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The Way I See It… Beyond Evaluation of Leadership Programmes


Godfrey Owen of Brathay argues that a short-term evaluation of a leadership development programme is unlikely to reveal its true business benefits. Instead he maintains that leadership development needs a far-sighted approach to recognise its long-term benefits.

Narrowly defined evaluation measures for leadership programmes are as wasteful as having no measures at all. The MD who will only release the funds for leadership development within his firm on the guarantee of short-term bottom line improvement is missing the point in the value of investing in his human capital. Return on investment will only be realised on leadership development if a long-term organisation-wide perspective is adopted.

Leadership development should be focused on building the long-term potential of the individual. Long-term organisation performance improvement will result through actively managed development including business and succession planning. The programme should provide a vision for what effective leadership can be and stimulate a thirst for practice and experience.

This is just a start – the real learning happens back at work, on a day-to-day basis, learning from achievements, mistakes and surprises. Evaluation must take into account the real learning environment – of which the course is only a small part. Behavioural change that is exhibited in the days immediately following is evidence of experimenting with knowledge and new skills. It is not evidence of long-term transformational change.

Behavioural change, leading to organisational performance improvement is, of course the aim of leadership development, and this should not be a leap of faith.

The charge that the training and development profession have expected line managers and business leaders to trust that the investment will be realised at some point in the future is well made. However, the finger of accusation might be more fairly pointed at suppliers of leadership development programmes. The sector has been found wanting when asked to provide the means for our clients and champions to convince their businesses that investment in leadership is worthwhile.

Forays into the world of evaluation have been frustrating and expensive. This is because the timescales for the results remain incredibly short and simplistic. Training and development professionals need to be closer to the business and the organisation change agenda to really understand how their contribution can be maximised and valued.

They can do this on an ongoing basis by investigating the climate and culture their business is operating within and the likely effects each has on the current and future state of the organisation. Develop a view on the requirements of the business.

Significantly, they must ensure that business leaders regard this activity as part of business performance improvement. Business leaders are looking for contributions on the basis of their belief in the knowledge and skills a practitioner has to offer.

To rely on high evaluation scores to bring you to the table is a mistake. Integrating the people development solution is the only way to ensure the organisation gets the value it seeks from the people development solution. Leadership development suppliers must support their clients in moving this way. Whether it is to line managers or HR partners, suppliers must wake up to the fact that a good product is only as good as a business’s ability to implement the learning.

*Godfrey Owen's article is a response to What's the Point of Leadership Programmes? by Paul Kearns' published last week on TrainingZONE.


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