Leadership and Supervisory Training: A Waste of Time and Money?

Does this scenario sound familiar? 

Jack’s agency was targeted by a Congressional subcommittee for failing to deliver results. To show improvement, the agency director dictated each division would send a team of a midlevel managers to a two-week seminar, “Delivering Results through Innovative Leadership.” With airfare, lodging and meals, and conference fee, Jack’s division invested $40,000.

The group was not ready for the dynamic training they received. Over drinks in the bar, enthusiastic discussions about these concepts and how to use them in their division abounded. By the time the second week ended, all were excited with future prospects of real change in their division.

Arriving in the office Monday, the team assembled to meet their division director. She listened to their report and told them to implement. Excited, the team began the effort. Initial enthusiasm quickly waned as obstacle after obstacle was encountered with no support from their director. Within two months, the team was frustrated with the situation and returned to the old way of doing business.

Those familiar with the Toyota Lean Continual Process Improvement model have seen it transform from a manufacturing focus to one that impacts commercial and public sector service delivery programs. Washington State’s leadership touts itself as the public sector leader. At last year’s November Lean Summit, comments from midlevel managers and supervisors suggested otherwise. Despite the hundreds of thousands of dollars and hours spent training staff, these individuals complain that many of their senior leaders gave the effort lip service at best.

Government is not alone. Annually, U.S. businesses spend $160 billion on employee education and training. A significant portion is spent on developing managers and leaders as companies seek to improve profit margins and returns on investment. Yet, an April 2015 Gallup Poll reports that only 35 percent of business managers are engaged, while 51 percent are disengaged, with an additional 14 percent actively disengaged. The economic loss to the American economy runs between $77 and $90 billion for the 51 percent not engaged, but skyrockets to over $319 billion when including the actively disengaged.

There’s a common denominator at play. We know the adage: “What the boss checks gets done.” The same applies for organizational climate. The boss’s attitude, commitment and leadership style is often the key ingredient to organizational success or failure. Where was the leadership at Wells Fargo Bank? Where was the leadership in the Patent Office?

What’s a midlevel manager or supervisor to do if offered training in such an environment? Using the six silent killers of effective leadership training and implementation, ask these questions:

1) How does this training support the senior leader’s strategy and values in accomplishing the organizational mission?

2) Are senior leaders committed to working as a team, across boundaries, and committed to the new direction?

3) Is the leadership willing to engage in honest conversations about the problems?

4) Is the organization structured to promote coordination across divisions, departments, etc.? If not, are senior leaders willing to tackle the issue?

5) Will you receive adequate leadership time and effort by your bosses to further develop you and your peers as leaders/supervisors?

6) Will you have the ability to be frank with senior leaders about the obstacles to organization effectiveness and offer potential solutions without fear of reprisal?

If you get a weak or negative response to these questions, consider declining the offer. Most likely it will be a waste of your time and make you cynical, if not so already, about the organization.

Submitted by Larry Keeton


One thought on “Leadership and Supervisory Training: A Waste of Time and Money?

  1. I certainly agree with the experiences expressed in this commentary. I learned years ago that if I wanted my team to all be working from the same page, they all had to go to the same training at the same time. When I was a squadron commander and it was time to send staff and command officers to the National Staff College at Maxwell Air Force Base; I insisted that all of us go; and, we all did; and, we all came back with the same information and the same level of enthusiasm about the expectations that we faced in our duties. Conversely, I was appointed administrator of a health care facility owned by a large corporation and all administrators needed to attend the corporate “administrator’s school” in Atlanta. However, as soon as I returned two weeks later to my office, the regional manager strolled in and stated flatly; “Forget everything they told you there! This is the way it is done in this region.” So, in my experience, training can be a huge success or a waste of time and money if you do not reach critical mass in terms of the numbers of key people who will have to work together after the training concludes.

    Dr. Michael W. Popejoy


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