Training Programs: Top of the Heap

With the advancement of technology, it's no secret that corporate training initiatives have leaned far more heavily in the past decade on electronic avenues to deliver programming. One thing, however, cannot be denied: The most effective training programs always have a significant in-person component, because human interaction offers many different perspectives for trainees to absorb. Further, it provides intangibles, such as stronger interpersonal relationships and feelings of empowerment that technology simply cannot deliver.

How can we be so sure of this contention? Well, earlier this year, Training magazine (SM's sister publication) named its top 100 corporate training programs, a prestigious award that recognizes excellence at firms that know the bottom-line value that comes from developing people. And what we found was that nearly all of the winners made significant use of meetings to accomplish their objectives. Here are just two examples cited by Training that can help you reinforce the benefits of training meetings at your company.

Leadership Development: Best Buy, Inc.
This electronics retailer uses several forums to develop its leaders. At the annual fall leadership development meeting, managers from across the company gather to learn about the needs of the company in addition to the needs of its customers, and how key initiatives link to the company strategy. The meeting agenda includes personal storytelling, keynote speakers, video clips, and sessions that allow leaders to articulate a teachable point of view that they can use to engage their workforces.

The accelerated leadership program helps participants address organizational strategies and dilemmas while they develop leadership skills. The six-month program was created in partnership with Noel Tichy, author of The Leadership Engine. After identifying strategies and dilemmas, participants form teams of six to nine people and work on subsets of larger goals.

Best Buy CEO Brad Anderson sponsors another leadership initiative. This 15-month "emerging leaders" program is designed to ensure that the company has the management talent and breadth of experience it needs. The CEO and other executive sponsors select about 30 participants from a pool of high-performing managers and directors, who then take a three-day course and choose real-world business projects to work on. Executives coach participants through the program.

Finally, the company offers a monthly Strategy Leadership Forum. Participants hear from guest speakers and thought leaders. Breakout sessions are designed to challenge participants' beliefs and help them make connections among the ideas presented and the company's management processes and culture. The forums emphasize internal and external networks, and underline the need for leaders to develop and maintain informed points of view.

First-Line Supervisor Development: Wyeth Pharmaceuticals
At Wyeth, a program for district managers and account directors offers extensive initial development delivered via distance and classroom learning. The first stage, LeadSTART, is a self-study distance-learning program that is a field manager orientation kit designed to start new managers out on the right foot. Then, fledgling managers attend a five-day program in the fundamentals of management that covers coaching, behavior modification, performance plan reviews, and feedback. It also teaches managers to write effective reports and introduces them to Wyeth corporate policies.

The second five-day seminar covers diversity and ethics, performance issues, setting a motivational climate, making managerial presentations, and facilitating meetings. Participants get a chance to listen to and ask questions of experienced colleagues.

Managers also attend a two-and-a-half day "targeted selection" program to learn how to conduct effective interviews and hire quality employees, as well as how to manage fairly and legally in a diverse workplace. Managers spend another two days learning effective techniques for coaching salespeople, such as motivating individuals to take action, evaluating and analyzing their performance, creating and reinforcing sales plans, and improving sales performance.

Finally, an exceptional management practices program teaches and refines managers' skills in empowering direct reports to shape individual goals and improve business processes. This course teaches experienced managers to both support and challenge direct reports, and includes an instrument that measures managers' skills in direction, coaching, feedback, and collaboration.

SIDEBAR
Reinforcement from Above Cal Wick, founder and chairman of Fort Hill Company, a performance improvement and training consultancy based in Montchanin, DE, stresses the following: "However it is accomplished, a key component of effective training is that the managers of participants must be informed and involved in the process. Training and development professionals will realize a greater return on their efforts by devoting a portion of their time and effort to increasing manager support."

Wick suggests that trainers create a one-page outline of the program's methods and goals, and then send it to participants' managers along with a copy of their direct report's goals. "In most programs, participants write goals for continued development and learning transfer. They are encouraged to share these goals with their managers, but this is usually left to individual initiative," Wick says. "When we polled managers in a control group study, we discovered that in the press of day-to-day business, that sharing often did not occur. Indeed, 60 percent of managers admitted that they were unaware of their direct reports' program-related objectives. As a result, they were unable to provide relevant support or direction."

But when trainers pushed the information to managers, "Both the managers and the participants reported a greater number of discussions between managers and reports regarding the program and development; greater post-course effort to follow through; and greater progress and performance improvement," Wick adds.