How to Make the Best Leadership Development Decisions

Use 5 steps to make the best-informed decisions about where to invest in leadership development that will make a difference.

If you have been following the survey research, you know that Chief Learning and Talent Management Officers worldwide are struggling to build strong talent pipelines and to invest in leadership development that has an impact.* This is particularly true as the pace of change and market uncertainty accelerates.

Here are five steps that are supported by research and backed by experience to help you make the best-informed decisions about why, what, who and how to invest in leadership development.

1. Start with Strategy and Context
One of the key reasons that leadership development programs have not been effective is what McKinsey research cited as “overlooking context”. Before any decision is made about investing in leadership development, CLO’s need to assure that the C-Suite answers the key context questions of, “Why exactly are we doing this” and “How does this help us advance our business strategy?” The answers should clearly define the context for development and set the stage for a planned and targeted impact for any investment. Do not pass go or spend anything until the context is clear. As Peter Drucker said, “What matters is ‘Leadership for what purpose?’”

2. Know What Success Looks Like
No two organization’s strategies are exactly the same, nor will the answers to the context questions in Step 1. Therefore, the strategy-critical knowledge, skills and abilities needed by leaders to drive results in one company will be different from other organizations . . . and will be different over time as an organization’s strategy changes. The next step in the decision process involves translating business strategy into a few, key leadership competencies and identifying the experiences that can development them (more on that in Step #4). This should not be done haphazardly or by just Talent Management alone. It should involve leaders in the organization who are steeped in strategy and are your best and brightest. That way, the competencies will have a future-focused “forward lean” and will illustrate superior performance.

3. Match Development To The Talent
Pretend that you have 3 different leaders in your organization, Indra Nooyi, Albert Einstein, and Milton the Stapler Guy from the movie “Office Space” (who burned down the company in want of his coveted stapler). Would you apply the same developmental strategy to each case? No way! If you did, Indra would disengage and probably quit, Albert would be bored and Milton would still burn done your company. Just as skills must be matched to strategy, development must be matched to different cohorts of talent. This means that the next step to development success involves assessing talent at all levels, not just the top, identifying those that would benefit the most from customized development and would have the greatest impact on the business as a result of their development.

4. Curate Experiences to Accelerate Development
High-performing, high potential leaders develop strategy-critical skills not in a classroom but from navigating important and challenging experiences. Talent development professionals need to know where those experiences can be obtained with an organization (See Step #2) and must be able to match the talent development needs of a learner to the experiences. That’s why you are seeing the creation of “Experience Curator” roles within Talent Management. And it’s not just having the experience alone that assures key skills are developed or enhanced. The development needs to be intentional – learners must go into the experience with a plan that has a targeted outcome and that is supported by feedback, coaching and reflection.

5. Track the Impact
Even the best strategy-driven, intentional development approach can benefit by measurement and continuous improvement. Learners change, strategy changes and it is important that you can prove the business case over time and show a return on the time and resources investment. The final step in ensuring that you make the best leadership development investment is by supporting it with a solid measurement plan. The tracking tools and content should be developed early in the game during the talent assessment in Step 3 and impact mapping in Step 4.

If you’d like to learn more, check out my new book (co-authored with Richard Citrin), Strategy-Driven Leadership: The Playbook for Developing Your Next Generation of Leaders. It provides more detail on each of these steps.

* For example, See DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2018.

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