Stop Wasting Money on Your Leadership Development Programs

July 10, 2012 by  Filed under: Management 

The past few years have seen a greater focus on leadership development perhaps not surprisingly after the GFC fall out, but what is the return on investment? In September 2011 IEDP, in association with Deloitte’s Leadership practice, surveyed over 300 executives on their perceptions and experiences of leadership development. The results were disappointing if not unsurprising. Just 7.9% of leaders rated their current leadership as reasonably effective and a 4.3% their leadership development as very effective So why is there so much dissatisfaction over leadership development? My view is that in spite of 20 years of research and identification of clear adult learning principles this understanding is not being translated into business leadership development design and practice.

We believe there are a number of factors, so in this short article let’s start with perhaps the most important thing to incorporate into your design of any leadership intervention.

How to Facilitate a personal motivation to change?

Learning has to be thought of as a personal change process. Leaders only commit to development that they can see a personal pay off for. When asked in the Deloitte survey what development is most effective for leaders? the overwhelming response (60%) was creating a personal development plan, or (47%) development aligned with their own career aspirations. These high preferences have also been echoed in previous Corporate Executive Council Research. The bottom line is if you want to roll out company wide leadership capability building programmes you have to find out about and work with the individual agendas of your trainees and not just the company agenda.

Neuroscience tells us the same thing: we are hard wired to prefer to be autonomous and we have a preference for our own ideas. Clearly the most effective learning is self-directed.

Also, we need to acknowledge that change is hard at an individual human brain level. Most people are experts at rationalising their own behaviours and finding excuses/reasons not to change. Leaders need to be actively helped to understand themselves their impact on others and their strengths and weaknesses. They need to develop a mental model of how they could be better or improve and they need to see a clear benefit for embarking on that journey. Without that clarity motivation and engagement is inconsistent at best, as is learning application.

If we want to generate real business impact from our leadership development interventions we believe we need to design in 2 things:

  1. To incorporate individualised activities that take account of the learners goals
  2. Treat the leadership development intervention as an organisational change activity.

Practically that means designing in some or all of the following:

  • Thinking around how the leadership intervention is communicated and contextualized, How all stakeholders are co-opted to support the change,
  • Using feedback, diagnostic and reflective tactics to help leaders clarify for themselves where they are and where they need to be.
  • Helping leaders to plan and systemise their action
  • Providing support mechanisms to help them keep focused and learning from their experiences.

You may think some of the above is common sense when designing a leadership and management program. All we can say is that we agree with Voltaire “Common sense is not common” In our experience Leaders have already invested heavily in their existing behaviours and need some help in reflecting and clarifying for themselves why changing might be a good idea going forward. Not to recognize how important this is for learning is liable to mean you are wasting your organisation’s money and time.

Graham Hart is a Director with leadership by Design a consultancy committed to fostering increased leadership impact the workplace. For more information on developing leadership skills and leadership and management programs check out their website leadership by design

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