There is an enduring statistic that often shows up in discussions of the effectiveness of management training. This is that only 8% of managers who attend workshops and seminars change their behaviour as a result of attending training. Strangely, this statistic has no basis in any published research. There’s a theory that someone once threw out the number as an opinion, and over time it became accepted as fact. What’s more interesting though, is that those with substantial experience in management development believe the number is credible. They are quite ready to believe that workshops and seminars have little impact on behavioural change.
You could call this 8% number “exaggeration to prove a point.” In fact, if the organization or management development process is carried out properly, with preparation and follow up, workshops can be very effective at improving performance. On the other hand there are lots of products out there that sound good, but have little positive impact.
As extremely busy professionals, we constantly seek the quickest way to achieve our goals. Vendors of management products know this, and are quite willing to profile their product as a quick and easy solution. It could be a one day workshop that will teach you everything you need to know about management, an employee survey that has only 12 questions, or a performance management system that can be purchased as an on-line kit.
Most of us have learned healthy scepticism; to see though the hype and look for substance in the programs we bring in-house. But the fact that many of these programs are still selling extremely well, and new ones appearing all the time, suggests that some haven’t yet developed a sceptical side. So, for anyone who’ll be shopping for new programs in the future, here are five mantras you should repeat during the process.
- “There is nothing new in the world” In the field of management and leadership there is very little that’s really new except the packaging and the terminology. Look at the concept of Total Quality Management and how often it has resurfaced with a different name and presented as being new and unique. Be sceptical of anything labelled “amazing new”. It has likely been here before under a different name. That doesn’t mean it won’t work, but you should investigate why it now requires an alias.
- “There are no universally correct answers or solutions”. If there were, managing would be so easy! All one would do is refer to the book of answers and bingo! Management/Leadership has much to do with people. People are notoriously complex and each is different. This is what makes managing them so challenging and so interesting. It’s a continuous learning experience. Just when you think you’ve found an answer, a process that works for everyone, someone comes along and proves to be the exception. That doesn’t mean that processes can’t work for a lot of the people, a lot of the time. But if the claim is that they are universal panacea, then someone is exaggerating.
- “Change doesn’t occur in 4, 5 or 10 easy steps” As much as we love simple step-by-step approaches and as much as business books like to provide them, it seldom happens this way. Change is a process of trying something you think will work and, if it doesn’t, trying something else. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t start with a plan for change. It means that you must expect elements of your plan to change as the process unfolds.
- “Product is designed to be sold” Always remember that books, videos, workshops, and consulting services are designed to be sold. There is nothing wrong with attractive materials, workshops that are fun, or ambitious promises. But it’s your job to find the substance beneath the gloss.
- “Start with the end in mind” Stephan Covey’s secret of success has many applications. In this case, never lose sight of your objective in the most specific of terms. Exactly what change are you expecting? How and by how much do you expect productivity to increase? Will the product you’re considering deliver these results?
If you’re still sceptical about the value of healthy scepticism, here’s some recommended reading that may convince you:
For more information
- “Our Emperor’s Have No Clothes” by Alan Weiss; Career Press 1995
- “Beyond the Hype” by Robert Eccles and Nitin Nohria; Harvard Business School 1992
- “Fad Surfing in the Boardroom” by Eileen Shapiro;
Addison Wesley 1995