The goal setting and action planning for leaders program: a sustainability strategy

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Many organizations today are choosing to provide leadership development programs for their leadership teams. These programs vary in their length, venue and style, however most of them have similar goals: to assist formal and informal leaders within organizations to learn the knowledge and skills required to develop and implement the programs necessary to advance the goals of the organization, and to contribute to building a culture which engages employees to participate in those plans. Once leaders complete these programs, the challenge for an organization is to ensure that what staff learn and practice “in” the program is continued once participants return to their everyday roles, responsibilities and pressures. Thus the challenge becomes how to sustain the learning that has occurred and the creative thinking that has resulted.

Sustainability is an important goal particularly when resources are limited and organizations must ensure they receive the appropriate return on their professional/organizational development investment. Sustainability is also important for participants in programs since their continuing education time is limited and the scope of their responsibilities often onerous. It is clearly unacceptable for either the employee or the organization to acquire new knowledge and skill and then not apply it to further the organization’s mission.

The Toronto East General Hospital (TEGH) has implemented a number of initiatives to achieve TEGH’s goal of developing a culture of leadership and innovation as part of their focus on becoming a healthy and agile organization with capacity for growth. As part of this overall organizational strategy, TEGH provided a formal six week leadership program as an open offering for all staff and initiated the program by offering it to its leadership team first. It was clear that to enhance the current level of performance, all staff who function in a leadership role such as chairing a unit based council, would be required to complete the leadership program. Working with a “learning partner” for mentoring and support was a key feature of the leadership program.

In order to ensure that the program learning did not “gather dust” and that leaders felt supported and encouraged to implement the leadership behaviour they had learned, Marla Fryers, Vice President, People Strategies & Chief Nursing Officer* met with donnerwheeler, a consulting firm specializing in building and sustaining organizational capacity (www.donnerwheeler.com) to discuss how TEGH and donnerwheeler might work together to develop a strategy to build on the leadership program and support staff who want to apply what they’ve learned.

As a result of that meeting it was determined that our Goal Setting and Action Planning for Leaders Program would be a good fit with TEGH’s needs. The purpose of the Program is to help leaders identify the support and resources they require to apply their ongoing learning and assume proactive leadership roles within the organization. This Program was delivered in three phases: a) a pre-workshop survey to identify learnings and areas for further development; b) a workshop that helped participants develop a plan for sustaining their learning; and c) a report back to the organization with recommendations, from both participants and the consultants for follow-up.

The objective of the Program was to provide an opportunity for the participants to identify their own visions and goals for their work and to articulate the support they needed to achieve those goals. In addition each participant described a “next step” or at least the beginning articulation of what they wanted to do next. From the outset it was evident that participants were very committed to the vision and mission of TEGH and wanted to be able to use their learning to advance that vision and accomplish the mission. The Program yielded an opportunity for each participant to develop a plan for utilizing their learning in their role as leader along with a concrete “first step” in implementation. Participants were also provided with an opportunity to articulate what further assistance they would require from each other and from the organization. The results and recommendations were forwarded to the Vice President. It was clear that individual coaching to provide ongoing assistance was a critical component of ensuring that the learning and strategies were implemented and sustained.

Leadership development is important to the growth and development of healthy and progressive workplaces. But as with any new learning, without the opportunity to implement the learning and be encouraged and supported to do so, we run the risk of alienating new and aspiring leaders and coming up short in achieving the organization’s objectives. Finding the right program for the right purpose is very important, but developing a clear strategy to ensure lasting change in behaviour including establishing the appropriate organizational infrastructure are critical to ensuring sustainability.