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Best Training Practices
Will Kenny
3927 York Ave N
Robbinsdale, MN 55422

Leadership Support:
Engage Mouth Before Heart

sometimes "lip services" is the right place to start

(reprinted from The Training Tipsheet)

We all know that leadership support -- not just in terms of the resources we apply to training and employee communications, but support of the actual messages -- can make a crucial difference in our ability to influence employees, to improve performance and enhance outcomes. Naturally, then, a lot of effort goes into engaging management, through endorsements and through active participation, in training activities.

Of course, we all encounter managers who may not fully believe in the message we have been asked to deliver, in the approach we have been assigned to cultivate among employees. We find some who prefer things done differently in their own territories or departments, or who liked things better "the old way."

Often these individuals will seem to express support -- because their own supervisors require it -- but we can sense that they don't really back the new ways of doing things, or that they are generating conflicting signals on the side, within their own units.

Then we work even harder at bringing those individual managers around, striving to get them to "embrace the faith" and truly believe in the message, before we get them involved in our training events.

That may work . . . but it can be hard to tell which is the "cart" and which is the "horse," when we look at what is believed and what is said. Starting with lip service, and developing true commitment later, isn't a bad strategy, much of the time.

The "catch 22" of putting only "true believers" in front of their own staff is that we postpone getting the message out, and highlight the reluctance of these managers to fully endorse the message. Another problem is that because they haven't made a strong public statement -- even one that they don't fully believe themselves -- employees give even more weight to the off-the-record, within-the-department comments that undermine the new practice.

By contrast, getting those reluctant managers to speak up in public -- calling their bluff, if you will -- can lead to converts! First of all, it is easier to get them involved when the message is new, and their own supervisors are aware of the need to get the message out.

But beyond that, it is harder to back down from, or sneak around, policy statements that have been loudly proclaimed in public. I've seen this work effectively to bolster support for a message many times.

For example, I remember working with a large regional bank that scheduled some core training to spread best practices, approaches they wanted applied much more consistently in every state where they did business. The regional managers in those states, on the other hand, liked to do things their own ways. That presented the usual problem all trainers have encountered: the official message delivered at training got undermined when employees when back to their desks in their own locations.

But after all the state-by-state managers appeared together to deliver the training message at company wide conferences, where they publicly supported the corporate best practices in front of their peers (and their own bosses), they found it much more difficult to veer away from those practices in their own operations.

Or consider the experience of turnaround specialist Greg Brenneman, most recently credited with bringing the fast-food chain Quiznos back from the brink. One of his practices was to send out a voicemail to all franchise holders every Friday morning. He observed, "If someone gets on a voicemail and promises something to thousands of people, they will do it." In other words, whatever his level of commitment to follow through on a given behavior before the massive public statement, afterwards he pretty much had to live up to his words.

Don't always put off getting management publicly involved in your employee communication activities until you are convinced they are all "on board." Sometimes "lip service" can be just the start you need!

© 2009 Best Training Practices -- Will Kenny

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