A 4 minute read –
Many are sceptical to the return on the investment made in leadership development. A promising new approach is to support leaders in their first 100 days in a new role, when many things change, success is in the balance and the level of learning at its highest. 20-25% of leaders change roles each year. Supporting early success for all these leaders, thereby laying the platform for their success throughout the 4.5 years in the role, must be the most effective approach possible to leadership development.
Leadership development is viewed as important but done ineffectively. A McKinsey study showed that 2/3 of executives rank leadership development as their top human-capital priority. A leading UK business school showed that only 7% of senior managers think that their companies develop global leaders effectively.
The leadership development industry is being digitalised rapidly (see Competitive trends in the leadership development industry). The level of real innovation, where digital technology is utilised to create radically new approaches, is very limited. There are perhaps only two exceptions: simulations and step-by-step support. See Digital tools on offer for effective leadership development for more. This article looks at step-by-step support for leader role transitions.
1. Success is created early
We believe that success is created early, or not at all. Usain Bolt was a notorious slow starter, but even he didn’t win the race if he got too bad a start.
It is the same for managers: if they struggle at the beginning of their time in a new role, they will probably struggle for the rest of the time they spend in that role.
Managers spend about 4.5 years in each role, on average. The frequency of role changes increased though the 80s and 90s but stabilised in the 2000s. Younger managers can spend as little as 2 years in a role, whilst older managers stay in role for 6 to 8 years.
If organisations could provide a standardised, best-practice based approach to helping managers succeed in their first 100 days in a new role, it would lay the platform for success for the full 4.5 years in role. Given that 20-25% of all managers change roles in any given year, such an approach would lift the performance of about ¼ of all managers annually! We cannot think of any other approach to leadership development that could give greater leverage. Can you?
2. Alternative approaches to leadership development
The alternatives to supporting success in the first 100 days are comparatively weak:
- The norm today is organisation-specific leadership development programmes, with a focus on personal development and the skills an organisation needs to teach its managers. Such programmes struggle to prove their worth. It’s very difficult to provide content that everyone present needs, and even more difficult to transfer learning from the programme to real life.Recent research has shown that, with the right design, such programmes can pay off, but over 60% of organisations still report that their leadership development approach isn’t providing the kind of benefit needed.The norm needs to change.
- 1-to-1 coaching and mentoring is now common and can be helpful. Some studies show positive effects of coaching in individual and organisational performance. However, coaching and mentoring are labour-intensive. The hourly rates for external consultants set a clear limit for how many managers can receive coaching. Internal mentors have very limited capacity as they are hit by the stresses of everyday life, like more than 100 emails every day.
In addition, both coaching and mentoring are a bit hit-and-miss as so much depends on the relationship with the coach.
Coaching is a good supplement, but not an overall solution.
- Gamified simulations, where users ‘play’ specific work processes or situations that are recreated in a virtual space, hold great promise. Users become hooked, repeating and embedding the learning again and again.
But such simulations are normally tailor-made for specific situations. They take time to create and are expensive.
Gamified simulations can work very well for large scale events and processes like teaching 1000s of airport staff their way around a new terminal building before it opens. For leadership development they are good for sprucing up programmes, adding to their blended nature, but don’t provide an effective one-size-fits-all.
- E-learning offers an enormous suite of skills programmes to choose from, interaction with other learners and the possibility of virtual coaching on top. Many organisations use their own managers and employees as teachers, adding to the authenticity. In that programmes can be created quickly and quite cheaply, the content can be tailor made to the situation. Use and value can be measured, and certification used as an end goal for the user.E-learning is displacing the traditional, primarily physical, leadership programmes described in point 1. Even mid-size organisations can create their own ‘Corporate University’ with their own curricula
3. The future
It looks like e-learning is the future, incorporating digital coaching and gamified simulations. Bigger organisations are already well on their way, and the transition to digitalised learning is of course accelerated by Corona.
But none of the approaches on offer today comes close to the potential effectiveness of focusing on success in a new role in 100 days. As stated above, a manager spends about 4.5 years in a role. That’s 1642.5 days. It follows that success in the first 100 days lays the platform for success for the following 1500. That’s a 15:1 payback. How can that not be the most effective leadership development approach possible?
If you want to know more, please Contact Us .We have the only avialble digital support programme for a manager’s first 100 days in a new role.
4 minute read –
Digitalisation is changing the competitive landscape in the leadership development industry. It is also potentially making programmes less effective by moving content further away from the leaders’ job context. The closer content mirrors reality the easier it is to apply. This article points to one segment bucking the trend that could be used as an example.
Leadership development is a major industry. Organisations spend about $70 billion per year on it across the world.
Like most industries it is being digitalised. New players are entering, and new approaches being tried out. Digitalisation opens for solutions that can deliver on the various improvement opportunities HR is looking for.
Most of the activity is happening within the 2 traditional areas of education and development:
In education new players such as Coursera and Udacity, who entered the market in 2011/2012, have developed large libraries of attractive digital courses provided through portals. These portals can be tailored to organisations and individuals within organisations.
