An old friend and client invited me to lunch this summer, to catch up and ask for my advice. After trading updates about our families, health, and golf scores, he came right out and said:

“I’m frustrated with my team, it’s seems like they have hit a wall and can’t come up with any new ideas. They are struggling to hit their targets, and keep doing the same old things over and over. I can’t seem to motivate them to think differently.

And you know the deal, budgets have been totally cut on professional development, or I would just hire you to get them going. Luckily I have budget to buy you lunch. Do you have any advice for me?”

So, you want results and don’t have any budget? Not exactly music to the ears of a consultant.

Fortunately his dilemma struck a chord with me. Although I have been a speaker and corporate trainer for many years, it has really bugged me how appalling the results were from some corporate training initiatives.

It goes something like this: the company is in need of some teamwork, visioning, communication, time management, fill-in-the-blank-here, training. They call in someone like me to “fix” the issue. Now, I think I’m pretty good, but honestly there are way better options.

Remember in high school when you had a supply teacher? Did you give them your full attention? I didn’t.

After being introduced to the group I could see the “this guy will be gone by lunch” look on the faces of my classmates (and was probably making that face myself). As for follow up and accountability, there was usually none.

This is the model used in a lot of front of the room training programs. And this model wasn’t working for the client or for me.

In my early days as a corporate trainer, my boss shared a model that would remain with me forever. It’s called the Kirkpatrick/Phillips Model of Evaluation. In short, there are five levels in evaluating a training initiative/program, they are:

1) Did they like it?
2) Did they learn anything?
3) Did they apply the learning to their work?
4) Did they achieve measureable results?
5) What was the ROI for the business?

My boss shared with me that most training in North America only reaches level 1 and 2, and that my goal is always to reach the top levels. It’s a lesson I have never forgotten, and to achieve the upper levels there must be something that most training is sadly missing—follow up and accountability.

Now back to my lunch meeting and the advice I shared. While a business consultant can help direct conversations, interpret feedback and other metrics, and direct initiatives from a strategic perspective, there are a number of tactics that team leaders can use to improve performance and cultivate a learning culture in their teams:

1) Start: I know it sounds obvious, but pick a date, schedule a room and start. It becomes real when you have a date. Go ahead and send out the invites.

2) Have a Team Leader Run the Session: Unlike the supply teacher, the team WILL listen and support someone who is on the field with them every day. The leader understands the issues in context, and will be there long after the session is finished.

3) Follow Up: The key is not what is learned and talked about in the room, the real results are in the follow up. As I often say: “talk is good, action is better.” To stand out from the other (potentially time wasting) meetings, have everyone commit to one thing that they learned and how they will apply it. Asking the question, “what’s your first step” is a great way to clarify and get the ball rolling. Check in to see how team members are progressing toward their commitment at your next meeting, and then repeat the process.

My friend left our lunch meeting with an action plan and a newfound excitement. After focusing on leader led conversations, he was pleasantly surprised at how well the staff responded to new ideas and collaboration.

I am the first to admit that there are great times to bring in an outside speaker or consultant to provide a fresh perspective and inject some energy. However, real lasting results happen when leaders invest in themselves and their teams and have regular ongoing conversations.