Yes, that’s a provocative statement. But in the 60 years since Kirkpatrick developed his 4-point scale to assess leadership development, we have been chasing an efficient yet effective measure of impact. I actually accomplished this feat recently in one client engagement so I can speak from experience. (click here to sign up for our webinar to hear the full story later this month). We have always had the knowledge and justification for investing in leaders, so why do I, along with everyone else feel the need to measure it?
We’ll do it anyway…
While I was going down a rabbit hole on the internet, I saw an article about the ROI of leadership development programs that said basically “It doesn’t really matter if we can prove ROI, organizations need leadership development. We will do it anyway.” Following trends over the years reveals the same message. Organizations need to provide consistent leadership development support to all levels and at critical transition points. Leaders need it during times of challenge/competition; senior leaders need highly tailored development; and everyone needs it during times of change (these day, that’s 24/7 365!). Newly promoted managers need it the most. According to Ken Blanchard, 60% of new managers don’t achieve performance expectations. Finally, the best results come from “soft skills” training, since those are actually the hardest skills and the ones most important for leaders to master for the future.
“You know it when you see it”
If we aren’t able to analyze ROI easily and effectively, the question becomes what makes impactful leadership development? And who decides? The answer comes from a breakthrough in measurement from studying creativity. Teresa Amabile developed the Consensual Assessment Technique as a way to measure complex ideas. This premise says creativity in any field can only be judged by experts in [each] field…they define what is unique in each case.
Those of us who have been in leadership development for decades know what good leadership development is. Organizational L&D leaders and other experts can clearly define what is needed and can probably predict the program’s degree of impact. Research shows that:
- Impact comes from soft skills development that is customized around the work, culture and pain points of the organization.
- The design must be interactive, engaging, focused on practice and draw participants into the stretch or learning zone.
- Skilled facilitation is the difference between a generic session that “presents” a feedback model and one that actually builds capacity and confidence, leading to actual learning transfer into the real world.
- Far-reaching impact is achieved if the organization goes all-in, with sponsorship from executives, support from managers, alignment with HR, and every leader participating in some way in the learning. Our partner/client told me, “If you are learning a new language, you have to practice with other people to reinforce it. All-in was the only option for us, so that we are on the same page.”
The barrier to investment is often that great leadership development is not a one-time event. Doing it right is a heavier lift than programs that check the box. It takes thought, time and experience to achieve that. So LD experts understand that being able to articulate the ROI really becomes the justification for the spend to get it right.
“Yay! It works.” Now what?
Now to the promised results. My company developed a blended digital learning program for new managers with our client/partner and tested the impact of the program. As I was waiting for results, I described the process we went through to a friend at Harvard Executive Education. Baseline pre-test using a 360 instrument that aligned with the skills taught in the 6-month blended digital learning program, and the retest 15 months later.
“Wow! If that works, that’s the Gold Standard of Leadership Development.”
We did it! The Gold Standard. We achieved statistically significant behavioral improvement in all success factors from building powerful relationships to conducting tough conversations and building an inclusive team culture. I am THRILLED! EXCITED! I am shouting it from the rooftops!
However…..as an expert in the field, I pretty much knew it would have this outcome. When I got the results it was (almost) “Okay so now what?” Truly though, most of my excitement came from the fact that I LOVED being a part of the program. The content is outstanding since dozens of expert colleagues contributed to it. The program translated key leadership soft skills into digital format and uses a start-of-the-art platform. The client/partner was all-in on their side with support from the top down, and all managers participated, not just in the digital world, but in real-world “wrap arounds” like action learning and other projects.
I grew as much if not more than the participants! This was leadership development done right! It just took 18 months, coordinated effort, a great program, and a separate evaluation process. Oh, and now I have the ROI and the example for those needing proof!
To hear the full story, join me and my colleague Rebecca Matthews for a webinar hosted by Intrepid. https://blog.intrepidlearning.com/resources/enact-leadership-webinar-2-27