It has become much easier and cheaper to provide knowledge that meets actual needs, as and when needed. This reduction in cost has led to more and more organisations setting up their own ‘corporate university’, managing and curating the portfolio of educational activities needed. Content is partly lifted from external providers, partly developed internally.
Old players have strived to stay relevant. IESE in Spain has been consistently ranked as no.1 in traditional executive education but Wharton in the US is the business school with the best online presence. Given that many organisations wonder if their leaders will ever see a classroom again, Wharton is likely to strengthen its position at the cost of IESE.
Many new players have entered the development space. In the pre-digital age, off-site physical development was often delivered by local or regional players. This has now changed with strong internationalisation. In addition, corona has accelerated digitalisation. Coaches, trainers and psychologists have scrambled to stay relevant by adapting their material for videoconference-based delivery.
Big international service firms like Deloitte, Korn Ferry and McKinsey are developing their product offerings for both analogue and digital delivery. New, purely digital players like Strivr, BetterUp and are developing fast, using technology to deliver new services.
The figure shows the development trends, primarily driven by digitalisation. Importantly, the figure also has a y-axis showing an on vs. off-the job dimension. This dimension is important for two reasons:
- The biggest problem for all education and development is to transfer what is learned into the real world. It is difficult to learn how to do something and then apply it. What is learned is all too often forgotten or deemed irrelevant.
- Most learning happens on-the-job. The accepted division is 70 (learning from doing) vs. 20 (learning from colleagues) vs. 10 (external instruction or support). Off-the-job approaches are confined to the 10% and are often viewed with scepticism.
Development is more easily related to the job than education. Participants learn through working on cases from their everyday work life. Coaching is based on real individual challenges. Assessment is often performed by colleagues and bosses. However, digitalisation of development can increase the distance between what is learned and the real-world. Content is more standardised, more difficult to tailor to the audience.
The same effect occurs for education. Digitalisation reduces the interaction that is necessary to ground the learning in the participants’ reality. That is why the lower two arrows in the graph point downwards.
There are a multitude of digital tools being offered as a part of these trends. Have a look at Digital tools on offer for leadership development for an overview.
3. Improvement opportunities
Despite potentially increasing the distance between learning and real life, digitalisation does deliver on a number of improvement opportunities. A major 2019 report from the Center for Creative Leadership (CCL) summarised what HR leaders say needs fixing:
The CCL report identified 2 other opportunities that digitalised education and development don’t deliver on (Content isn’t connected to the business; Leadership development isn’t consistently prioritised), but that a new approach focused on getting a good start does.
4. First 100 days
The first 100 days in a new role are crucial. On the upside, a good start lays the platform for high performance throughout the 4.5 years a manager is, on average, in a role. On the downside, a lot changes when managers change roles and this leads to many failing. Up to 40% underperform.
The first-100-days segment is shown at the top of the figure above. Help today is provided through individual coaching. This makes support too expensive to be available to more than a few managers at the top. The new digital coach for a manager’s first 100 days, Ella, is cheap and can be applied to all levels, especially more junior managers who need it most. The arrival of a digital tool opens for a whole new approach to leadership development that ticks all boxes:
Please contact us to find out more!
6 minute read –
We all use google searches to find answers to our questions. We often look at the videos google suggests for explanations. This teaching method can be adapted to provide leadership development.
Here we look at how you can apply the Google-method you use in your everyday life to learn stuff in creating new and more effective leadership development activities.
When your computer or mobile develops a glitch, or you need to find out how to use an app or programme, what do you do?
You google ‘how to….’, right? You click on the videos Google finds for you (probably available Google’s own Youtube) until you find one that explains what you should do. You follow the steps in the video and hey presto! you have (hopefully) fixed the problem. Relief!
Using the instructional videos Google points you to is a particular use for Google. You don’t just look up random facts. You use step-by-step instructional videos for a specific process. We all do this all the time. For everything. For mending washing machines, building a bookshelf, learning to dance. We also use step-by-step video instruction for less concrete skills like meditation, coaching or asking open questions.
2. Incredibly effective
Step-by-step video instruction is incredibly effective as it is based on our most basic learning technique: imitation. Large amounts of research have shown that babies can imitate sticking out their tongue just a few hours after birth.
When we use step-by-step video instruction, we are plugging into a primeval mechanism. Imitation is built into us. Even Einstein was caught in the act.
2. Adapted for leadership development
Step-by-step instruction is not extensively used in leadership development. The main reason is that leadership skills are ‘open’: they need to be interpreted for and adapted to the thousands of different contexts a leader finds themselves in. One size does not fit all. An approach might work for Person A but not B, and might not work for Person A on a different day.
There is only one way of mending problem X in a washing machine. Each step is predictable and can be filmed.
Even though leadership is contextual, the principles of step-by-step instruction can be adapted to create highly effective leadership development programmes. The key lies in the creation of a robust best practice for a specific leadership process.
Take the first 100 days for a leader moving into a new role as an example. This is perhaps the most valuable process there is for the individual leader. If they get things right, they set themselves up for success for the 4.5 years they will, on average, be in the role. Everything is new and the opportunities to fail many. Indeed, up to 40% underperform. But the opportunities to succeed are also many. The new leader brings a new perspective and can help solve issues that the team has struggled with ‘for ever’.
