50,000 often doesn’t matter. Why? Because many of these programs — regardless of price or stature — make the same mistake.

They provide learners with prep work with clear learning objectives, as well as useful content, exercises, case studies and practise. They deliver assigned learning objectives, and learners find them of value upon completion. However, the programs fail to appreciate how to close the gap between information received in training becoming ingrained and applied to the job.

The real issues begin when the training program ends. A lack of planning for the forgetting curve (i.e., the amount of information forgotten after the learning ends) results in rapid decay of information covered in the training. Research on the forgetting curve shows that within one hour people will have forgotten an average of 50 per cent of the information presented; within 24 hours, 70 per cent; and within a week, 90 per cent.

The forgetting curve Have a post-program plan — Ensure the leadership design provides repetition post-training. Research shows that reinforcement on the job after training strengthens memory and increases the likelihood leaders can use the information in their work.

Use blended learning — In addition to classroom learning, set the expectation that after or between classroom sessions learners will engage for a defined period in peer mentoring activities, lunch-and-learn refreshers or online learning that provides information in small chunks that take less than 10 minutes to complete.

Leverage online learning for leadership development The price point and value for online content is often well beyond what a learner would get in a two-day program. It can be done around employees’ schedules; it provides ongoing access over an extended period; it allows for repetitive lessons; and, it promotes learning in small chunks that strengthens knowledge transfer. Proceeding at their own pace, learners can do their learning when they’re focused and motivated, repeat any modules desired, and use it as a support system to ask questions.

Leverage leadership coaching Coaching provides leaders one-on-one attention and the ability to design a leadership program to meet the learner’s specific developmental needs and goals. It spreads learning over a period (typically six months) that provides time for reinforcement, repetition of learning and practice that supports the learner to learn and grow. Coaching provides a safe place for problem-solving and role-playing difficult conversations. It challenges learners’ negative assumptions about themselves and prompts them to look ahead to define the kind of leader they really want to be. It also gives them a coach to walk the path with them.

Bill Howatt is chief learning officer at Vision Coaching, chief of research and development, workforce productivity at Morneau Shepell, and co-founder of the V1 coaching system.

Published November 14, 2017 – Chronicle Herald, Halifax, NS

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