Industry Insights

4 Key Elements to Building a Successful Leadership Development Program

Posted by Sebastien Lamiaux on Sep 5, 2017 11:00:00 AM

CEOs and other top decision makers know how essential it is to increase the skills of their leaders, whether it be critical thinking, business acumen or customer centricity (or even all of the above!).

The CEO is ultimately thinking about the business’s bottom line, and if a leadership development program isn’t going to boast results, it may be considered a waste of time and resources.

A recent survey from McKinsey finds that only 10% of CEOs said their leadership development initiatives have a clear business impact. (  The good news is that this number can be improved with some smart program design. But, once the program is designed, how do we know if it will be effective? Based on our experience and some research, we can identify 4 key elements to make sure your leadership development program will be a success:  

Make sure the program is anchored in the company’s strategic objectives

The program must be relevant to where the organization currently is and where it wants to be. We have been recently involved in an initiative where the whole objective is growing faster than market. Based on that strategic imperative, the program audience was identified (a key group of 250-300 product managers in an organization of over 70,000 employees, seen as at the center of everything for that company), the different formats were defined and the content was developed all around that specific theme. Focusing on leadership behaviors that are most critical to performance here is key.

Ensure a critical mass

Having a group of 25 or 50 high-potential go through a 4 or 5-day session every year is simply not enough (depending on the size of the organization of course). When you are looking for a change in mindset (and even possibly culture), you need a critical mass.

Focus on the transfer of learning

Part of making sure that the program is part of the company’s context is to create an easier transfer of learning for participants, to embed projects in the initiative, to make it relevant. Embedding the transfer of learning can mean designing an initiative where participants have a chance to learn about concepts and process in a first phase and then applying it to the real world immediately after, or a few weeks after the first touch point. Processes and tools in popular books like Blue Ocean Strategy can allow for a great impact when looking at real-world customers and offerings

The use of technology  

Incorporating technological elements can help in using the various HR systems and tools to continue to reinforce learnings and application. For example, coaches can use technology to “embed” themselves in the transfer of learning and making sure that participants apply their learning insights to the job after the program.

We have seen that when reminding ourselves of these 4 critical steps, a leadership development imitative can be very influential in the success of an organization, whether it being a short program or a long-extended initiative. The use of experiential learning tools, such as simulations, can ensure all 4 key elements are well thought-out and included.

Learn more about how experiential learning can boost leadership development programs by downloading our User's Guide:


Experiential Learning: A User's Guide 

Topics: Learning & Development, Leadership Development

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