Leadership Scaffolding: Supporting Great Leaders Beyond Training

Posted by Gemma Glover on Jun 9, 2022 9:34:07 AM
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I’m a big fan of the shift from ‘learning’ problems to ‘business’ problems because success is rarely achieved in silo. For L&D to really make a difference, we need to build a connected network which moves in the same direction.

To achieve real, sustainable change, L&D campaigns and initiatives need to be systemic, by which I mean they need to echo through your business – this can be via related processes, policies, reinforced and checked behaviours, recruitment, and technology to name but a few.

But once your leaders step outside the training, does the message die?

For example, if you’re communicating that empathy is vital in your business, and you’ve upskilled your leaders and encouraged them to practice it, the buck can’t stop there or the progress might! It’s important that you health check and look for opportunities to check follow-through and elevate what you’re attempting to achieve.

So, how do you make that happen?

Five ways you can support leadership training in your business

1. Digital nudging

Tech can help or hinder your depending on how it’s used and to what degree. Some organisations are leaning on software to stimulate leaders and people managers to get in touch with individuals, to check in and ask questions.

Yes, on the face of it this feels like a cold, transactional way of driving interaction and it really will be if the conversation starts with ‘So, I’ve just been reminded to take an interest in you…’. But for the time-poor and absent minded, or just those who need the support, this can be a very useful tool in encouraging them to make time. The value of that time and conversation is very much then on them to make the most of.

Along similar lines are ‘whisper courses’ – a series of short emails which prompt you to give something specific a try, like suggestions for talking points during one-to-one meetings. How valuable these are can depend on a lot of things: their relevancy to the individual, the quality and practicality of the advice, and whether they’re swallowed up by a noisy inbox (or actually read – we’re all guilty of ignoring the odd email now and again, right?).

However, when your digital nudges stem from an actual need and are designed in a way that targets that need (which might mean using the LXP, another form of tech, or even nudging in person), they can be part of your upskilling and have a positive impact on encouraging focus and more meaningful relationships.

Consider how people connect in your business and what software exists internally already. Alternatively, see what else is out there that can support the desired look and feel of the experience you want to nurture.

2. Aligned leadership recruitment

Another related area to scrutinise is recruitment – do the leadership skills and values your business is recruiting for mirror what’s important and what’s being developed and championed internally? Does the sync up extend to job adverts and even the interview process?

You might not have an HR remit or experience, but what I’m talking about here isn’t takeover, it’s collaboration. It’s realising the common ground, the common goals, and discussing the value of singing from the same hymn sheet.

Now more than ever, it’s important that L&D has a voice in recruitment - how else can we help to future-proof the workforce? Building forward-focused skills in-house and seeking those existing competencies to bring into the business must go hand-in-hand. Knowledge sharing is also a great part of most initiatives – illuminating ways people can learn from one another.

Recruiting for managers and leaders with experience in (or a vested interest in) empowering and coaching others will be key. Plus, you should highlight that people management will be a core focus of the role or include interview questions that explore the cultural fit. You also need to reiterate to current leaders what leadership means in your business.

3. Spend time with your leadership leavers

Is one of your people managers leaving? Make sure you speak to them before they go or get access to their exit data and feedback. This is another avenue which will help support your leadership team! Gaining valuable feedback and insights from your leaders on things like onboarding, learning pathways and L&D in general can drive improvements and innovations. It’s a great opportunity to get close to how your leaders really felt about their experiences.

It’s worth finding out what your current leaver’s process looks like and if it’s resulting in valuable information. Think about the questions being asked, how they’re phrased and the circumstances they’re asked in (anonymous, months before actually departing etc.). Are the responses just gathering dust in a folder somewhere? Are you able to cut the data by level and department to home in on what you need and spot correlations and trends to dig into?

Maybe it’s time to add an L&D specific exit interview to the process?

4. Leadership peer review and feedback

Thinking about how feedback takes place in your business and how that is (or isn’t) supported can be really helpful, especially at a leadership level. People are typically more reticent to give feedback upward, even more so if they’re managed by that person or if that person is perceived as integral to their career progression.

Sometimes it can be easy to focus too much on top-down feedback because that naturally forms part of performance management and one-to-ones. We can forget the real necessity of two-way traffic.

