Is your direct report about to take part in a leadership development program? Research consistently demonstrates that training participants are more likely to apply what they have learned if they have support from their manager, supervisor, or boss. And meeting with them before and after the program is a great way to maximize their success and communicate your buy-in.
Before the Training
We work with more than 30,000 leaders annually, and we’ve found that the primary predictor of a leadership development program’s impact is the level of support the participant receives from their boss, both before and after the training. It needn’t require a large investment of your time, but helps add considerable accountability to the process.
Before your direct report attends an offsite leadership development program, set up a pre-meeting where you plan to ask questions for 20% of the meeting and then listen to the responses for the remaining 80% of the time. Aim to cover the following 5 topics:
- What does your direct report really hope to get out of the training? Have them articulate their goal, and follow up by asking, “What else?”
- What developmental areas do they want to work on as they go through the program? This will allow them to admit what they think they aren’t great at.
- What are the strengths that they have and how could they improve upon them? Our research shows that great leaders are known for their towering strengths rather than the absence of weaknesses, so improving strengths is still crucial. Most people over-focus on weaknesses.
- What sort of support and help do they need in order to apply the learning back at work? You may be surprised what they actually need from you as a manager to keep it growing.
- Give them permission to fully disconnect from their daily responsibilities while they’re in training. Otherwise they won’t be able to soak up the learning in the program and can’t implement real changes when they return. If you skip this step, expect them to be distracted during the training.
Before your conversation ends, schedule a follow-up meeting for after the program. This will help ensure that it occurs, but it also lets your direct report know that you will actually be checking in again after the training is completed.
Don’t feel like you need to memorize this information, either — we actually recommend that you print it out and have the questions and topics you plan to cover in front of you. It will keep the conversation flowing and can serve as a checklist.
Watch this video for an example of the pre-program conversation between a boss and direct report:
After the Training
Once your direct report returns from the training, your goal is to help them turn what they learned into action in the workplace. The follow-up meeting will also help them focus and allow you to provide advice for what you think they should work on.
The post-training meeting creates an opportunity for them to publicly commit to? what they are going to work on moving forward, and allows them to capitalize on their enthusiasm coming out of the training, before too much time passes and their interest wanes.
Similar to the pre-meeting, we recommend spending 20% of the meeting talking — mostly asking questions — and 80% of the time listening. Here’s what you should ask:
- How was the program? You can start off easy with this general question.
- What did you learn? Move into discussing both the content and personal insights they came away with.
- How are you going to bring this back to work? Next, discuss implementation. How will they convey what they learned to their team, or talk about their identified strengths and weaknesses? Team members who didn’t attend the leadership development experience are often curious to hear about it and can benefit from your report’s experience. Encourage them to share insights with colleagues.
- How can I support you? Similar to the pre-meeting, it’s important to ask how you can support them in implementing changes. Not only does it lend support and illustrate your commitment, but you may learn something about how you can be more effective, too.
Watch this brief video for more details about the post-program conversation:
You’ll notice that there’s some overlap between these questions and the topics you covered in the pre-meeting, which is intentional. The first meeting sets the tone and helps prepare your direct report, while the follow-up is designed to see it through. Again, we encourage you to use a checklist of questions to avoid missing anything and to keep the conversation moving along.
If you don’t wait too long after the program for your second meeting, you’ll be able to help your direct report focus and execute a plan that will make their training — and your time — well worth it.