Leadership development – linking customised interventions to quality results

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In specifying leadership development programmes business leaders are likely to expect a programme customised to their specific challenges, and population of leaders, which will deliver results for the whole organisation. Nobody really wants a programme that is off-shelf or generic, they want unique and tailored content that meets their needs and aspirations.

If the aim is to go beyond basic incremental change, any leadership development programme must be designed to draw out the best from the learners as well as delivering measurable benefits for the organisation. At 10Eighty we believe that leadership development is most successful when designed with a robust understanding of the unique context where it is to be applied, the personal development needs of each leader, and the expectation that leadership learning will be assimilated into working practice.

Business leaders want to see measurable business impact while HR, ideally, want to design a development solution based on business objectives that is delivered via a cutting-edge learning experience. A learning experience that takes account of the skills and potential of capable and engaged leaders. Bespoke works best because a leadership programme is a project focused on achieving transformation rather than simply the dissemination of management theory.

Such programmes eat into executive workflow and the L&D budget, so the need is for a carefully crafted and strategic approach; there is no ‘right’ way to lead and succeed that can be inculcated successfully with a single intervention. Only when you are clear as to the organisational goals and the objectives of the leaders in the programme can you shape your programme proposition to deliver something relevant to the workplace context and culture.

Design for transformation

Does the organisation need to address a specific challenge? Improve performance? Transform the organisation by challenging accepted thinking and embracing new skills?

Whatever the impetus behind the requirement, to drive real change the HRD needs to design and source a visionary and inspirational intervention that reaches into the future to equip the leadership team with the skills and strategies that will fuel organisational success and deliver on long-term strategic goals.

The design of any leadership development initiative should be based on a detailed audit of organisational needs and the individual needs of the leaders involved. This requires an honest assessment of corporate aspirations against current positioning and a good understanding of the strengths, values and ambitions of the leadership population who will need to carry forward the desired changes.

Business leaders want to see measurable business impact while HR, ideally, want to design a development solution based on business objectives that is delivered via a cutting-edge learning experience.

All too often development training is based on assumptions, wishful thinking and half-truths about perceived challenges or issues; or, interventions are designed to address business issues, without sufficient attention to context and culture. Go back to basics, and ask what the development programme aims to achieve, what would constitute a successful result, and then identify the capabilities required to reach that goal.

Form follows function, so design is informed and shaped with desired outcomes in mind, the intervention is predicated on a clearly articulated objective, for instance:

  • develop leadership capability in individuals and across the organisation
  • facilitate and accelerate organisational change
  • promulgate a cultural shift
  • facilitate creative, innovative and productive behaviours
  • integrate and align organisational entities post-merger or acquisition

Start development design with a review of organisational goals and a diagnosis of business need. Only training that is designed, root and branch, with the business in clear focus, will deliver high quality leadership outcomes and organisational improvement.

To achieve buy-in from the leadership population a development programme must demonstrate clear links between programme objectives, corporate goals, KPIs and application in the workplace, while offering flexibility and adaptability for the learner. Leaders will want to see that a programme is personally relevant to their situation and directly applicable in their work environment.

Many executives spend significant time on business development but neglect their personal development. To develop the desired management and leadership capabilities and to optimise potential within the organisation a leadership development intervention should be squarely aimed at optimising the potential of each leader.

At the same time, from an organisational perspective, leadership development should be a learning experience that creates a shared approach to analysing and addressing business issues, albeit for each leader the learning is internalised and applied differently. Much continuity may be desirable, in the real world change is a constant, and a development initiative must be ‘fit for purpose’ so focus on how you measure learner outcomes as this will allow the ongoing adjustment of the proposition accordingly.

Validate outcomes

Planning a development initiative requires HR to establish key performance indicators, learning goals and actionable outcomes, so as to design the intervention with the end in mind while enabling accurate assessment of the results. Do design in checks and metrics to monitor business impact and assess behavioural change, track leadership performance and quantify return on investment. If you fail to measure results there is a danger that development initiatives will not be taken seriously.

Leaders will want to see that a programme is personally relevant to their situation and directly applicable in their work environment.

Leadership programmes are not about ‘learning how to’ but neither should they be theoretical, the most effective approach in one that facilitates active learning where individuals explore options, in a safe environment, learning from mistakes and adapting strategies and techniques learned to their specific context. The acquisition of effective leadership skills requires a level of self-awareness and a degree of ‘stretch’ in changing behaviours and improving leadership performance.

A good programme aims to offer delegates a fresh perspective as to how they approach complex situations, exposing them to a range of leadership styles so that they think about how to collaborate and influence while juggling competing stakeholder demands. Achieving a long-term impact on commercial success depends on monitoring feedback from leaders about their experiences in applying the learning.

Focus on follow-up

At 10Eighty we think it is critical to an effective outcome that a development programme encourages reflection and discussion as to how to apply insights from the leadership in the real world of work, thereby customising the experience for the leaders while maintaining organisational objectives.

Each delegate should commit to an onward learning plan and meet with a learning coach, after the development programme has ended, to discuss personal change and the application of strategies devised during the programme. Follow-up is where real commitment and engagement with change is made and executive development is integrated into daily work.

Leadership participants who engage with a development initiative do so because they value the connection to the organisational objectives driving them, and are able to apply quickly the strategies and skills they take from the programme in their work environment, adapting their leadership style to let the capabilities of the team flourish. Leadership has many different aspects and good leaders recognise that and can adapt as required.

A practical leadership development programme based on a rigorous analysis of organisational needs and leadership capabilities should focus on learning goals that are aligned with internal systems and processes so it is quickly embedded in the way the organisation operates. Successful delivery of leadership development requires a careful balance between business needs and the personal needs of each leader.

In essence, in order to reconcile organisational needs and the personal development needs of the leadership population it is important to apply a solid measure of acuity and clarity to what is meant by ‘leadership’ and aligning it with a realistic vision of what the organisation wants to achieve and how leadership is played out in context.

A successful leadership development initiative has experience of the business as its foundation.

About Michael Moran


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