Tag Archives: management training

Why leadership training fails – some tips for what to do about it

Guest blog by Liz Mercer, 11th January 2017.


Editor’s note

Delegates from RiverRhee’s training courses often come away with one or more new ways of working that they would like to influence when they get back to their place of work. We are glad that this is the case: it is an indication that we have helped them to reflect about their own and others’ approaches to work, and what could be done to improve things.

However, they can sometimes be frustrated by the difficulties associated with implementing these changes. So I was very interested to hear about this article that Liz Mercer had come across, and suggested that she write this blog as a guest author to tell us more about it.

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The organisational context needs to be right for learning and growth

As passionate proponents of all things Leadership Development, I was drawn to an article in Harvard Business Review’s October 2016 edition, entitled ‘Why leadership training fails – and what to do about it’.

It’s my own experience, and long held belief that there are four key elements that need to be in place before any leadership development activity can truly work:

These are:

  • The leader has a desire to learn and grow, and the timing is right
  • The leader has some self-awareness and is motivated to improve their emotional intelligence
  • Supportive mentors and managers provide the right playground for development to be a positive learning experience
  • The organisation creates the space and opportunity to experiment and grow

So, when the articles’ authors Michael Beer et al, proposed that “no matter how smart and motivated they (leaders) are” unless you have “a favourable context for learning and growth” brought about by “senior executives attending to organisational design”, my attention was turned to much broader and more wide ranging considerations.

More than that…” if the system does not change, it will not support and sustain individual behaviour change – indeed it will set it up to fail”.

They go on to say that organisations will continue to put millions of pounds, time and energy into leadership development, only to find when leaders try to embed the behaviour change that they are now so committed to, they simply hit brick walls, barriers and infertile ground: a somewhat depressing thought for so early in this new year.

HR’s role came up for closer inspection once again too. I am familiar with the need to align learning, training and development with organisation strategy and goals: to identify the right set of competencies to develop in the people who can deliver the strategy and make change happen.

The organisation as a ‘system’

And yet, I was reminded by the article that organisations are systems of interacting elements, including, but not limited to roles, responsibilities, relationships, organisation structures, processes, styles, cultures, back grounds – the list goes on. It’s an amalgamation of all these elements that drive organisation performance and behaviour, not just, and only, the leadership community.

In their research, the authors found that CEO’s and their leadership teams needed to be confronted with uncomfortable truths more frequently, in order that they can free up the organisation and its leaders to take it where they want it to go.   One CEO insisted on taking a step back before approving a programme of leader development. When managers were asked to say what barriers they experienced, it wasn’t a lack of training that was the issue, some old favourites emerged…

  • The senior team didn’t have a clear and articulated strategy with corporate values
  • Well-structured talent and development planning discussions were infrequent
  • Talent hoarding restricted movement and created higher turnover

I noted that in the end, once the systemic changes happen then this encourages – even requires – the desired behaviours that leaders embrace in leadership development programmes.

So, what can you do about it?

The authors identified six basic steps to real talent development and these are summarised here:

  1. The senior team clearly defines values and an inspiring strategic direction
  2. Identification of barriers to learning and strategy execution: this may result in the redesign of roles, responsibilities and relationships.
  3. Day to day coaching and process consultation to help improve effectiveness in this new ‘system’
  4. Training and development activity is embedded where needed
  5. New metrics for individual and organisational performance are developed.
  6. Systems for selecting, evaluating, developing, and promoting talent are adjusted to reflect and sustain changes in organisational behaviour.

And so, what I loved about this article was that it reminded me of the importance of the ‘system’ in leader development and organisation growth. To ignore the system runs the risk of the huge investments made in leadership development, simply not paying off.

What this means for me as a proponent of managerial, leadership and organisation development is an increased focus on diagnosing the systemic barriers to individual growth and organisational development: for these to be worked on at least in parallel to leader development, if not earlier than that.

Only in this way will leadership development efforts have a real chance of success and, thereby, make organisations unstoppable in what they can achieve!

HBR article authors:

Michael Beer is the Cahners-Rabb Professor of Business Administration, Emeritus, at Harvard Business School and a cofounder of TruePoint Partners, a research and consulting firm specialising in organisational transformation. Magnus Finnstrom and Derek Schrader are directors at TruePoint.

