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Five Levels of Measurement for Evaluating a Leadership Development Program

“If what you desire is a robotic, static thinker – train them. If you’re seeking innovative, critical thinkers – develop them” (Forbes.com)

Why do corporations invest in Leadership Development Programs?

Organizations implement leadership programs to expand their employees’ competencies, skills and abilities to execute current and future business objectives. A development program should teach leaders to drive performance effectively and to help their teams excel.


Five Levels of Measurement for Evaluating a Leadership Development Program

Your corporate goal is to build a pool of talented people who can lead your workforce and who can generate business improvement, innovation and profits.

Great leaders gain a lot of their knowledge by accumulating years of experience, but good organizations accelerate their leaders’ professional growth by investing in programs that develop their skills. Of course, human resource senior managers need to know how to plan their companies’ leadership development efforts and how to measure, track and evaluate how well each programming investment meets its goals.

Development is nuanced, contextual, collaborative, fluid, and above all else, actionable.”

In their book, Measuring Leadership Development, HR gurus Jack Phillips and Patricia Pullman Philips and learning expert Rachel L. Ray offer a clear, credible process for collecting, measuring and reporting on training programs’ results.

From the outset, such programs should have certain key components, including:

  • Individual plans with learning modules and different learning levels
  • Buy-in from senior leadership
  • Communication plan to update managers on trainees’ progress
  • Mentoring program with the active participation of senior managers
  • Learning goals identified for each functional area of the organization and integrated into your business strategy. One way to develop your objectives is the Wildly Important Goal (WIG) approach

Does your investment in leadership development work?

“The journey is always the same for leadership development; at the end of the day, learning to effectively lead people remains a transformational process.”

After you formulate and launch a leadership development program – or after you conduct a pilot program – your HR professionals will analyze how well the program worked. Proving the efficacy of the program so it can compete for internal funding and fulfill your leadership training needs requires effective measurement and analysis. You want to answer several questions: Which teaching methods best meet your employees’ needs? In your setting, what is the most effective way to develop skills and drive business improvement? Is it classroom training, interactive online learning, seminars, mobile learning or a combination of strategies?

The authors identify five ways to gain this information by assessing your leadership development programs:

  • Participants’ reaction – Have every trainee complete a short survey after completing the course.
  • Learning evaluation – Administer pre- and post- training surveys, using questions that are designed to diagnose trainees’ inventory of leadership competencies. Professionals generally use a “Likert scale for the diagnostic inventory because it makes the assessment easy to score and interpret.” Focus on your “employees” skill levels in the different competency you prioritize. The evaluation will tell you how much knowledge each person gained from completing the course
  • Application and implementation evaluation – Using a focus group or employee observations, check how well people apply the information they learned from the course when they are back on the job
  • Business impact – Set goals, such as better employee engagement, lower absenteeism, less turnover or higher performance, against a measurable output. Use financial, sales or HR data to see if trainees meet those goals. The authors note, “There is no measure to which a monetary value cannot be assigned. The key issue is [the] credibility of the converted value.”
  • Return on investment (ROI) – Evaluate the program against monetary returns. When applicable, refer to relevant financial data to convert the trainees’ gains into monetary terms.

When you assess the effectiveness of a leadership development program, also take external factors into account. For example, use trend line analysis or comparison groups to evaluate the impact of personnel changes, new competitors, other programs, or changes in the marketplace or the economy.

Why do leadership development programs fail?

“The main reason for lack of business results from leadership development is that the program has not been aligned to business needs in the very beginning.”

The number-one reason leadership development programs fail is that they focus on training and teaching leadership methods and not on developing a manager’s existing leadership skills within the specific context of your company’s goals and business strategies. So before you start a leadership development program, make sure you know what you want to develop your leaders to achieve. Let that be your roadmap.

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