The first 100 days in a new role, like any leadership process, are not standardised. How can you compare the process for someone starting as the new CEO of Google with that of a new Foreman for 6 plumbers, or with the new Supervisor of 30 home helpers caring for the elderly?
The amazing thing is that they are comparable. All 3 should follow the same 5 steps:
The CEO, foreman and supervisor should all Prepare in a structured way, Position themselves effectively the first time they meet their new colleagues, Unite with their team, deliver Results as early as possible and Expand once they are set. The CEO may have to move more quickly, but the steps are the same for the homehelp Supervisor.
Dwell on this for a moment: each manager has, on average, 11 people reporting to them. It follows that Google, with its 114,00 employees, has about 9,500 managers of which about 2,100 change roles each year. All of them would achieve more if they followed best practice.
With best practice defined, videos and tools can be designed to help the leader succeed at each step of the way.
This ‘google-method’, with the definition of best practice and creation of supporting videos and tools, can be applied to leading team development, strategy creation, product development, purchasing etc. It has a strong future in leadership development.
The google method is but one tip for creating effective leadership development. Feel free to look at How to make leadership development effective for more. How to design and implement digital leadership development programmes can also be very helpful.
If you would like to learn more about the example referred to for a manager’s first 100 days in a new role, please contact us.
8 minute read –
Hitting participants’ needs is one of the 3 main challenges (needs, transfer, measurement) to ensuring that leadership development works, as identified in How to make leadership development effective. The accepted best practice approach of training needs analysis → identifying gaps → training gaps → measuring effect is ineffective. This article describes why needs analysis is so challenging and suggests 4 alternative ways to deal with participant needs.
There is no point in including topics that are not experienced as relevant by participants. They have to feel a real need to learn, either because the topic hits home personally or because they can see immediately how to apply what they learn in their own context, preferably to solve a pressing need. Lack of complete relevance, or delay until the learning becomes relevant for a future need, kills the effect of any development programme.
Organisations have to work out how to meet participant needs in leadership development programmes. And it’s difficult.
1. Accepted best practice is ineffective
Google searches about needs and training lead to recipes that look something like the model below:
The figure is a version of the best practice that learning and development professionals accept. Articles like this one, building off the received wisdom in all training and development textbooks, give practical advice about how to implement best practice. Business goals can be things like more innovation, better co-operation or more customer / service-user focus. These are broken down into competencies. Competencies relevant to particular roles are chosen, employees measured, gaps and needs identified, and training designed and run. The accepted best practice process is just as relevant for manager development as for general competence development for all employees.
The acceptance of best practice led, in the late 1980s, to HR functions building competence management systems. IT-systems were developed to manage all the competencies, roles, gap evaluations and learning activities. Individual managers and employees struggled to find the time to run both goal setting and competence development processes (the two halves of Performance Management). However, the understanding that competence was important + the desire to have structured, measurable systems means that everyone still follows the accepted best practice pretty faithfully.
The approach is cumbersome and most managers and employees see it as overly bureacratic. The quality in conversations about real needs is compromised. The link between training and need is too weak.
Indeed, this approach underestimates the complexity of identifying needs. Measuring gaps to expected performance on pre-defined competences is a gross oversimplification.
2. Needs analysis is difficult
Learning is a process that starts with a need. Needs can be internal or external:
- Internal: curiosity, a desire to achieve mastery, or wanting recognition are natural, internal needs that drive learning.
- External: the need to close an external gap between the status quo and a desired state also drives learning.
Internal and external needs work together. An external gap, for example impressing a boss, boosts the strength of the internal drivers like curiosity, the desire to achieve mastery and wanting recognition.
Change, as most of us conceive of it, doesn’t come without a gap. Rehabilitation for an alcoholic starts with “My name is Jane; I am an alcoholic”. In making such a statement publicly, Jane recognises the unacceptability of the status quo and the need to do something about it. She will now be open to learning new ways of mastering her challenges.
2.1 Recognising needs is difficult
Recognising personal development needs is complicated. Self-respect, embarrassment, denial, and rationalisation all get in the way to a certain extent, for all of us, all the time. Not just for alcoholics.
We have multiple ongoing ‘conversations’ with ourselves and others about our learning and development needs. These conversations are influenced by a mixture of self-doubt and self-criticism on the one side, and pride and contentment on the other. And our view on ourselves can change from moment to moment.
These mechanisms are equally relevant for learning in the workplace as in all other parts of life.
2.2 Specific challenges for leaders
In conversation with a recently retired General (ex-Head of the Army) the other day he said that admitting to weaknesses and vulnerabilities became more and more difficult through his career.
Leaders build strength, convincing themselves that they are worthy to lead others. The higher they go, the more convincing to be done. The effort to do this takes space at the expense of the self-doubt and self-criticism that are necessary for the recognition of gaps in oneself.