About the editor

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting., a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, with a focus on the Life Sciences. (We use training, facilitation, coaching, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  

RiverRhee is a support supplier for One Nucleus and a CPD provider for CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals).

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  

She is a member of CILIP and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads on Membership, Communications and Events for the Enabling Change SIG committee.

About the author

Liz Mercer is an Associate with RiverRhee Consulting.  She is a Human Resources professional, with 30 years experience, mainly in Pharmaceuticals and Biotech and understands the challenges of leadership, management and team development. 

Liz runs her own business, Perla Development, providing training, facilitation and coaching, for individuals and teams: with a particular interest in the challenges for virtual team leaders. She is an accomplished facilitator and development coach.

She has a Masters in Organisational Behaviour, is a member of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development and is accredited in the Myers Briggs Type Indicator.




Facilitation – some new ideas?

By Elisabeth Goodman, 21st May 2015

The Ideas Centre – a great resource for creative thinking

I recently had the opportunity to attend one of Dave Hall’s workshops from The Ideas Centre. Dave regularly holds off-site and in-house workshops where he introduces delegates to principles and tools to stimulate their creative thinking, and so enables them to find novel solutions for their problems, issues, challenges and opportunities.

I found the workshop tremendously insightful, not only to reflect on one of my own business questions, but also to challenge my thinking as a trainer and facilitator. (See also one of my previous blogs – Reflections of a team facilitator.)

Using Lego for solution development

Using Lego with The Ideas Centre for solution development

The picture above represents the ‘solution’ I found to my business question. I would strongly recommend one of Dave’s workshops to help you explore how you can use Lego and his other ‘tools’ for addressing your own challenges.

In the meantime, here are three things I discovered and will be exploring further in my work as a trainer and facilitator.

Facilitators should take an active role in idea generation

One of the challenges facilitators often have is finding the right balance between addressing the content as opposed to the process of what they are facilitating. Whilst Dave is adamant about there being a clear problem owner for idea generation, and this person never being the facilitator, he does allow the latter to be more actively engaged in the discussion than might traditionally be the case.

So, for example, the facilitator is the one that holds the pen in the discussion. He or she will actively ask questions both to clarify the problem, and to generate ideas. So far this is not too unconventional.

Where Dave introduces a different element is that the facilitator is also ‘allowed’ to make suggestions that will help to shape the problem owner’s thinking. This is true whether the facilitator knows something about the subject area or not. In fact the problem owner will benefit from as much input as possible, and so the facilitator should definitely support this too.

At the end of the day though, the problem owner will be the one to select the final solution, and the facilitator has a key responsibility to enable the process for getting to that point.

Naive participants are invaluable for idea generation

Break-out groups are a core element of my work as a trainer and as a facilitator. They give participants the opportunity to explore new principles and tools in more depth, and to apply them to their own issues and challenges.

I have typically (up to now) encouraged participants in break-out groups, in both my off-site and on-site workshops, to work with people who are doing something similar to them, so that they can add their expertise to that of the problem owner’s. In fact some delegates have expressed anxiety when they have not felt sufficiently knowledgeable about the area being explored.

However, such content ‘naivety’ is, according to Dave, to be actively encouraged. Participants who are not familiar with the subject area are more likely to challenge assumptions, and to bring in novel ideas which, whether useful or not, will encourage the more divergent thinking that is critical to innovation.

This is something that I had previously only been subconsciously aware of.  Now I will make more active use of ‘naïve’ participants, whilst also ensuring that the problem owner has other subject matter experts to support him or her.

Emotions will support rather than hinder innovation

My courses on management skills, and on Lean and Six Sigma typically include sessions on continuous improvement. As Dave rightly pointed out, there is something of a gap between this kind of incremental innovation, which is obviously still useful and important, and breakthrough innovation. In fact delegates at my workshops sometimes want opportunities for more blue-sky thinking and, I do look for ways to enable that too.

