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Mindset: What Works in Leadership Development? A shortcut to the latest evidence

There’s increasing pressure on HR, Talent, and L&D practitioners to ensure that their approaches are evidence-based – yet the academic literature remains largely impenetrable.  So, as our New Year’s gift to you, this first Mindset of 2019 synthesises evidence from the combined analysis of the findings from 335 independent leadership development intervention studies, involving over 26,000 leaders, to decipher: what works (and what doesn’t)?

The headline finding is that leadership development is substantially more effective than previously thought. Despite occasional claims in the popular press that leadership training is a waste of time, the findings of this huge analysis confirm that leadership development initiatives are effective: not only in terms of immediate reactions and learning new knowledge or skills, but also in changing leadership behaviours on the job and impacting positively on business performance.

The review also investigated how one should design, deliver and implement leadership development programmes to maximise effectiveness.  In summary, here’s what you need to do:

  1. Conduct a solid needs analysis – programmes developed from a robust assessment of the change needed for that particular leader, in that particular business, result in greater learning and more significant changes in leadership behaviour on-the-job. One size does not fit all.
  2. Ensure your organisational context is strongly reflected – to impact on organisational performance, initiatives delivered on-site are more effective than those delivered off-site. This appears to be because on-site programmes feature more involvement from organisational insiders and address the specific development needs of the business more strongly. So if you’re delivering elements off-site, work harder to ensure your organisational reality and strategic context is strongly reflected.
  3. Use practice-based methods – to have any significant effect on business results, development programmes must include practice-based methods such as simulations and in-tray exercises. Providing information through presentations, demonstrations, or case studies is effective for learning, but typically fails to transfer into practice. Using simulations or in-tray exercises plus other delivery methods will also enhance this impact even further.
  4. Include feedback – feedback (i.e. through coaching) significantly increases the likelihood of seeing on-the-job behaviour change. This feedback should facilitate sense-making in the context of their organisation, career, and/or work tasks – not simply talking the leader through their personality profile.
  5. Deliver multiple elements over time – interventions with multiple elements spaced out over time are more likely than ‘single-hit’ initiatives to translate into changes in leadership behaviour on-the-job, and ultimately, to impact on organisational results. Whilst one-off initiatives often impact on learning new knowledge and skills, without follow-up elements (e.g. follow-up coaching or action-learning sets), this learning often doesn’t transfer into practice and will soon be lost.

At Kiddy we’ve been using evidence to create robust and impactful interventions since our inception in 1972.  Often, we’ll combine robust psychological assessment, bespoke simulations, and development tools which interweave on- and off-the-job development.  This creates immediate shifts in leadership behaviour, but also provides the foundation for sustained impact on business results.

To hear about how this could benefit your business, please get in touch.

Source: Lacerenza et al. (2017). Leadership Training Design, Delivery, and Implementation: A Meta-Analysis, Journal of Applied Psychology, Vol. 102, No. 12, 1686–1718.

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