No one is ever done learning, and nobody is perfect, regardless of their seniority. Self-reflection, though worthwhile, is a subjective lens, so it’s important that you get feedback from a multitude of sources. You could argue that due to the level of responsibility, the reach and the magnitude of decisions being made, hearing constructive criticism is vital for those in leadership roles. They’re steering the ship – so if they’re not growing, receptive, self-aware, and actively seeking feedback, hitting the iceberg is looking increasingly likely.

An easy place to launch this is through peer review. People who are facing the same or similar challenges, at the same level, might be more aware of the context. They may also feel more comfortable being honest. Creating ways for peers to connect and coach one another has many benefits, and access to feedback is just one of them – you’re also trying to encourage community, a support network, and a safe place to fail.

But how do you contribute to a feedback culture where anyone, regardless of the hierarchy, can confidently share their thoughts with a leader?

It’s not easy, and a lot will depend on your current culture, the scale of your business and your existing training and feedback channels. Giving and receiving feedback is a valuable part of a leadership programme, as a refresher yes, but vitally from the off. Setting the tone from day one that this is a place where real-time feedback is a day-to-day practice is key. But this also needs to be true and seen. Do existing leaders share moments where they got things wrong, or were criticised and how it helped them? Do they publicly, and regularly ask for feedback? Is it celebrated or are people afraid to speak up?

Surveys, particularly anonymous ones, are a useful way to check in on how honest individuals feel they can be with management and leadership and if they see the value in doing this. They might also have ideas for how this could be easier for them. Maybe they need more support – how to phrase things, how to approach conversations, and how to avoid conflict.

If you have a thriving feedback culture with real psychological safety for all involved, the hard-earned results (amongst many) are better leaders and more intuitive L&D programmes which help them develop.

5. People policy audit

The fun stuff! Okay, maybe not quite, but it is massively worth doing.

Along similar lines to collaborating with HR on recruitment, a people policy audit checks that there’s a consistent echo of what the business claims to be and value, and what the policies are projecting. Again, this might not be within L&Ds remit exactly, but it definitely falls within the mission to see learning and business problems as one and the same.

Here’s an example – say it has been found (data and evidence-based, root-cause analysis, and all that good stuff, obviously) that a lack of empathy from the senior leadership team is damaging the business. Perhaps it’s resulting in an increase in HR issues, grievances, and high turnover… This is a time consuming and costly problem. L&D are part of the solution here and can design an initiative which will help to close the gap and encourage sustainable behavioural change in leaders.

But there’s a snag, or something getting in the way of the change. It’s the surrounding people policies. They’re not empathetic. Quite the opposite actually – they’re cold, treating people like commodities rather than human beings. So, no matter how empathetic the leaders are, as soon as a policy comes into play, the temperature drops, things get difficult, and things escalate.

It’s easy to say your company is empathetic, and that empathy is important – but does this resonate through your paperwork? Does the way your business operates, how tech is used, how people are treated when things get tricky, uphold this value? Or does it contradict it?

On the surface, policies can seem peripheral or irrelevant to what L&D is trying to achieve, with leadership or any group. But so much of the success of a learning intervention rests on what happens after delivery – how things are or aren’t reinforced.

Time to start supporting your leaders beyond training

So, to round things up, it’s key to remember that to achieve genuine, sustainable change, your L&D leadership campaigns and initiatives need to be embedded throughout your business in all areas, from processes and policies to behaviours, recruitment, and technology. Success is rarely achieved in silo.

Keeping the momentum going is the biggest challenge to ensure the message doesn’t dwindle off as soon as your leaders step outside the training, so hopefully the ideas we’ve shared give you inspiration for great places to start.

At iAM Learning we believe that leaders are made, not born. They’re shaped by coaching, guidance, and learning - and importantly these skills need to be practiced, refined, and reinforced. Why not check out our Leadership & Management Collection and use it as part of a new leadership training programme or as timely refreshers to already existing leadership skills?

Plus, we're giving away FIVE quick and agile leadership and management course resources for FREE right now, so you can kick start your leadership skills development today - download yours here.

We’re always here to support you with your leadership learning strategies and pathways so do get in touch with Gemma, our L&D Manager, if you’d like any help steering your ‘leader-ship’.

Topics: Learning Strategy