Last month’s article, ensuring L&D spend has an impact, identified two essential foundations which can prevent leadership development translating into meaningful business benefits: failing to anchor development into your business reality, and failing to create receptivity to change among leaders.
Once these conditions for change are set, next ensure that the design of development interventions taps into the critical levers that will create the biggest shift within your business. How?
Understand the limits of ‘off the shelf’ solutions
Whilst off the shelf solutions may be seen as cost-effective, to expect a significant impact on your bottom line, development initiatives must be focused on helping leaders to acquire the exact skills needed for successful execution of your specific business’s strategic change agenda. Anything outside of this will be wasted effort and fail to shift performance in the desired direction.
Focus on critical talent populations
To maximise L&D spend, identify and focus on your critical talent populations; often these are those on your senior succession plan, but they should also include people in functions critical to the execution of your business strategy. Don’t make assumptions about capability gaps, conduct robust assessments to ensure investment is directed where it’s most needed.
Intentionally leverage leaders’ experience
Although the 70:20:10 rule has little empirical basis, the value of experience in leadership learning is undeniable. However, learning from experience doesn’t happen automatically. Without support individuals typically struggle to learn from experience or even learn the wrong lessons. So design secondments and stretch assignments to deliver both the business imperatives and strategic development objectives. Create opportunities to accelerate on-the-job learning through a carefully designed after action review process that enables individuals to learn from experience and enhance leadership behaviours. Provide high quality coaching and feedback. Aldous Huxley is quoted as saying, “Experience is not so much what happens to you, as what you make of what happens to you.” Given time to reflect on their experience, employees improve their performance significantly more than those who use the same amount of time to accumulate more experience.
Recreate your (current and possible future) business reality
Bridge the ‘transfer gap’ between artificial learning environments and the ‘on-the-job’ reality through high fidelity experiential learning. Bespoke simulations designed to reflect critical leadership abilities or skills required in your business allow for presentation of real-world situations that enable participants to intervene, plan, make decisions, and evaluate the consequences of their actions in a relatively safe environment. Well-designed business simulations accelerate learning from experience and enable leaders to practise strategy execution in risk-free, competitive, and future-orientated environments.