Start with why, begin with the end in mind and start where you want to finish are all phrases emphasizing that we should start a program with the data that reflects where we want to end. For leadership development, this should be impact and not behavior. Let’s review how leadership development accountability has evolved.
Application without impact is just being busy.
Decades ago, we wanted participants involved in leadership development to perceive the content as valuable, important to them and something they would try. The focus was on how participants reacted to leadership development. Next, the focus shifted to ensuring that the leaders had the skills, behaviors and competencies to be a good leader. The focus was on learning. About two decades ago, the focus shifted to leader behavior. We wanted to make sure the leaders were using the competencies with their team, often measured with 360-degree feedback. With this, the focus was on behavior or application of the competencies. Today, there’s a focus on the value that leadership development delivers, or the actual impact of the leadership development. Application without impact is just being busy. The sponsors, funders and supporters of leadership development programs want what the leaders’ behavior will deliver, not just the behavior itself.
To ensure that leadership development programs end with impact, it is best to begin with impact. The first step in implementing leadership development is to start with why: connect the program to business measures, identifying the impacts that will occur if the program is implemented and the leaders use the behaviors or competencies. But just how is this done? Let’s consider two scenarios.
Scenario 1: All have the same business need.
Sometimes a leadership development program is implemented to improve the same business measures for the entire team. These measures could include increasing retention, meeting the budget or reducing team member complaints. If this is the case, the starting point is those measures for the participants (team leaders). The measures are the “why” for the program. An important question must be asked to the participants: “If you use the proposed leadership competencies with your team, can you improve the business measure?”
Usually, leadership competencies are powerful, important and flexible enough to meet this challenge. For example, if there is a retention issue, leader behavior can usually tackle retention if a lack of leadership development caused the retention issue. You want to ensure that the business measure can improve with the new leader behavior. This step is make it feasible: select the right solution. Most of us have experienced situations when leader behavior was implemented but it was not the solution to the organization’s perceived problem.
Scenario 2: Participants have different business needs.
Many leadership development programs are implemented to address system-wide problems and issues. Regardless of the function the participant is involved with, they may need new leadership competencies. But impacts are not the same for all these leaders because they will usually vary with particular functions. A leader in accounting will have different impact measures than a leader in sales, logistics or IT. They may need the same competencies, but their impact would be different. In those situations, it is important to start with the end in mind as a clear business measure identified by each individual participant. Each participant attending the program would select one or two measures from their key performance indicators that they would like to improve, but only if the measures can be improved using the proposed program’s competencies with their team. Leadership development is often flexible and powerful enough to make this leap. When this step is completed, the leadership program becomes the right solution.
What is needed
When implementing a leadership program, you have a choice. Where do you want to end the evaluation as you move through the value chain from reaction to learning, application, impact and ROI? Today, the individuals supporting leadership development and providing the budgets to make it work want to see the impact and sometimes the ROI. This requires you to evaluate major leadership programs to the impact and ROI levels and show the efficient use of funds.
If you are interested in seeing a case study outlining the steps of delivering, measuring and showing ROI, please let us know.