Ken Jacobs

The ROI of Training, Leadership Coaching, and Mentoring

By: Ken Jacobs | November 15, 2018 | 
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The ROI of Training, Leadership Coaching, and Mentoring

What’s the ROI of training, of investing in yourself, or others?

Many executives often ask me how they can determine how much time they should dedicate to leadership initiatives like coaching, mentoring, and training.

And they also want to know how they can determine or realize the ROI of the resulting efforts.

Most tell me that they already work 60+ hour weeks and their profit margins are slim.

So how can they possibly add to their already overworked calendar with leadership-related activities, for themselves, their lieutenants, and team members? How can they afford it?

The ROI of Training: Questions to Ask

In reply, I ask the following questions and ask them to consider these points:

  • Are they happy working those 60+ hours a week? Do they feel they’re focusing on their biggest priorities, and truly managing their time, rather than their time managing them?
  • They’re leading with every conversation, every email, every interaction with their teams, their clients, their bosses, and peers. As we say at iPEC, “The question isn’t ‘Will you lead?’ but ‘How will you choose to lead?’”
  • What’s the very real cost of leading ineffectively? What might the real value be, in both money and time, to be the most effective leader they can be in those moments??
  • Are they satisfied with their current levels of profitability? If not, what are they planning to do about it? What might the impact on profitability be if company communications were truly effective? What might the impact on efficiency be if staffers actually understood supervisor instructions, could envision what success looks like for each assignment, and handed in fewer, better drafts, and other work outputs that were closer to meeting the mark?
  • And what would they be willing to invest, in both time and money, to see major improvements regarding these four points, and many others? I remind them that I define such investments just as we would when investing in the stock market or other fiscal channels: Something they put in with the full expectation of getting substantial growth and return.

The ROI of Training: How Much Time Can You Spend?

I’m not sure that’s the right question.

The first question is “What are the areas in which we want our people to perform with excellence?”

Followed by…

  • What are our gaps?
  • What are the skill areas our teams will need in the next few years but don’t yet have?
  • When we review the performance reviews of our team members, what are the common threads?
  • In which areas do we most need to grow?
  • Is it skill areas like digital, SEO, and metrics/measurement/analytics? Social, content, and storytelling? Engagement and influence?
  • Is it client service or how to build client relationships?

Or perhaps it’s the agency and account management side, like how to budget an account and manage that budget, learning to effectively manage one’s time, or manage a production schedule.

Maybe it’s the “soft” skills of people leadership. How to motivate and inspire teams, how to navigate difficult discussions or even disagreements with directness and diplomacy, and how to lead one’s team, one’s peers, and yes, one’s boss.

(It always makes me smile when people call these “soft” skills because we all know that leaders who do them well are the most effective, successful, and fulfilled people on the planet!)

The ROI of Training: Size (Time) Matters

In addition to the skills training session attendees gain, if each training session has ample time for open forum discussion (mine do, intentionally) each attendee learns something about their fellow participants, especially if they don’t work together.

And they learn that there are other folks at this agency who are really smart about leadership, client service, social, digital, managing up…

You can fill in the topic of your choice.

But they now know they have other smart people to whom they can turn, beyond their teams and bosses, for answers and perspective. That’s a highly valuable added benefit.

How much time to spend depends on a few things: How big the team is, how many topics need addressing, how many levels there are, and who needs what training.

Depending on the size of the agency, you probably won’t make the progress you want with less than one internal training course per month.

But that’s internal.

Don’t forget the training programs and webinars individual team members can take independently. This is generally done on your dime, but on their time.

Overall, to answer the question, “How much time should I invest in coaching?”

I’d raise the age-old story about the agency leader who asks: “What if we train them and they leave?”

The wisest person on their leadership team responds: “What if we don’t train them and they stay?”

More seriously, imagine if even a small percentage of your team stepped up and, as a result of training, improved their performance in critical areas like leadership, client service, account management, enhanced communications or time management.

Wouldn’t it deliver ROI in productivity, client satisfaction, and organizational performance?

Agencies and other companies dedicated to smart training will tell you they have.

And so will you.

How Much Time to Spend in Leadership Coaching

Like all coaches, from time to time my clients reach out to cancel a session.

“It’s a crazy week.”

“It’s a stressful week.”

“My difficult client is in town.”

“My team is driving me crazy!”

Congratulations! You’ve just laid out why keeping this week’s coaching session is so critical!

(But I tell them nicely because I deeply want what’s best for my clients!)

And it’s true.

Leadership never takes a break. We’re always leading someone: Our clients, our management team, our broader staff members, and ourselves.

And it’s when the stress goes up—when clients or followers are pulling at us, when stress is nearly overwhelming, when we’re reacting, not responding or taking action, when there simply is no time in the day—that we most need coaching.

ROI of Training and Coaching: Define Leadership

Of course, that’s tied to my definitions of leadership.

One key is the ability to get the outcomes we want, for our organizations, our teams, our bosses, our peers, and ourselves.

Here’s one from the Institute for Professional Excellence In Coaching (iPEC) where I did my coaching training and earned three of my certifications:

Leadership is simply interaction where influence occurs. The influence can be positive or negative, focused consciously or unintentionally, and the impact can be minimal or maximal. A leader is the individual in the interaction who knowingly or unknowingly creates the greater influence in the other person.