This journey is, of course, individual. Some retain humility whilst others become self-righteous, denying their faults. But the process is the same for everyone. There is a clear tendency to become less humble as we climb the hierarchy.
2.3 Organisations are defensive
Organisations are beset by defensive reasoning that makes recognising gaps difficult. Defensive reasoning becomes a part of the culture, reinforcing the difficulties employees and leaders have in recognising gaps.
One of the leading management scientists of the 20th century, Chris Argyris, made his name through discussions of defensive reasoning in organisations. His concept of double-loop learning, where reflective honesty and open information bypass organisational defences and lay a platform for deeper learning, is a cornerstone of the field of organisational learning.
Not many organisations manage to achieve double-loop learning. The classic example of failure is Kodak, with a fatal outcome. They stuck to physical film whilst digital technology wiped out their market. Management had a litany of ‘good’ reasons to stick to what they knew. Systemic racism in the Police in any country is another example, where admission of a need to change is very difficult. Again, defensive reasoning protects the status quo.
All organisations have their versions of defensive reasoning.
So, not only is accepted best practice ineffective, it grossly underestimates the difficulties involved in identifying needs.
Luckily, there are practical alternatives.
3. The normal solution: generic frameworks
As described above, needs analysis is difficult and the systems developed to manage competence are complicated and bureaucratic.
The normal solution is to base leadership development programmes on generic frameworks. Business goals, like more innovation, are translated directly into models and frameworks for how to manage innovation. Training in these models is then rolled out. Participants become experts in the general principles of managing innovation.
3.1 Breaking accepted best practice
Jumping from business goal to generic framework means that participant needs are generalised and assumed, not mapped and addressed.
This breaks the accepted best practice philosophy. Innovation isn’t broken into competencies and mapped to roles.
Managers are not evaluated. Gaps not defined. Without the baseline per manager it isn’t possible to measure effect per individual.
Given that accepted best practice is ineffective, discarding it in this way is a good thing.
Have a look at How to measure the impact of leadership development programmes if you are interested in alternative methods for measuring effect.
But how does the manager now transfer their understanding of general principles to the specifics of their work context?
3.2 The transfer problem
Leadership developers work hard to make it easier to transfer learning from the generic to the specific. Practice sessions in a leadership development programme are normally based on real life cases that make the principles relevant. If the participants are lucky, they are called upon to use their learning immediately, perhaps in a project chosen as a ‘lab’ for their learning.
Irrespective of how the programme is designed, if it is based on generic concepts, the participant will struggle to transfer learning.
4. The cultural solution: the learning organisation
In section 2 above we described how difficult it is to identify and analyse needs because people are complicated. We can talk about needs analysis as if it is simple, but that doesn’t change human nature.
Needs analysis can be made simpler if the organisational culture is an enabler rather than a blocker. As an example, if an organisation is politicised, with leaders manipulating information and jockeying for position, the level of openness and trust is likely to be low. The motivation to admit fault, reveal vulnerability and discuss personal development will be limited. People will be too worried about how any admission of fault or vulnerability will be used against them.
There are 2 main approaches to managing culture: the direct and the indirect. The direct approach is to talk about it, developing values or principles and evaluating whether the organisation manages to live up to its aspirational statements. The indirect approach is simply to do things differently. These changes become habits and influence the organisation’s values indirectly. This is most easily seen with the introduction of a new leader. If they do things differently the culture changes by default, bit by bit.
The concept of the learning organisation is perhaps the most relevant source of inspiration in this area. The term was coined by Peter Senge and popularised in his book The Fifth Discipline in 1990.
5. The gestalt solution: surface and address the need ‘live’
Gestalt-based leadership developers get the participants to describe and focus on their needs by taking a completely different approach. They bring unproductive behaviour patterns to the surface by asking questions about how the pathway to achieving goals is broken.
The unproductive behaviour patterns are synonymous with what needs to be fixed. In the gestalt world they are called broken gestalts.
Fragments of both the problem and solution appear when participants talk about how things work in their context. The key to this approach is the skill of the facilitators. They have to get the ball rolling in the right way, build trust with the participants and delve deeper and deeper, step by step.
A successful gestalt-based Scandinavian leadership development company ran 3-day development processes based on one introductory question:
“Please give the feedback that is necessary for achieving X”.
where ‘X’ was an important programme being run in the organisation. There was no other pre-determined structure.
The facilitators helped the group explore the issues that stood in the way of success, developing the solid floor of trust necessary for the participants both to talk more honestly and to come up with new ideas.
The approach is very process oriented. It is not based on teaching frameworks, though the facilitators point to frameworks spontaneously to help explain things that happen during the process. It is difficult to describe beforehand what will happen as the value emerges during the process. It is therefore an approach that is difficult for organisations to buy. It can also be a personally challenging process for participants.
When run well, it works well. The factors that limit management’s ability to fulfil an organisation’s potential are aired and fixed. That creates real value and the participants go through a powerful learning experience.
6. The digital solution: provide choice
The digitalisation of leadership development has led to a rapid increase in choice. Some even imagine that a good google search could replace all structured leadership development one day. Individual leaders will simply put together their own set of learning activities, mixing free and purchased material (have a look at The google method for effective leadership development for more).
