Developing leadership talent is foundational to the sustainability of any organization. The Association  for Talent Development’s 2019 State of the Industry Report still ranks manager and supervisor training as the top learning content area for organizations –  a substantial investment for most. 

As external consultants supporting leadership development efforts, we’ve found that several of our clients feel their leadership development is lacking something or they are unsure they are targeting the right content. 

We share practices top of mind for us when assessing programs to ensure our clients yield the highest return on their investment in leader development.  When framing or re-framing an organization’s leadership development efforts, here are questions we ask and some examples of how others have implemented it:

1.  Is the content linked to key objectives, business needs, and your Mission? 

If you are unsure, ask those who already know, your executives and top performing leaders. Combined with best practices, this input helps narrow and prioritize the skills and behaviors that are mission critical.  

Ask top leaders what skills, competencies, or behaviors are critical day to day in achieving his/her goals AND how those skills directly contribute to achievement of the overall mission and business objectives. 

Time is a precious commodity for most leaders, so it is important that the relevance and significance of your courses are compelling and communicated.

2.  Are leaders applying learning?

An implementation plan is fundamental to a program’s ROI. 

For example, after attending a course on coaching, the implementation plan might be to conduct 10 coaching conversations with direct reports over the next three months. 

Communicating a plan for implementation from the beginning of enrollment helps learners know what is expected; promoting integration and accountability. 

Additionally, your learning environment is a perfect opportunity for real application.  Have learners work on complex problems that need to be solved in your organization. 

For example, ask participants to solve a recent supply chain delay or an ongoing customer concern or complaint. You might also have participants present their solution to a panel of executives or senior leaders, making sure you have an avenue for structured feedback. Our clients who do this are amazed at how often long-standing issues are resolved or evaluated in a compelling new way. 

In addition to being a great way to learn, this approach eliminates content development time on creating or working through complex made-up scenarios or role play activities. 

3.  Is the content expanding the leader’s toolkit? 

Participants should be given simple materials to use in their day to day work. 

Some examples of tools are: acronyms, flow charts, conversation guides, templates, reflection questions, checklists, etc. 

These tools may also be used to teach the concepts covered in class to their teams and others.  The concept of “learn, do, teach” cements learning, develops teams, and scales the impact of the development solution.  

4.  Is there an opportunity for both fine-tuning and hard-wiring?

When trying something new, providing a low-stakes environment to discuss what’s working and what isn’t, unrelated to his/her performance, makes all the difference. A few coaching conversations with a seasoned coach or internal mentor, who does not manage or supervise the learner’s work, is best practice.  Coaching, in addition to the classroom, creates higher learning outcomes.  In fact, coaching makes application 4 times more likely. 

When a learner knows that they will have a conversation with a coach about application, they will more likely take action based on what they learned.  

Simple questions like, “how is it going with X skill or behavior?” “what is going well?” “what would you like to do differently?” are effective. 

This coaching can be done on a 1:1 basis or in a group with internal or external coaches.

5.  Does the leader have ongoing support and accountability?

Learning doesn’t happen in a vacuum – real integration and ROI takes the whole organization’s commitment to keep learning priorities and practices top of mind. Involving the learner’s manager is a fundamental part of this. 

Involving the leader’s leader/manager with an outline of the learning objectives, learning goals specific to the leader, takeaways from conversations with his/her coach, and the plan for implementing new practices in their work, helps the manager support the learner and ensure accountability. 

This closes the loop on organizational integration of your program. 

6.  Is it inspiring and fun?

Inspiration and fun are often what draw us to want to gain new knowledge. 

After the course use inspiring articles, YouTube videos, Ted Talks, fun quizzes, and/or short practice sessions to combat the forgetting curve.

Contact us to consult on leadership development programs at your organization or to coach learners.

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