Chief research and development officer of work force productivity, Morneau Shepell.

How do you know if a leadership development program has impact?

This question is relevant for professionals who are engaging in leadership development or seeking opportunities to do so. One observation about the different generations working today is that millennials put more value than other generations on the need to be provided an opportunity to learn and grow.

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Read more: Gen Y careers: How to find your first job, then keep it and flourish

Leaders in many industries soon will be challenged to work with emerging technology and artificial intelligence. In the next five years, machines and people will most likely interact and work together in ways we could not have conceived just 20 years ago. With the growing war for talent and value of retaining the best, one solution many employers are considering is an increased focus on people development. A recent LinkedIn study found that in North America, 27 per cent of businesses will be spending more money on leadership development, technical skills and career development.

People who are interested in expanding their leadership skills can benefit from not just focusing on getting leadership opportunities but also on evaluating a program’s effectiveness, whether it’s a one-day, one-week, one-year, online, coaching or some combination leadership program.

Measuring leadership impact is all about accountability. Training is educational but may not promote learning. How the new information is used and learned will determine the true value of a program. A manager who evaluates a program’s impact can use the findings to show the value of a training investment for both the organization and the leadership trainee.

What developing leaders can do to increase leadership impact

Get your leadership baseline

Before taking any leadership training, step back and explore the kind of skills that would most benefit you. Four universal domains that affect leadership effectiveness are intrapersonal skills, interpersonal skills, management skills and leadership skills. Before we can lead others effectively, we need to be able to lead ourselves with strong intrapersonal skills such as stress tolerance. Leadership effectiveness in any sector requires more than just having the right degree, credentials and industry experience. One way to obtain your leadership baseline across these four domains is to complete the free University of New Brunswick’s Management Essentials Competency Assessment, which measures 64 core competencies. Once completed, print your results and sit with your direct manager to determine if they agree with your self-evaluation, then use this process to pick your top three development areas.

Be clear on the why

Most people interested in growing leadership skills would be super excited to spend a week engaging in a program with like-minded peers. What may not be as intuitive before signing up for a program is the importance of spending time focusing on why now is the right time and what the expected benefits are. What effect will the training have on the organization (in terms of performance metrics) and your career? Showing up to training without purpose often results in a failure to deliver an adequate return on investment to the organization or develop a leader’s skills. It’s okay sometimes to be honest and simply engage in training for the networking opportunity. However, turning each opportunity into one that can help developing leaders shine takes intention and accountability. This mindset can increase the likelihood a leader will make an effort to develop their skills.

Complete a leadership impact evaluation

One challenge many organizations have after they send a team member to a $5,000-or-more leadership program is measuring the impact and value to the leader and the organization. One way for a developing leader to take charge of this is to facilitate their own impact evaluation process. Before beginning a training program, the leader would complete the Leadership Impact Quick Survey and ask their direct manager to complete it as well. They would then sit with their manager and compare results. This process would be repeated three and six months after the training to assess if and how it has had an effect. The leader can also engage their direct reports in this process if they are open to feedback.

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Explore ROI when possible

The cost of a leadership program is easy to obtain. When possible, pick one or two tangible performance metrics influenced by effective leadership (e.g., sales, number of sick days, turnover rate) before a training program begins. The Leadership Impact Quick Survey reports perceived benefits before and after training, while ROI can demonstrate tangible dollar impact when data is available. The math is simple: determine what, if any, savings have occurred on the selected metrics over the defined period (for example, the leader achieved a 3 per cent improvement in volunteer turnover rates from January to July) and subtract the cost of the program. If this number is above zero, multiply it by what impact and success the leader and direct manager agree they will attribute to the leadership program (e.g., 30 per cent of results are due to the program). By doing so, you can arrive at one number that demonstrates the return on a training investment and stands as a case study that proves spending on leadership development is good business.

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