And here’s another take on leadership, also from iPEC:

Leading is the way we help move people into action, including us. The question is not whether or not we are leaders, but how well we lead.

Leadership is different from management. And I believe that in many ways it’s more important.

If we’re focusing on and improving our leadership, by definition, it becomes easier to handle our management roles and tasks.

So the question, for me, isn’t how much time do we spend in leadership coaching, or other steps we take to become more effective leaders, but “Since I’m leading with every interaction, what steps can I take to become a more effective leader?”

And there’s no limit to the valuable actions we can take to become a more effective leader.

Know How You’re Perceived as a Leader

We may think we know ourselves as leaders, but in reality, just as consumers define what a brand really stands for, follower perceptions (and others) of our leadership and communications style is paramount, because they’re the ones who choose to follow us… or not.

So make sure when your company does their 360s, your direct reports and other key influencers in your agency are sharing their thoughts about your leadership performance.

Understand What Drives You

How effectively we lead is directly tied to what’s going on underneath.

Are our actions in sync with our values? Do we react when we should respond? Is our energy anabolic or catabolic?

Quite often, we have both tremendous wisdom and nearly limitless leadership potential, but something’s getting in the way of our success and effectiveness.

We must find out what this is.

I’ve used and received value from a number of assessments, including the Energy Leadership Index (ELI), Emotional Intelligence 2.0, and Taylor Protocols’ Core Values Index (CLI).

Connect With Other Leaders

Whether it’s with a Vistage Group, a professional association such as PRSA’s Counselors Academy, or groups and events designed to spread leadership wisdom, hearing other leaders share their leadership victories and challenges, and sharing your own, will help you see that you’re not alone.

Many other leaders share the same challenges as you, and supporting and being supported by your fellow leaders provides enormous benefit.

Hire Your Own Coach

Whether you call us executive or leadership coaches, the reality is coaching can be an incredibly powerful tool to improve your leadership performance.

The key is your willingness to “go deep,” and willing to do the work to create positive sustainable change.

Of course, it’s essential to find the right coach for you.

Most coaches offer an exploratory session at no charge.

I do this and have found that within a few minutes of speaking, I have a sense if I can help empower the person to achieve their goals, and they know if I’m right for them and if we’d be a powerful team.

Getting back to the question at the top of this section, how long should one expect to spend in or on leadership coaching?

Most coaching engagements require:

  1. Assessments, and obtaining existing performance feedback;
  2. Setting coaching engagement goals; and
  3. Actual coaching sessions, which may include some preparation.

In my experience, taking a few helpful assessments, and being debriefed on them takes seven hours max.

And the coaching, hour-long calls, twice per month, for six months, including completing a coaching session prep form, takes 15 hours.

So an investment of 22 hours, over approximately seven months, to become a more effective leader can, in turn, lead to greater business results, achieving and surpassing one’s career, organizational, and personal goals, and living a more fulfilled life.

I’m not a mathematician, but I’d say that’s pretty a substantial ROI!

The ROI of Mentoring?

While I’m not an expert on mentoring, I have mentored many professionals over the years, both formally and informally.

Currently, I’m mentoring three PR professionals. I’m helping, and I hope, empowering them in the areas of a job search, becoming an entrepreneur, and navigating the rocky roads of corporate life.

From their feedback, I’m doing a pretty good job.

Now that’s not because I’m a superstar mentor.  It’s mostly because I bring them one thing they couldn’t possibly have known about themselves: Objectivity.

They see their worlds, their performance, and their effectiveness from the inside out. I see these things from the outside in.

(In addition, I like to think my previous experience provides some valuable education.)

That’s external mentoring.

But what about internal mentoring, within one’s own organization?

I think it’s hugely beneficial and worth considering. The only caveat is the mentee shouldn’t fall under the mentor’s “chain of command.”

It can help with a number of issues which employees and executives typically face, but two rise to the top:

  • For entry-level employees learning the ropes of agency or corporate life, it allows them to ask “How can I handle this issue with a supervisor?” to someone other than that supervisor, or that supervisor’s boss. (I think it’s obvious why that won’t work.)
  • For mid-level employees, in addition to the issue mentioned above, it’s a great way to get input on how to grow from manager to leader. While said manager is hopefully getting training and feedback in this area from their boss, this is an area where multiple inputs are extremely helpful.

The ROI of Training, Leadership Coaching, and Mentoring

So whether we’re talking about training, leadership coaching, mentoring or other valuable professional development tools, the question isn’t how many hours should we be spending.

Instead, it’s about what we aren’t achieving by not encouraging ourselves and our teams to spend enough time in these areas, and what we might be able to achieve if we spent more time in them.

Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

About Ken Jacobs


Ken Jacobs is the principal of Jacobs Consulting & Executive Coaching, which empowers PR and communications leaders to breakthrough results via executive coaching, and helps communications organizations achieve their goals via consulting and training. You can find him at www.jacobscomm.com, ken@jacobscomm.com, @KensViews, or on LinkedIn.

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