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Measuring the impact of leadership development – 4 Steps

4stepsforimpactYou are only 4 steps away from measuring the impact of your leadership development program

This article outlines what I’ve learnt about measuring the impact of leadership development both from experience and from reviewing the research.

While most people say measurement is important, only around 3% of organisations globally measure the results achieved through leadership development and the impact on organisational outcomes. [i].

For a full background to the changes in leadership development that are influencing how to measure leadership development impact, please go to our Articles page.

Measuring leadership development impact

These four steps are drawn from experience, together with a review of the academic research and program evaluation case studies. The questions, within each step of the process, support measuring the impact of leadership development beyond the level of individual participant to include results for the organisation:

  1. embedding measurement into the design of the development from the beginning;
  2. establishing program learning goals so that learning activities clearly contribute to individual and organisational change and results;
  3. developing a robust measurement methodology creating multiple points of evidence at the same time as recognizing the reality of organisational life; and
  4. reporting results to the people who have sponsored, supported and been a part of the development both celebrates the outcomes and provides accountability for their investment in the program.

4 Steps – designing your impact measurement strategy

1. Embed measurement into the design of the development activity
Key questions to consider during the design of a leadership program or development activity are:

  • What are the metrics that will tell the organisation that the program has been successful?
  • How will this program contribute to the organisation’s outcomes and strategy?
  • How will the program deliver on the organisation’s HR strategy?
  • Who are the key stakeholders for this impact measurement strategy?
  • How does the program fit with the overall leadership capabilities required for this organisation?
  • What are the assumptions underlying the design of the program and how will the design contribute to these objectives [ii]

These questions contribute to the development of robust program objectives, reflecting what the organisation is aiming to achieve, right from the early phases of the program design.

This is one of the most difficult stages of measuring impact – these questions are not easy to answer and may feel frustrating when stakeholders ‘just want to get the program going’.

2. Establish program learning goals
At this stage, program developers should be asking:

  • How will this program support participants to build their capability and to deliver on the organisation’s strategy?
  • What are the most effective learning activities that will ensure these learning goals are achieved?
  • How will these learning activities build on each other to deliver impact?

The temptation is to focus on the instruments, methods and tools that support development such as 360 degree feedback, executive coaching, digital learning, and specific learning models. However, bolting these together without considering how they support learning doesn’t deliver a well-designed and impactful program.

3. Develop a program measurement methodology
Embedding measurement into the learning design means asking:

  • What data will be needed to measure these program objectives?
  • Which measurement methods will help identify the required changes in knowledge or behaviour?
  • What is the cost of undertaking these measurement methods?
    What is the best timing for collecting data?
  • How will this data contribute evidence of the link to the program objectives?
  • How will the data be used to support iterative learning design, participant learning and engagement with program stakeholders?
  • What else is happening in the organisation that may affect the data collection or results?
  • While being founded in the rigour of research, methods for measurement of impact also have to be balanced with the relevance of organisational life and must be pragmatic.

It’s also important to identify whether the resulting data can be integrated, analysed and reported in a timely way to tell the story of the impact of the program for key stakeholders.

4. Report the results
In this stage, understanding who the program stakeholders are is crucial, as this guides reporting and insights:

  • What is the data saying about the program results when measured against the program objectives and learning goals?
  • Who needs to be involved in reviewing the data and in identifying insights?
  • What are the key insights: what is the analysis showing or not showing about the program impact for participants, their teams, their direct line managers, and for the enterprise more broadly?
  • What are the recommendations for change arising from the evaluation results and key insights?

Taking action: translating leadership development into impact

Understanding the impact of leadership development programs is crucial in an economic environment where organisations are under increasing pressure.

Learning and development programs are often the first to be cut in these circumstances yet there is significant evidence to demonstrate that investing in the ongoing development of leaders is essential to organisational success.

Understanding the impact and effectiveness of development is foundational in identifying what has been achieved and also what can be achieved, and it’s time that more than 3% of organisations use more effective approaches to measurement than “happy sheets”.


References

[i] McGonagill, G & Pruyn, P W. 2010 Leadership development in the US: Principles and Patterns of Best Practice, Bertelsmann Stiftung Leadership Series

[ii] Packard, T and Jones, L. 2015. An outcomes evaluation of a leadership development initiative. Journal of Management Development Vol 34, No 2 pp 153-168

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