When the individual finds their own support and development activities online, the choices are needs-driven. No needs analysis is needed. The need appears and the matching solution is found instantaneously.
We believe that there will still be a need for structured programmes and want to provide an example where the participant chooses from a menu of tools that are relevant to their situation.
6.1 Management role transitions
Leaders face real challenges when starting in a new role, whether as the product of an external or internal move. A lot can change with a new boss, colleagues, team members, customers, service users, goals, tasks, work processes, IT-systems, location, culture etc. When a lot changes, a lot can go wrong.
When research tells us that up to 40% fail, it is clear that a programme that boosts the success rate would be helpful.
6.2 A menu to choose from
Ella, the digital coach supporting success in 100 days, helps the manager follow best practice and offers a menu of tools per step.
The point here is that the user is expected to adapt the programme to suit their specific needs.
There are more tools than most managers will want to use, but that is the nature of a menu. You take what you want. You don’t eat all the main courses on offer.
The tools are relevant to the situation. For example, all managers benefit from systematic preparation before they start in a new role. As part of preparing, all managers need to understand their role, targets and context (tool 1.4). They are also dependent on a network as they work with and through others to create results (tool 1.3). Some may be interested in their chances of success (1.1) and whether they have the competencies needed (1.5 and 1.6). Others may be interested to revisit their motivation for the job (1.2).
The point is that they choose the tools most relevant for them, jumping over a needs analysis. They also jump over the transfer problem as the tools are directly linked to their work. They are doing their work in Ella and learning as they go.
We believe the textbooks are wrong to focus so much on needs analysis. This focus has produced cumbersome, bureaucratic competence management systems that provide limited value, especially to management development. We believe it is more effective to choose different ways to match participant needs with training content. Digitalisation offers many opportunities see Competitive trends in the leadership development industry for more), as do cultural and gestalt solutions, as well as the normal approach of teaching generic concepts.
If you want to understand more about how a digitally supported approach to helping leaders succeed in 100 days can benefit your organisation, please contact us.
8 minute read –
Despite being a major global industry worth about $70 Billion, Leadership Development is beset by scepticism. Many believe there is no pay-off as they see that 3 main challenges remain unsolved:
- Needs – programmes don’t accurately fit participants’ needs
- Transfer – what is learned isn’t applied back at work
- Measurement – it is too difficult to measure outcomes
Research into the improvements made over the past 30 years show that there can be a good pay-off if certain criteria are fulfilled. This article describes the main improvements and takes that thinking a few steps further, showing how innovative digital technologies can be applied to boost pay-off on a consistent basis.
Many managers and HR professionals do not believe that leadership development programmes are effective. The literature is full of surveys documenting that organisations don’t think they are getting bang for their buck.
I was sceptical as well. I was responsible for HR in a company with operations in 26 countries and sales in 100. We had only one permanent leadership programme, for new managers. New Manager needs are undeniable and very similar, and it is easy to create a programme that gives real value. There were short-term upskilling stunts in technology areas, but I made sure there were no other permanent corporate programmes. I was pretty militant.
I now think I was simply not knowledgeable or creative enough to design programmes that worked.
By the way, ‘leadership development’ is used here to mean structured programmes aiming to improve leadership skills and develop the individual. Educational programmes based around specific courses in subjects like marketing, accounting or digitalisation are not included.
1. Leadership development: unsolved challenges
People’s scepticism is based on three key challenges not being solved. The most basic of those is meeting participants’ needs.
There is no point in including topics that are not experienced as relevant by participants. They have to feel a real need to learn, either because the topic hits home personally or because they can see immediately how to apply what they learn in their own context, preferably to solve a pressing need. Lack of complete relevance, or delay until the learning becomes relevant, kills the effect of any development programme.
The organisation is often pretty good at defining organisational needs like more innovation, better co-operation or sharper thinking. The logic is that all managers need to develop in the key areas, but it is very difficult to make these needs, that are defined top-down, relevant to Mike and Mary Manager in Order Handling or Finance. Mike and Mary often do not recognise the need for themselves or their context.
Have a look at our article How to meet participant needs in leadership development programmes for some pointers on how to deal with the Needs challenge
The second challenge is how the learning should be transferred so that it is applied in practice. It would be great if the new competence just jumped from “Best Practice” research through a programme to the workplace. But that just does not happen.
Even if the learning is relevant for real needs, it can still be difficult to transfer it from an off-site context to real life. To be as relevant as possible for all participants, programmes teach generalised concepts and approaches. It is challenging to translate generic concepts into useful practice.
In addition, the work context the participant comes back to after training can be problematic. For example, the participant’s colleagues can ignore, not be curious about or resist any new ideas and changes. The participant’s boss is often not close enough to the situation to provide relevant support. Even worse, the boss can often negate new approaches through disinterest or lack of information. And everyone’s days are so busy that it is difficult to find time and things are quickly forgotten.
The third challenge is how to measure the of any particular programme. It is especially difficult to tie programmes to bottom-line results.
