Executive Training That Works

Michael Gallagher, .

rows of chairsWhat if the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command trained in big lecture halls?  300 candidates sitting in a room, hearing lectures, seeing some slideshows and PowerPoint presentations.  Maybe there is a question/answer period or a group learning activity.  At the end of this “training,” do you think any of these candidates is qualified to be a member of CANSOFCOM? You would feel a little less safe, certainly, if this were the case.  This is not effective training for Special Forces, and it is not an effective training model for executives.  You do battle on a very different field, but you too need rigorous, hands-on, comprehensive, training.

CANSOFCOM requires candidates undergo 20 weeks of rigorous training: sniper training, path finding, combat diving, parachuting, surviving, intense physical and psychological work…it’s a far cry from sitting in a lecture hall.  So we understand the need for this type of intense training for military forces; it’s important for us in the business world for many of the same reasons.  Sure, we may not have fighting terrorists on our daily agendas, but we do have to be prepared and able to handle a variety of challenging situations as they crop up.  We need to be able to negotiate, direct, listen, and make decisions in the midst of sometimes tense or difficult circumstances.

A hotel conference room with hundreds of people in it… call that what you want, but it “ain’t” training. Effective executive training must be conducted relative to a living operation, and with a clear understanding of the key people and issues at work.  You can, and often do, hear and see valuable information in a discreet training session.  But when you get back to the office, daily business takes over. Personalities take over; procedures take over and old habits take over.  It’s hard to incorporate even good ideas when you’re back in the “real world.”

The more effective model is to find and incorporate “application opportunities” from knowledge or performance gaps identified with the manager prior to training and then, supported post-training with a program of specific follow-up.  The trainee achieves a better level of knowledge or skill understanding by doing rather than simply hearing. And the organization gets better performance in an identified area of concern. The “buy-in” may be the hard part, and the follow-up process can be invaluable in making sure that key initiatives are being implemented.  The coaching model involves a more comprehensive, hands-on approach.  But does it work?

In a study on executive training (Elizabeth C. Thach, Leadership and Organization Development Journal, 2002) 281 executives were tracked throughout a six month coaching program.  The results showed that a combination of 360 degree feedback, or multisource evaluation, and individual coaching increased leadership efficacy by up to 60 percent.

Another study (Olivero, Bane, & Kopelman, Public Personnel Management, 1997)
focused on a group of executives who first underwent conventional managerial training and then one-on-one coaching.  The study found conventional training increased productivity by just over 22 percent, while coaching improved productivity by an astonishing 88 percent!

And one more: A study reported in Human Resource Planning (Eldson, Ronald & Iyer, Seema, 1999) examined Sun Microsystems, which made career coaching widely available to their employees.  This study found that those who took advantage of the training were less likely to leave the company. This can be tremendously beneficial in companies for whom attrition is a key issue.

Executive training is not enough; when coaching and follow-up are incorporated, the results are phenomenal.


Michael Gallagher

Mike Gallagher, President of Michael Gallagher Advisory, has spent the past 20 years helping small business owners and managers develop and implement strategic business plans, achieve sustainable, targeted growth and solve the problems that keep them up at night.