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Do Development Programmes Actually Work?

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You would expect a firm of business psychologists who offer development programmes to say ‘yes’ to this question. But in our view, there are many development programmes that simply do not work because they offer generic solutions to specific business challenges.

The business case for development programmes is strong. 60% of business leaders say that improving the performance of key people is a top 3 priority for 2017. Research from Deloitte suggests that businesses with close alignment between business objectives and talent practices generate more than twice the revenue per employee.  The evidence is clear – companies that focus on capability development of their people outperform those that don’t.

So how do you create development programmes that have impact? These are the guiding principles we have built up through our years of experience:

Make talent development a business strategy not just an HR strategy

The development programmes with the most impact are built upon the key people requirements to deliver the business strategy. For example, one of our clients focused their development on the people who had the greatest impact on sales as they needed to increase top line growth. Many development programmes are offered to a range of business leaders with generic content, often leading to disappointing impact. The more relevance to strategy, and the more business leaders get behind the approach and partner with HR, the greater the impact.

Know your start point

There’s a huge risk in investing in a programme which is not underpinned by a clear understanding of the critical skills gaps that affect business performance. It is essential to identify the capability gaps within your target group and the best way of doing this is through pre-assessment and an understanding of the model of future business.

Offer the best solution

Talent mobility programmes and coaching can have as much if not more impact on business performance than a classic 18 month leadership programme – depending on the outcomes you wish to create. For example, another of our clients needed to increase cross-functional collaboration to deliver more innovative solutions. Rather than run a traditional development programme, they created cross-functional team panels, with immediate results.

Pinpoint measurable impacts

It is difficult to measure the success of development programmes in the short term, but not impossible. Don’t just focus on the end state – identify progress points along the way that demonstrate behaviours are moving in the right direction. This is far more motivating for those involved and focusses attention on behaviour change as a process rather than a one-off activity. It also enables you to refine and shape your programme.

Look at the barriers to behaviour

To reap the greatest rewards from your interventions, any programme has to be developed with your culture in mind. New behaviours will easily be extinguished if the people outside the programme are unreceptive to change. The rest of the organisation needs to understand the changes that are being proposed, and then support them.