From a consulting firm that offers professional development training for leaders as an essential component of our work, this may seem an unlikely question. But it is a question we constantly ask ourselves, both to ensure maximum value to the organizations we serve and to guide the way we approach professional development.
To ensure success and maximize return-on-investment from leadership development, organizations can benefit from the same disciplined thinking that underpins value-based care and population health strategies: it’s the outcome, not the input, that matters.
Feeling Good vs. Getting Better
In medicine, some therapeutic interventions or drugs may make a patient feel good about taking them, even if they don’t help them get better. In a 2017 study published in the peer-reviewed journal The BMJ (formerly the British Medical Journal), authors found that: “Most new oncology drugs authorized by the EMA (European Medicines Agency) in 2009-2013 came onto the market without clear evidence that they improved the quality or quantity of patients’ lives.”
Does the same “input” vs. “outcome” bias happen in leadership training. A few years ago, company “universities” became extremely popular, especially among larger health systems. High quality educational content was developed, often in collaboration with local universities, to address a broad array of topics for up-and-coming as well as more experienced managers. Organizations felt good about offering these types of programs, and managers appreciated the opportunity to attend these classes.
But are the time and resources required to develop and field these courses worth the investment? Organizations may struggle to definitively answer that important question because they fail to ask two other questions first.
What are our specific goals?
Learning objectives begin to answer that question but often do not go far enough in addressing the specific operational, quality, strategic or financial results leadership development training is designed to improve. Just as frontline clinical staff training focuses on the tactical behaviors and practices that need to change to improve safety, quality or efficiency, leader training should chart a clear path for management practice changes that will impact individual and team performance.
How will we support success, hold leaders accountable and sustain results?
Even the most inspiringly crafted and eloquently delivered educational content is unlikely to improve operational results without equal thought and effort given to how leaders will be supported in changing behaviors and implementing new management practices. How often have all us heard an inspirational speaker or attended a great educational program, only to return to the office to be greeted with 100 new emails, 10 new operational “fires” and a host of personnel issues? Our best intentions for change quickly evaporate.
Change is hard, even for those of us who consider ourselves innovative and open to new ideas. Unless we have the structure and tools to facilitate and sustain change, it likely won’t happen.
Several years ago, we were working with a major corporation to develop a new approach to frontline supervisor development and training. Everyone was extremely happy as we reviewed the feedback from our pilot program. But as I watched reactions, I could tell one of the directors was thinking intently about next steps. “I love all of this,” she commented. “But how will we know that supervisors are actually doing all of these things to improve staff engagement?”
Aha! That powerful insight was the inspirational seed for building our structured approach and related software designed to help managers more easily implement and manage the evidence-based practices that lead to better staff engagement. MyTEAM® helps managers more consistently and effectively connect with staff and patient/customers to improve the care experience and work environment.
In the end, the best leadership training blends both an academic approach (teaching the mind to think) and behavioral approach (teaching new skills and practices) to achieve change. To maximize ROI, smart organizations pay as much attention to the support they provide and what happens after a class as to the development of the content.