However one principle that Lean and Six Sigma techniques strongly uphold is the fundamental importance of facts and data. Subjective or emotional problem statements such as ‘this process is taking far too long’ are strongly discouraged, and instead must be written for example as ‘this process is taking 2 hours longer than it should’. This then sets the scene for exploring all the root causes for the problem.

The Ideas Centre has its own methodology for articulating problems that paves the way for generating solutions, but what is particularly novel is how they encourage the problem owner to use emotional language. The impact in the workshop was startling. What was otherwise a dry and somewhat boring statement turned into something that grabbed everyone’s attention and committed them to finding a solution.

Using more emotional problem statements is definitely something I will be experimenting with when a client is willing to explore something other than the more purist approach to Lean and Six Sigma.

My courses also address how to manage change, where winning hearts as well as minds is such a critical factor for success. I will be experimenting with the use of emotional problem statements in this context too.


You can find out more about The Ideas Centre from their website.

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We use coaching, training, facilitation, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting just over 5 years ago, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis. 

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner.  She is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals) and of APM (Association for Project Management) where she leads the recently renamed Methods and Standards theme for the Enabling Change SIG.


There will never be enough time!

Red Balloon

Last week, Janet Burton and I had the pleasure of working with several of the Coordinators and other staff from the Red Balloon at their headquarters in Cambridge.

These talented and caring individuals work with often deeply troubled young people at the Red Balloon’s centres around the UK who have experienced bullying and other traumas that have interfered with their education. In the words of Ruth Loshak, Consultant Coordinator with the group, the teachers and other staff help the students “to come to terms with what has happened to them, learn coping strategies, get back on an academic track and move on with ‘the rest of their lives’.”

RiverRhee Consulting’s Introduction to Management training

Janet’s and my task, and challenge, was to condense our three-day RiverRhee Consulting Introduction to Management course into an effective one-day session. Needless to say, we were very much aware that our delegates had as much if not more to teach us and each other as we might be able to teach them! We also knew, from previous experience, that they enjoy and benefit from opportunities to share what they know and how they go about things.

So we did two things: we planned a minimum of presentation, and a maximum of discussion and interactive exercises, and we solicited their input in advance to make sure that we focused the day around their areas of greatest challenge.

Managing performance and developing people

Many of the participants had had very little previous formal management training, and so it was no surprise that “Managing performance and developing people” was one of the two main areas of challenge to emerge. They are also very used to working in counselling mode with their students, and so they particularly liked the contrast with the GROW model of coaching for personal development, and enjoyed trying it out amongst themselves.

Managing time and priorities, and delegation

The second main area of challenge was “Managing time and priorities, and delegation”. The staff of Red Balloon are enormously committed to what they do. They love their work, care deeply about the well-being and development of the students, and seldom observe a strict 9-to-5, five day working week. And of course there is always admin and paperwork to do too.

One of the main advantages of taking a day out for training is having the opportunity to pause and reflect about what we are doing. So the delegates did just that. We shared Stephen R. Covey’s urgent vs. important matrix (from “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People”), and the “five Ds” for time management from The Mind Gym’s “Give me time”.  (Do now, Defer, Delegate, Diminish, Delete).

We then had the delegates reflect about their own use of time with the help of these tools. Some of them also had a go at “Joe’s dilemma” – a case study based exercise about delegation.

A positive outcome

This is how one of our delegates described how she felt by the end of the day!

A ninja warrior!

“This is me after today’s management training.  Thanks to Janet and Elisabeth for giving us all the necessary tips.”                              (Illustration by Isabelle Spain.)

As The Mind Gym taught me many years ago: there will never be enough time. What matters is finding a way to be happy with how we are using our time. Hopefully Janet and I will have helped the Coordinators and staff at Red Balloon Learner Centre to do just that.


Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that helps business teams and their managers to enhance their effectiveness for greater productivity and improved team morale. (We using coaching, training, mentoring and consulting in our work with our clients.)

Elisabeth has 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry where she has held line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting Information Management and other business teams on a global basis.  Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and in Lean Sigma and is a member of CILIP (Chartered Institute for Library and Information Professionals), APM (Association for Project Management) and is also registered as a Growth Coach and Leadership & Management trainer with the GrowthAccelerator.