8 Steps to Creating an Effective Leadership Development Program
Develop your company's current and future leaders for maximum success.
If you're seeking to create a high-performing organization, there are specific tasks you cannot ignore. Chief among those tasks is developing your company's current and future leaders. The thought of designing and implementing a sustainable leadership development program can be harrowing. It's clear that becoming a high-performing organization takes a great deal of time, discipline and practice. But by following these eight steps below, you'll be setting up yourself and your team for maximum success:
1. Align leadership development training goals to top-level business goals
Are your leadership development program's goals aligned with your vision of what your business will become? Reviewing your strategic priorities and determining what skills your leaders need to accomplish them is imperative to the sustainable success of the program.
Also, consider how, when successfully implemented, your new program will align with your culture. What, if anything, about your culture needs to change?
Having a clear, compelling vision of how the skills you are building in your leadership development program will support your company's roadmap is necessary. Your executives and employees will expect visible links to your business.
2. Plan a learning journey that satisfies your leaders' requirements
Planning a learning journey can be complex. I'll mention two key points. First, ensure you are teaching skills directly related to leadership core competencies. What do you need your leaders to do, and why? And what specific behaviors are you looking for them to demonstrate?
The second is to think about the correct delivery methods to meet your learners' needs. Do your leaders need a virtual learning journey? Do you want them to learn together or explore on their own? Is a blended learning journey the right choice? Each method has unique advantages and disadvantages; think these through.
3. Give managers the tools to help their learners succeed
Pay attention to the role that can devalue the program — the manager of your learner. When front-line leaders and their managers aren't included in the program implementation and execution, they will not commit the resources needed for sustained success.
Great leadership development program owners conduct orientation sessions for these groups. Teach them how to coach their associates involved in the program. Program managers want to ensure the success of the leaders they train. Trainers should conduct initial and ongoing coaching and training sessions for managers as needed.
Most importantly, program owners help leaders understand why the initiative is relevant and leads to success.
4. Build an implementation plan and determine if you need to run a pilot
If you decide you need to run a pilot, one of the first things to do is choose who goes first. Then, where and when do we pilot? I have seen programs fall flat because the virtual pilot session started at 8:00 a.m. on the East coast (yes, 5:00 a.m. on the West coast).
Consider the internal politics that will surely accompany a pilot. Leaders who do not buy in on leadership development may feel like they are being set up for failure. Others may feel excluded if they are not in the pilot group. Communication is key to keeping your program running smoothly in these early phases.
5. Don't forget about the other important players
Of course, your learners are essential, as are the champions and decision-makers. But the crucial players are the facilitators, producers and project support. Without these team members, the program will not be successful.
Program implementors treat the responsibility of each team member carefully, with well-thought-out selection and education for all team members. All team members must know how this initiative aligns with their company vision and how they fit into the puzzle.
6. Market your new program to connect with learners in a way that compels them
I have seen many training initiatives roll out under conventional names (for example, Leadership Academy and Supervisory Basics). But some organizations choose to brand their program for a more memorable experience.
I encourage program leaders to brand their programs with forward-looking titles (for example, Acme Leadership Growth Plan or Tomorrow's Leaders). We want to inspire our people to picture themselves as highly effective leaders who are critical to the company's future.
7. Make it easy for learners to get started
Plan out your touchpoints for all key roles: your learners, managers, champions and critical learning partners. It's important to review your communications for brevity and clarity.
Review your pitch. Are you doling out facts only, or are you getting your learners excited about the program? Write to thrill. Encourage learners to see the relevance and value of learning leadership skills that they will need to grow in your business. It's a best practice to link a senior leader to the communication efforts. Ask for critical internal influencers to promote and share an interest in the program at all levels.
I often think of this as using social media to influence an audience. Senior leaders should have more influence. Therefore, an encouraging email from the senior leaders can drive up enthusiasm for your program.
8. Measure to show value
A best practice for implementing and monitoring a leadership development program is to identify outcomes you expect to achieve. With this knowledge, use the measurement data you collect to demonstrate the program's effect. Identify unexpected gaps and new opportunities to increase program impact and guide future decisions.
Typically, I see companies use a behavior-related matrix. They may measure call-outs, use of sick days and employee turnover rates. Often, these are difficult to baseline. Therefore, I encourage my clients to use surveys that measure leadership behaviors as they are perceived by the humans they lead.
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