Organisations really struggle to prove that what is learned in a development programme impacts results like more efficiency, stronger innovation or happier colleagues.
For such a large industry it is a disaster not knowing whether the investment pays off.
We outline some answers to the Measurement problem in How to measure the impact of leadership development programmes.
With these three challenges it is no wonder so many organisations do not believe that they are getting a return on their investment in leadership development.
2. Leadership development: improvements already made
- Organisations and leadership developers are aware of these challenges and have been working to overcome them for 30 years. A very thorough meta-analysis performed by Lacarenza et.al. in 2017, summarising the findings of 335 individual studies, shows that good practice can work. Leadership development drives results when it is delivered in the right way.
2.1 Results of leadership development: how they are measured
The researchers used the classic Kirkpatrick framework for their research. The idea is that there are 4 types of effect, each one leading to another, each more important than the last. The first is that the Reaction has to be positive, supporting effective Learning that leads to changes in Behaviour that drive Results.
That sounds simple but it is especially hard to measure levels 3 and 4. So called ‘smile sheets’ filled in after a session give data for level 1; tests of retention for level 2. Few apply such tests, but they are quite easy to do, in theory.
Have a look at How to measure the impact of leadership development programmes for some answers. With traditional leadership development it takes a major research effort to measure level 4 Results. Most organisations are not able to allocate the necessary resources.
2.2 Criteria for effective leadership development
Lacarenza et.al. found that the effect on results was greatest for programmes that:
- Based content on a needs analysis. If the programme focuses on things the participants have to deal with in their everyday work, they will pay attention.
- Provided feedback. Learning is more effective if you know if what you are doing has the desired effect. An absence of feedback leads to potentially wrong learning or loss of interest.
- Used multiple delivery methods, especially practice. The variation keeps the participants’ attention and motivation up. Practice makes the learning real. This is called ‘blended learning’.
- Used spaced training sessions. This allows for practice in-between and avoids packing more than participants can cope with into each session.
- Were run on-site. This is only relevant for physical training and is compared to off-site. Doing things on-site brings the learning closer to reality.
2.3 Size of improvement to leadership development programmes
Lacarenza et.al. found that well designed leadership training programmes give significant effects at all 4 levels of the Kirkpatrick framework of measurement.
- At level 2, well designed programmes gave a 25% increase in Learning
- At level 3, programmes fulfilling the best practice criteria led to a 28% increase in the desired leadership Behaviours in the job. The learning had been transferred.
- At level 4,
- the individual leader performed 20% better
- there was a 25 % increase in organizational Results
These results are amazing and very encouraging. They put sceptics like me to shame. The question remains how to operationalise the findings in practice.
3. Making leadership development work in practice
We have 3 recommendation regarding leadership development work.
- Process: First, and most importantly, don’t just focus on the programme or learning activity. Development is a long-term process. Focus on what happens before and after the programme.
- Context: Second, relate everything back to the participant’s context, all the time.
- Accountability: Finally, reinforce accountability for everyone, not just the participant but everyone around them like their boss, colleagues, co-participants etc.
Like all high-level recommendations, the value lies in unpacking them.
The content is often more interesting and challenging than the plain wrapping might suggest.
3.1 Think about leadership development as a process
Effective leadership development is the sum of the steps in a process, not a learning event. HR is often too focused on the event, and too little on the overall process.
We believe that organisations should apply the following process:
Need → Baseline → Prepare → Engage → Apply → Measure
The ‘Engage’ step refers to the leadership development programme itself. The focus is to engage the participants. The other steps occur before and after. The sum of all 6 steps drives the programme’s impact. The organisation should support the participant in moving through each of these steps. Each step is described below.
3.1.1 Map Needs
Learning is a process that starts with a need. Change doesn’t come without one. Rehabilitation for an alcoholic starts with “My name is Jim; I am an alcoholic”. In making such a statement publicly, Jim recognises the unacceptability of the status quo and the need to do something about it. He will now be open to learning new ways of mastering his challenges.
Recognising personal development needs is complicated at the best of times. For leaders in an over-busy world have their own particular challenges. Aggregating those needs for the multiple cohorts that go through leadership development programmes is also difficult. No wonder Needs is one of the 3 key challenges. Have a look at our article How to meet participant needs in leadership development programmes for some answers.
3.1.2 Set Baseline and Measure impact
Leadership development costs money and time. We often have little of both. We need to make sure that our investment is paying off. Taking the extra time involved in defining a baseline and measuring effect against that baseline, is a ‘must do’.
Using before and after 3600 measurements is the most common way of doing this. It isn’t very complicated but there are a number of pitfalls to be avoided. Have a look at our article How to measure the impact of leadership development programmes for a practical guide to how to do this.
3.1.3 Ensure people Prepare
Clarifying the need, defining the baseline and setting a date for a programme are all part of preparation. But there is more. The more prepared and eager the participant, the better the learning outcome.
It is like packing to get ready for a trip.
As you pack you visualise what can happen, develop strategies for dealing with challenges, and come up with new ideas for what you could do.
