Leadership development is a major source of competitive advantage for many organisations, but how confident are you that your L&D spend translates into actual business benefits? It’s a critical question for HR, L&D, and talent professionals, since unfortunately the bulk of training expenditures do not transfer to the job.  Poorly designed development provides little more than a Hawthorn effect: a warm glow which fades before participants have returned to their to-do-lists. Why is so much learning and development ineffective?
Two big reasons why leadership development can fail to transfer into any meaningful business impact are that the design isn’t sufficiently anchored into what’s happening in the business, and the leaders participating it aren’t fully receptive to changing their behaviour.
Business Relevance: To have real business impact, leadership development programmes must be grounded in your business reality; based on an in-depth understanding of your current operating environment, your strategy, and where the business needs to go. It seems obvious, but we’re regularly invited to talk to new clients following a disappointing development programme, where a previous provider gave only superficial consideration of the business context in which participants were operating. Context must run through the core of a development programme, not be a superficial sprinkling on the top. This may mean resisting management consultants’ pre-conceived ideas about the qualities your leaders need to develop, or the latest fad on the HR circuit!
Participant Receptivity: If participants aren’t motivated to change, investment will be wasted. Motivation to learn, to adopt new behaviours, and to apply them in practice is a significant determining factor in the ultimate success of training and development.
Rigorous assessment enables you to identify the specific development needs of each individual against the mindset and skillset shifts required to lead successfully within the current and future operating environment. Don’t assume you know where people need to develop; instead assess the gaps between current capability and required performance, plus ask participants where they want to develop.
Assessment-informed development also creates receptivity to change; mindsets are shifted through high quality assessment feedback. It’s not just about telling the individual how they performed in an assessment exercise, or how they responded in their personality test; they already know that. Instead, it’s about getting into a much deeper conversation about what the impact could be if they were to change, why they aren’t doing that already, what does that mean to them and their organisation, and what the challenges are for achieving it.
Once it becomes clear how the future of the business is different, why carrying on as before won’t work, and what the change ask is, the foundation is set… Next month we’ll look at the design of development initiatives, and why some are more likely than others to lead to demonstrable ‘in-role’ behaviour change.
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- Grossman & Salas (2011), The transfer of training: what really matters, International Journal of Training & Development, 15, 103-120.
- Colquitt et al. (2000), Toward an Integrative Theory of Training Motivation: A Meta-Analytic Path Analysis of 20 Years of Research, Journal of Applied Psychology, 85, 678-70.