You may have read about leadership development programmes that simply don’t deliver. There is plenty of evidence in research and articles that these initiatives more often than not don’t go well.

A recent article* reported on this issue, highlighting a significant level of disappointment in management training initiatives. In fact, they quoted a Fortune survey that states:

  • Only 7% of CEOs believe their companies are building effective global leaders
  • Just 10% said that their leadership development initiatives have a clear business impact

And recent research carried out by McKinsey found only 11% of more than 500 executives strongly agreed that their leadership development interventions achieve and sustain the desired results.

So where is it all going wrong?

The McKinsey report highlights 4 common areas that explain why leadership interventions often fail. Notably, they mirror the subjects of focus contained in our bespoke leadership development programmes and serve to remind us of the importance of designing programmes that are exactly right for each organisation. There simply isn’t a one size fits all approach.

So, keep the faith, we’re aware of the following common pitfalls and how to turn them into opportunities to make leadership development work:

  • Overlooking context

Too often, leadership programmes fail to relate to business objectives, and managers have little understanding of what the programme is actually for.

To increase an organisation’s success rate, it’s crucial to deliver training that is focused on overall business objectives and framed around the changes in behaviour required to bring about very specific results.

It’s about putting training into context, so participants understand its relevance, can relate to it in their day to day work and how their efforts will contribute. It motivates them to be more willing and able to adapt their behaviour and make changes. By relating to the company vision, leaders have a fuller understanding of why they are required to change, what expectations are being made of them, and how the training will help them contribute and be more successful.

  • Designing training for the transfer of learning

Much has been written about the value of experiential training, and how it is more effective than simple classroom training. It helps embed new ways of working. However, some leaders still struggle to apply the learning when they return to the workplace, it’s simply too big a leap to change engrained behaviours and see the direct relevance in doing so.

It’s far more effective if training is linked to real life projects being experienced at the time. It puts the learning into context and shows a direct correlation between adopting new ways of working and how it brings about desired outcomes. This is where real changes can occur.

Coaching before and after the training is a particularly effective tool to help leaders embed their newly learned skills in their work environment. See also Nick Howell’s article Coaching – Increasing the Results from Training.

  • Underestimating mindsets

Leadership development programmes run the risk of failure if they neglect to address the reasons why leaders behave the way they do. It’s important to understand what’s going on beneath the surface from the outset – what are their motivators? How do they operate? How do they feel and communicate?

By anticipating obstacles that might get in the way, the training can be adapted to take these underlying attitudes into account. Designing individual and group coaching into the development programme is essential to ensure success.

  • Failure to measure results

Improvements and impact of leadership initiatives can’t be quantified if there is a failure to set measurable objectives and track progress. It puts impetus of the whole programme at risk. Leaders can only be expected to thrive and excel if they know what they are aiming for.

In our programmes, we are keen to set key measurables that can reveal early indicators of success. This allows us to learn from successes and failures, and make adjustments where necessary. Metrics might include personal achievements and productivity of training participants, or business objectives such as financial results, cost savings, sales, etc.

Developing a winning leadership programme

Above all, it’s vital to start any leadership development programme with an assessment of current business goals and objectives, to identify what leadership skills are needed to deliver on those targets. That’s why we usually start with a Leadership DNA – or Development Needs Analysis.

It gives you the time and opportunity to be clear on exactly where the business is heading, and for us to put together a well-defined programme matching development initiatives with the business goals you want to achieve.

So, if you were worried that leadership development programmes might fail to live up to expectations, you’ll know now that a carefully planned programme, with defined objectives and an understanding of your business, its people and culture, coupled with coaching has every reason to succeed.

If you’d like to chat this through, call now to arrange a no obligation conversation about your leadership development needs.

*McKinsey Quarterly August 2017

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