There are many practical things the participant can engage in that build excitement and expectation:
- make plans with a boss, mentor, or coach, discussing the support they will need
- focus in on specific challenges, interviewing stakeholders to involve them in the process
- Pre-reading or taking digital modules
- Chatting to past participants
3.1.4 Build Engagement
Learning programmes have to be absorbing and engaging. Ideally, they should be seen as life-changers. This is rare for drier topics but not impossible.
We have experience of both creating, running and participating in leadership development programmes that have changed lives.
We recommend 5 hacks for boosting engagement:
- Make participants fail
- Create space for reflection
- Use a wide blend of potent learning techniques
- Use the 3Us framework faithfully for all digital programmes
- Maximise participation
Each of these is described in the article Effective leadership development: how to boost engagement in programmes.
Lastly, Apply. Mastery takes a lot of active practice. Gladwell’s 10,000 hours rule for the Beatles or Bill Gates to achieve excellence in what they do is imprecise but sets the frame correctly.
Digitalisation can also help participants apply learning more effectively. Short digital attention spans mean that sessions are best kept short, preferably less than 2 hours. Programmes should be spread out over time. This leads to learning in the programme being applied immediately after the session and discussed in the session the next day.
Short attention spans also mean that things must be simplified, and learning goals sharpened. Content designers are more disciplined as they cannot rely so much on the trainer to manage the flow. Learning is chunked in smaller packages and better structured. This is easier to apply.
3.2 Relate everything back to the participant’s context, all the time
This recommendation builds on what is written above on needs, building engagement and focusing on application, but goes further.
It points to standing in the participant’s shoes rather than being caught up in ‘you’ as the facilitator or program designer, wanting to communicate a message, be effective or clever, and shine yourself.
This is difficult in work life. Employees are rewarded for being active, competent, and full of initiative. Targets, short term pressure and competition all push us to being caught up in our own stuff.
The people designing and delivering leadership have their own particular challenges as well. The HR function, that usually owns such programmes, is often viewed as a soft function that needs to prove its value. Being seen to be knowledgeable and business oriented is the route to respect. Helpfulness can contribute too but is often taken for granted, giving less of a respect pay-off.
External trainers and consultants have an even tougher time truly putting participants first, whatever they say. The external person must prove their worth just to get paid. At least HR has job security. The external lives off their competence, on an hourly basis, and must demonstrate it continually.
The concept of “Servant Leadership ” can help as a mindset for the people working in leadership development. As Robert K. Greenleaf (who first launched the concept) said, the servant-leader is servant first, as opposed to many leaders that are leader-first. They are extreme opposites.
A servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and well-being of
people…shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop
and perform as highly as possible.
The key to making such a mindset work is to prove its value by measuring outcomes. Have a look at How to measure the impact of leadership development programmes for some tips.
And lastly, the most commonly mentioned barrier to acting on what is learned is lack of time.
Part of relating everything to the participant’s context also means needing to be protected from overload.
3.3 Reinforce accountability for everyone.
Our last recommendation for making leadership development work in practice is to reinforce accountability for everyone. This means the leader’s team, boss, boss’ boss, colleagues, HR and the training provider. It also means creating new roles such as in-class learning partner and at-work learning partner. Mutual accountability between the participant and this community considerably increases the chances of success.
And of course, the most important person to make accountable for the participant’s learning is the participant themselves.
Making leadership development work in practice is very challenging. There are major differences between how well organisations manage the development of their leaders. Following the 3 simple recommendations described above can help:
- Process: You can’t cut corners. Leadership development is complex and our approach to leadership development needs to match that complexity. Development is a long-term process. Focusing on what happens before and after the programme is active management of more of the development process. This increases the effectiveness of the organisation’s leadership development activities.
- Context: It is all too easy to operate at a distance to the participants. Relating everything back to the participant’s context, all the time, can close this gap. This makes development activities more relevant, and easier for the participant to transfer to the work context.
- Accountability: Many people influence the outcome for each participant. These people are therefore part-accountable for whether a leadership development programme works. Reinforcing accountability for everyone, e.g. their boss, colleagues and co-participants, supports learning and its ultimate impact on results.
If you like what you have read please contact us. We have applied our own medicine to a programme that supports a manager’s success inside their first 100 days in a new role. Supporting success early is the most effective approach of all to leadership development!
5 minute read –
Making learning programmes absorbing and engaging is a key part of making leadership development work. This article is a practical guide to boosting engagement helping HR professionals to:
- Make participants fail!
- Surprisingly important for adult learning.
- Create space for reflection.
- A scarce resource in work life.
- Use a wide blend of potent learning techniques.
- Blended learning, including digital tools, keeps the participants hooked.
- Use the 3Us framework faithfully for all digital programmes
- Digitalising is challenging. This framework is really helpful.
- Maximise participation
How can you get participants to experience your programme as a life-changer?
I have only one experience of creating a programme that was recognised as life changing (I have participated in two others). It was set up 25 years ago, went from being northern European to being global, is still going, the original team that set it up is still in touch, and participants I meet still tell me how powerful an experience it was for them. Which learning points can be generalised from such an experience?
