5 minute read –
Making learning programmes absorbing and engaging is a key part of making leadership development work. This article is a practical guide to boosting engagement helping HR professionals to:
- Make participants fail!
- Surprisingly important for adult learning.
- Create space for reflection.
- A scarce resource in work life.
- Use a wide blend of potent learning techniques.
- Blended learning, including digital tools, keeps the participants hooked.
- Use the 3Us framework faithfully for all digital programmes
- Digitalising is challenging. This framework is really helpful.
- Maximise participation
- Always a must.
How can you get participants to experience your programme as a life-changer?
I have only one experience of creating a programme that was recognised as life changing (I have participated in two others). It was set up 25 years ago, went from being northern European to being global, is still going, the original team that set it up is still in touch, and participants I meet still tell me how powerful an experience it was for them. Which learning points can be generalised from such an experience?
In How to make leadership development effective we described engagement in the programme as a part of the whole development process participants follow, from identifying a need to measuring outcomes. Engagement is the product of the whole process but here we talk about the things you can do in the design and implementation of the actual programme.
We recommend 5 hacks for boosting engagement:
1. Make participants fail
This was the biggest learning point from my life-changer programme experience.
Recognising personal development needs is difficult, as described in How to meet participant needs in leadership development programmes. Self-respect, embarrassment, denial, and rationalisation all get in the way, for all of us, all the time.
These barriers are challenged when we fail. If this is done in a safe atmosphere, where failure is OK and shared, the barriers evaporate. The need to change to avoid a repeat of failure is clear and accepted.
An example: in a roleplay the participant is driving in the desert and runs out of fuel. In the programme she stands holding an empty can in front of a closed door marked ‘closed for lunch’.
In the roleplay there is a petrol station that she passed a few minutes ago behind the door. She is late and has to get to the airport to catch her flight. She has 3 minutes to persuade the attendant to open the station and give her fuel. Little does she know that behind the door awaits an actor crying as his dog just died and he is thinking about how to bury it. Can the participant navigate the attendant’s troubled emotions and get her can filled in time? No-one succeeds.
The roleplay is based on practicing influence styles. The actor rewards correct use but time is too short for anyone to succeed.
The actor makes the roleplay feel completely real. The other participants watch. You can hear them audibly exhale, relieving their engagement and stress, when the facilitator says ‘Cut!’ after 3 minutes.
Experiencing failure is a powerful form of leaving your comfort zone.
Most of us accept that development only happens when we allow ourselves to try something new – stepping outside our comfort zone. The ‘closed for lunch’ roleplay is just one example of how failing sets the stage for development.
2. Create space for reflection
In today’s incessant flow of stimuli and interruptions it is difficult to find space, space for the kind of reflection needed to make deep personal insights, let learning bed down, and make solid decisions.
People have the space to string enough thoughts together to draw strong conclusions when they are doing something absorbing yet simple, like exercising, fishing, or following a simple knitting pattern, often alone. This kind of space can also be found when communing with nature, perhaps sitting on a riverbank in one’s own thoughts. Programmes need to build in this kind of space and avoid the pitfall of overpacking the agenda.
3. Use a wide blend of potent learning techniques
Blended learning has become standard practice in leadership development. It means mixing simulations (sometimes digital), lectures, groupwork, individual study, e-learning, coaching, supervised projects and assignments, outdoor exercises, roleplays (sometimes with actors), podcasts, videos, step-by-step digital programmes etc.
The menu of methods is only limited by our imaginations. Have a look at Digital tools on offer for effective leadership development and How to combine digital leadership development activities in learning streams if you want to know more.
Gamified simulations are an excellent example of a new type of digital tool that can really boost engagement. Training games can catch attention and be The Topic of conversation. No-one wants to have less points on the leader-board than their colleagues. Everyone wants to beat the boss. The built-in incentives in points (+ and -), bonuses, progression bars, levels, trophies etc. leads to the kind of repetition that embeds and automates learning. The graph is an example of when people play. It shows that the game is so engaging that they play in the evenings, after the children have been put to bed.
For those wanting to know more about digitally driven leadership development you can also check out Competitive trends in the leadership development industry and Getting leaders to use new digital solutions.
4. Use the 3Us framework for all digital programmes
The handy 3Us framework is very simple, focusing the mind on whether a digital programme is Useful, Usable and Used.
A programme has to be demonstrably Useful. Not nice-to-have. Must-have. If it is nice-to-have it probably won’t be Used. It must also be Usable: logical, simple and inviting. If it is not easy and fun most users will get impatient and it won’t get Used. Lastly, it must be Used. So many apps and programmes are launched. So few get used. A powerful method for pushing up adoption % should be tailor-made for each programme.
Have a look at the article How to design and implement digital leadership development programmes, based on the figure, for more insight.
5. Maximise participation
The last hack is also a standard mantra. Most know that engagement is only possible through participation, but agendas are often overpacked, and speakers with a need to hear themselves speak both pacify and crowd out the participants.
Perversely, transferring programmes online sharpens discipline in this area. It is even easier for the participant’s mind to wander in an online course. To counter this, presentations need to be as short as possible, preferably 10 minutes max. The focus needs to be on engaging the participants with extremely frequent breakouts in pairs and groups, with concrete, simple, relevant tasks. The more the participant can be made responsible the better. That means maximum participation.
Whether digital or physical, participation drives learning. Indeed, many would agree that true knowing can’t occur without doing. Learning is developed through activity and has to be experienced.
If you want to know more about the digitalisation of experiential learning, have a look at our article How to digitalise experiential learning.
We have designed a digital coach to help leaders succeed within 100 days in a new role. We have used 4 of the 5 hacks. The whole point of Ella is to help the leader avoid failure (up to 40% are out of the new role within 18 months as it just didn’t work out), so we make participants succeed, not fail in the pursuit of learning.
If you want to know more about how supporting success in 100 days in a new role is probably the most effective form of leadership development possible, please contact us.