Develop effective leadership skills in a way that has long-lasting impact.
Leaders of human resources and learning and development programs have grown accustomed to leaders resisting participation in leadership development programs. But why is there resistance to this sort of development? Why wouldn’t people want to sharpen their leadership skills? From my experience, the lack of interest is not driven by an unwillingness to develop those critical skills. More often, participants view the development opportunity as a waste of time. They tend to lack confidence that the program will promote desired behavior changes or result in necessary outcomes. DDI’s 2021 Global Leadership Forecast found that one in four leaders indicates that leadership development is either nonexistent or of low quality at their organization.
Are leadership development programs worth it?
In the U.S., that is a $166 billion question, at least according to Forbes, which says that is the annual spend on leadership development in the U.S. alone.  The answer to this question will vary among senior leaders/sponsors and those that are taking part in the program. Senior leaders view such programs as a necessary tool for an organization’s long-term sustainability. For anyone that is taking part in the program, however, the answer about value depends on some specific determining factors.
Here are seven ways to make leadership development programs worth it for participants
1. Ensure top-level alignment with the program
If you want people to buy into the program, they need to know that development is also important to senior leaders. This is critical. To ensure the rest of the leadership team understands the program’s importance, messaging needs to start from the top of the organization. According to a 2019 study from Mercer Mettl on leadership development trends, “30% of organizations are unable to create effective leadership development programs due to lack of senior management involvement.”
30% of organizations are unable to create effective leadership development programs due to lack of senior management involvement. Mercer | Mettl - 2019
Partner with your C-suite and business unit leaders and start talking about the benefits of the program. Help them understand what you expect the program to accomplish and how it will help solve business problems. Once you’ve got them hooked, ask them for their help to ensure the objectives of the program are met. A great way to do this is to involve senior leaders in broad communication efforts. Offer support if they need it. This is important. You need to secure buy-in from senior leaders and communicate their support.
2. Establish goals and expectations for the program
To know if the program was valuable, you have to set measurable goals. Before launching the program, be clear on the investment that will be required and what you expect the organization will get in return in the form of business outcomes. Not only will you be able to measure this program’s success, but you will also gain credibility for developing future programs.
Work with your business unit leaders to identify the critical business outcomes. The business outcomes could include, for example, better team performance, reduced employee turnover, higher quality scores, etc. Ultimately, the outcomes should tie back to increasing revenue or decreasing expenses in some way.
3. Consistently plan and track development activities
Creating a plan regarding development activities will go a long way to increasing their positive impact within the organization. Leaders are strapped for time. Giving them a structured plan to make development an ongoing part of their schedule will help reduce barriers to change.
This one might seem simple, but it is often overlooked. Provide a template for people that will help them create a change plan, making it easy to document what they will do differently. The plans can then be used in follow-up conversations with the senior leadership team on how successfully they are adopting their plan.
Check out this development plan template you can use with remote employees.
4. Demonstrate the value at all levels with a communication plan
Change is hard, and it’s often difficult for people to change habits or do things differently. If people don’t understand the benefits, how the program will impact them directly, or if there is low confidence in the program, getting people to engage with the program will be a challenge.
Communication is key here. In conjunction with No. 1 on this list (secure senior leaders’ support), pump up the benefits of the program in a series of communications. If possible, share how the program will solve problems at the organization, team, and individual level if you can. These communications will help you get people to see how this program will positively impact their daily life.
5. Integrate lessons learned into coaching and feedback sessions
A quick way for your programs to lose traction is to avoid the step of integrating what you learned into your business processes. Leaders need to be supported beyond the learning event, and they also need to see that other leaders are integrating the program objectives into their routines. According to the DDI 2021 Global Leadership Forecast, “Organizations, where leaders practice and receive feedback from managers, are 4.6x more likely to have high-leader quality and bench strength.”
The systems the leadership team uses need to reflect the expectations of the business. This means, for example, that if you’re expecting your leaders to coach their employees differently, you need to make this change part of the organization’s systems. Update processes as needed as a way to reduce barriers to long-term sustainability. This might involve using a standardized form to plan and execute coaching sessions, or for goal setting. If you’ve purchased a vendor-developed program, most of them provide additional resources for your implementation. Use them! You paid for them!
6. Ask your people about development gaps
Another great way to build buy-in beyond pumping up the benefits of your program is to do a little bit of crowd-sourcing. This is a great way to gain insights into the skills people want to develop and where people think the gaps are in the organization.
Make sure to get broad perspectives here so that you can have a diverse representation of the leadership team. While meeting the expectations of your senior leadership sponsors is important, you also need to ensure you’re meeting participants’ needs and meet the organization’s objectives.
7. One size rarely fits all
If you have done some crowd-sourcing, you may have found that everyone wants something different for their leadership development! This is not surprising. The workforce is more diverse than ever today, which means it is going to be more difficult to find solutions that work on a broad level.
One way to solve this issue would be to take a slightly different approach and encourage more opportunities for decentralized leadership development. Instead of enrolling your entire leadership team in a particular program, focus on individual skills and performance gaps. Do you lose some control over what is being delivered? Yes, because the learner is empowered to make a choice. What you might gain, however, is stronger buy-in since people’s learning focus will be individualized.
Why is leadership development important?
OK, if you’ve come this far, you probably already know that developing a leadership bench strength is more important now than ever. Fifty-five percent of CEOs say that developing the next generation of leaders is their top challenge (DDI 2021 Global Leadership Forecast). Daily, more than 10,000 baby boomers become eligible for retirement. Every day we lose individuals in our organizations who are traditionally loyal and carry years of “tribal knowledge” with them, along with their experience, sense of history, and, most importantly, their mentorship role.
Make an impact on your development programs.
At this point, you should have plenty of tools for your toolbox to give your leadership development programs a fighting chance to have a long-lasting impact. Simply buying a program and facilitating it to a group of leaders is not going to work for you! Take some time to engage senior leaders, carefully plan out your program, determine how it will impact the business and how to measure that impact, and communicate effectively to the leadership team, and you will see a noticeable difference.
Does your talent strategy need some guidance?
JMM Advisory Group can help you develop high-performing leaders that drive results. Using tools and workshops powered by The Predictive Index, we help unleash the potential of your managers and teams. Contact us if you’re interested in learning more about how we help you and your peers grow as leaders, motivate your team, and free up your schedule.
JMM Advisory Group is a talent strategy consulting firm that employs the best talent optimization tools to help organizations hire the right people, manage and inspire them to achieve maximum business results as fast as possible.
About the author.
Jason Davis is the Founder and Principal Consultant at JMM Advisory Group. Jason has nearly twenty years of experience navigating the corporate environment with more than ten years dedicated to learning and talent development.