EXECUTIVE EDUCATION: Learning curves – Great expectations

Iain McCormick is firm believer in the lessons life deals out as we work our way through it. He should know. As managing director and executive coach at the Executive Coaching Centre, he’s seen more than his fair share of people in need of upskilling. In McCormick’s book, executives learn most of their management skills on the job, rather than through training programmes. But that doesn’t mean good training course isn’t worthwhile.
McCormick says that before any executive education kicks in, the right kind of work-based experience should have already been acquired. In other words, training is no substitute for life skills or work experience.
“I would advise any potential executive to find mentor or coach and use their feedback and wisdom as guide,” he says. “However, anyone tagged for future advancement should be offered leadership development with an emphasis on helping them understand themselves and their strengths and weaknesses.
“Training needs analysis is critical for this. It can be done really simply and quickly. Just make list of the critical skills for position based on the job description. Then the senior manager should rate the level of development of the employee from ‘one = no development’ to ‘five = extremely well developed’. Pick out the top three areas for development (the lowest scores) and find relevant programmes to suggest to the employee.”
Deborah Truter, director and co-owner of Peak Performance International, says any person who manages others needs to have fundamental skills associated with conducting effective meetings, effective networking (internal and external), being role model, and having vision and passion.
“Other essential training would be related to facilitation skills, presentation skills and being an effective trainer,” she says. “One of the key things for any training programme is to ensure that it is practical and it absolutely relates to on-the-job activities.
“If participants are unable to translate the theory into practice then the learning will not be applied and this is where some of the academic programmes fall down.”
The myth that leaders are born or need the right stuff is one of the reasons we don’t have enough leaders, says Nick Sceats, director of training firm Catapult.
“There is what we call the rock star myth around leaders,” he says. “That they have to be charismatic, strong and charging from the front – undies on the outside leaping huge building types.
“These are the leaders who make the headlines. But for every one of these there are hundred incredibly effective leaders whose defining characteristics include humility and quiet determination.”
James Lockhart, director of Massey University’s Graduate School of Business, says that while the executive who undergoes training clearly benefits, their employer can miss out on benefiting from those new abilities.
“We often observe step-change shift in an executive’s competencies that are often unable to be translated into actions,” he says. “There is institutionalised poor performance in New Zealand because of the sheer weight of inertia, organisational politics, glass ceilings, petty jealousies, or simple lack of knowledge on behalf of the employer.”
But for those embarking on executive training Lockhart says they should be looking for trainer who shows clear willingness to deliver on what is required, rather than reach for an “off the shelf package”.
“That requires significant investment on the part of the training provider,” he says, “to understanding the organisation and its real needs.”
Distance learning can also play part in executive training too, according to David Gollings, managing director of Management Learning Associates.
“However, constant feedback tells us that level of face-to-face interaction is still very important,” he says.
And once training is completed its success or otherwise needs to be measured.
Gollings says setting pre-programmed objectives between the individual and the training provider, reviewing the learnings when the person returns to the workplace, and constant monitoring and feedback on performance are key to establishing the success of training.
McCormick recommends managers start with “happy sheets” to assess the level of satisfaction the participant has with the course.
“Ask the individual to write one-page summary of the new knowledge and skill that he or she learned,” he says. “A month after the course ask the participant if they have applied any of the knowledge and skill from the course in their daily job and ask their manager if the person has been more productive since completing the course.”
Truter believes that with training, support and coaching in effective management and leadership, cohesive executive team with clear purpose and goals will build an engaged, enthusiastic organisation.
“This will result in team members at all levels striving way beyond satisfaction for the benefit of clients, organisations and individuals.”

My view

Deborah Truter,director, Peak Performance

Too many good people are promoted to management with the minimum of support or training. Any training needs to be specific, practical, relevant and customised to enhance the person’s current strengths and bridge any gaps. It should also be targeted to the appropriate level in the organisation.
As more experienced workers are leaving the workforce than joining it, the ability to recruit and retain the best people becomes even more important. This is core part of training for anyone who has been identified for advancement.
In five years’ time there will be many jobs that we can’t even imagine now. This means that anyone on the advancement track has to have change management training.

Iain McCormick, managing director, Executive Coaching Centre

Leadership development – with an emphasis on knowing who you are and what are your strengths and weaknesses – is essential for someone who is identified for executive training.
Also essential is training that develops strategic thinking, and the skills to build teams and organisations and to motivate others.
If I had to select one executive development course it would be formal intensive residential leadership development programme followed by period of individual executive coaching to assist in translating the learning into practice.
Typically, we learn most of our management skills on the job rather than through training programmes so the right kind of experience is critical for executive development.

Robyn McArthur, marketing manager, David Forman

Current leaders who have team to manage, and are wanting to find the tools to improve their leadership skills to become an inspiring leader, are the people who benefit most from executive training.
People embarking on any kind of training need good positive attitude and willingness to transform and implement personal change plan. Leaders can be made. People are not always born as leaders.
People looking for an executive training programme should look for provider with consistent, proven results and good reputation. Seek out long time player with robust industry and business knowledge.

Anne-Marie Stenson, programme manager, executive programmes, Centre for Continuing Education and Executive Development, Victoria University of Wellington

The training I would recommend for someone who is identified for advancement is leadership development programmes which consist of selection of courses aimed specifically at developing EQ, strategic management and ‘big picture stuff’.
Particularly for level two managers and above (level one being the CEO) it is important that they develop leadership skills and qualities that empower others in the organisation to do their work.
When selecting trainer or training organisation, people should look for quality in both content and presentation. Executives have probably done their dash with lecture-based learning in the past, they now

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