In How to make leadership development effective we described engagement in the programme as a part of the whole development process participants follow, from identifying a need to measuring outcomes. Engagement is the product of the whole process but here we talk about the things you can do in the design and implementation of the actual programme.
We recommend 5 hacks for boosting engagement:
1. Make participants fail
This was the biggest learning point from my life-changer programme experience.
Recognising personal development needs is difficult, as described in How to meet participant needs in leadership development programmes. Self-respect, embarrassment, denial, and rationalisation all get in the way, for all of us, all the time.
These barriers are challenged when we fail. If this is done in a safe atmosphere, where failure is OK and shared, the barriers evaporate. The need to change to avoid a repeat of failure is clear and accepted.
An example: in a roleplay the participant is driving in the desert and runs out of fuel. In the programme she stands holding an empty can in front of a closed door marked ‘closed for lunch’.
In the roleplay there is a petrol station that she passed a few minutes ago behind the door. She is late and has to get to the airport to catch her flight. She has 3 minutes to persuade the attendant to open the station and give her fuel. Little does she know that behind the door awaits an actor crying as his dog just died and he is thinking about how to bury it. Can the participant navigate the attendant’s troubled emotions and get her can filled in time? No-one succeeds.
The roleplay is based on practicing influence styles. The actor rewards correct use but time is too short for anyone to succeed.
The actor makes the roleplay feel completely real. The other participants watch. You can hear them audibly exhale, relieving their engagement and stress, when the facilitator says ‘Cut!’ after 3 minutes.
Experiencing failure is a powerful form of leaving your comfort zone.
Most of us accept that development only happens when we allow ourselves to try something new – stepping outside our comfort zone. The ‘closed for lunch’ roleplay is just one example of how failing sets the stage for development.
2. Create space for reflection
In today’s incessant flow of stimuli and interruptions it is difficult to find space, space for the kind of reflection needed to make deep personal insights, let learning bed down, and make solid decisions.
People have the space to string enough thoughts together to draw strong conclusions when they are doing something absorbing yet simple, like exercising, fishing, or following a simple knitting pattern, often alone. This kind of space can also be found when communing with nature, perhaps sitting on a riverbank in one’s own thoughts. Programmes need to build in this kind of space and avoid the pitfall of overpacking the agenda.
3. Use a wide blend of potent learning techniques
Blended learning has become standard practice in leadership development. It means mixing simulations (sometimes digital), lectures, groupwork, individual study, e-learning, coaching, supervised projects and assignments, outdoor exercises, roleplays (sometimes with actors), podcasts, videos, step-by-step digital programmes etc.
The menu of methods is only limited by our imaginations. Have a look at Digital tools on offer for effective leadership development and How to combine digital leadership development activities in learning streams if you want to know more.
Gamified simulations are an excellent example of a new type of digital tool that can really boost engagement. Training games can catch attention and be The Topic of conversation. No-one wants to have less points on the leader-board than their colleagues. Everyone wants to beat the boss. The built-in incentives in points (+ and -), bonuses, progression bars, levels, trophies etc. leads to the kind of repetition that embeds and automates learning. The graph is an example of when people play. It shows that the game is so engaging that they play in the evenings, after the children have been put to bed.
For those wanting to know more about digitally driven leadership development you can also check out Competitive trends in the leadership development industry and Getting leaders to use new digital solutions.
4. Use the 3Us framework for all digital programmes
The handy 3Us framework is very simple, focusing the mind on whether a digital programme is Useful, Usable and Used.
A programme has to be demonstrably Useful. Not nice-to-have. Must-have. If it is nice-to-have it probably won’t be Used. It must also be Usable: logical, simple and inviting. If it is not easy and fun most users will get impatient and it won’t get Used. Lastly, it must be Used. So many apps and programmes are launched. So few get used. A powerful method for pushing up adoption % should be tailor-made for each programme.
Have a look at the article How to design and implement digital leadership development programmes, based on the figure, for more insight.
5. Maximise participation
The last hack is also a standard mantra. Most know that engagement is only possible through participation, but agendas are often overpacked, and speakers with a need to hear themselves speak both pacify and crowd out the participants.
Perversely, transferring programmes online sharpens discipline in this area. It is even easier for the participant’s mind to wander in an online course. To counter this, presentations need to be as short as possible, preferably 10 minutes max. The focus needs to be on engaging the participants with extremely frequent breakouts in pairs and groups, with concrete, simple, relevant tasks. The more the participant can be made responsible the better. That means maximum participation.
Whether digital or physical, participation drives learning. Indeed, many would agree that true knowing can’t occur without doing. Learning is developed through activity and has to be experienced.
If you want to know more about the digitalisation of experiential learning, have a look at our article How to digitalise experiential learning.
We have designed a digital coach to help leaders succeed within 100 days in a new role. We have used 4 of the 5 hacks. The whole point of Ella is to help the leader avoid failure (up to 40% are out of the new role within 18 months as it just didn’t work out), so we make participants succeed, not fail in the pursuit of learning.
If you want to know more about how supporting success in 100 days in a new role is probably the most effective form of leadership development possible, please contact us.