By DAVID ROCK
I recently sat down with an executive from a Fortune 500 financial services firm to talk about how they had built their leadership development curriculum. “We created various levels of leadership within the organization,” the executive said, “such as first time leaders, and leaders of leaders. Then we planned a series of training programs for each level, identifying the big ideas that needed to be covered in each program, such as giving feedback or thinking strategically.”
Outside consultants were then brought in to work out the contents of each module. Like many organizations pressed for time today, there was pressure to shorten everything. Two days of training became one, which became a half-day, which then became a few hours. These condensed modules were then packaged together into a two-day program. “We basically pasteurized all the learning,” the executive told me, shaking his head in disbelief. They had taken all the goodness out. With so many ideas packed into a short time, there was simply too much to digest. The result? The needle wasn’t moving on what employees were saying about their bosses, which is the only honest measure of whether a leadership program is working.
This is not an isolated case. Every week I speak to clients struggling under the pressure of teaching more, in less time, with shrinking budgets. Unfortunately, there are no widely respected guidelines for how much you should teach people in a day, or how to be sure ideas will stick. Many corporate training programs are the mental equivalent of trying to eat a week of meals in a day.
The pressure on learning isn’t going away any time soon, and allocating more time to training programs is rarely realistic. Instead, I think we need to better understand the processes involved in digesting learning, so that we can experiment and find faster “transmission speeds” for learning—the training program equivalent of going from the 56k modem to high-speed cable.