I HAVE a degree in adult education and have been running workshops for frontline leaders for over 20 years now.

If there is one thing I have learnt from working in industries of all shapes and sizes in big cities, regional centres and rural areas across Australia, New Zealand and Asia, it is this: Workshops don’t work — on their own.

Many people are of the mistaken belief that the most critical point in their frontline leader development programmes occurs during the delivery phase.

They think of workshops as being like the magic beans that Jack planted in the ground to grow his beanstalk.

When I am asked to run a workshop to develop frontline leaders, I know that the success or failure of that programme will not rest on my ability to design and deliver a workshop.

While I pride myself on delivering outstanding workshops, I am well aware that this is just one of four critical points in any successful development programme.

Without the other three, even the best presenter and perfectly tailored content will not have the maximum impact.

The four critical points are:



•   Select the right people to go on the programmes rather than coercing people to be involved;

•           Get participants excited about being involved, including overcoming their negative preconceptions of past programmes;

•   Answer their questions about the process they will go through so there are no surprises when the programme starts;

•           Establish a benchmark of their current knowledge and skills so you can measure progress at the end of the programme;

•           Ask them to prepare for the learning process by reviewing relevant materials;

•           Introduce them to the people who will be presenting the programme so they can start getting to know each other; and

•   Brief their leaders so they can support their people from the start.



•   Provide an environment where people feel comfortable questioning existing practices;

•   Involve your senior leaders in the delivery of the programme so they can role-model the right behaviour and develop stronger relationships with frontline leaders; and

•   Stagger the workshops so you can create opportunities for participants to learn between sessions with individual or group projects.


At the end

•   Show them how to take the content and turn it into learning;

•   Walk them through an action planning process to keep the momentum going; and

•   Offer a range of extra resources so they can continue their learning after the formal part of the programme is finished.



•   Create a support system from within the organisation that encourages them to test their new skills;

•   Give them ideas on how to implement their action plan; and

•   Provide a reinforcement system so the early energy they have does not fade once they are back on the job.


So the next time you hear someone in your organisation say “let’s organise a workshop”, remember that this is just one part of the process — not some magic bean that will instantly transform your leaders.

If you put the effort in before, during, at the end and after the workshop, you will see your results multiply before your very eyes.


Article by Karen Schmidt, an award-winning speaker, workshop leader and facilitator with Training Edge International. She helps frontline managers grow into frontline leaders using her workplace gardening philosophy. For details, e-mail karen.schmidt@trainingedgeasia.com or visit www.trainingedgeasia.com