Leadership Programs with ROI
All capability development programs should be seen as leadership programs that address various aspects of leadership, from self to team to organization. The goal is to help the participant become more purposeful, responsible, and strategic in using their knowledge and skills to create and deliver value in their roles. Therefore, every program is about behavior change, and the expected impact is how this change improves organizational results and performance. The Impact study, project identification, and individual/non-individual development perspectives that I present here show how we can do things differently in this space. Because, as we all know, repeating the same things and expecting different outcomes is... yes, it is.
Impact Study - A Reflective Practice Approach
Calculating ROI for leadership programs is often challenging as it is difficult to establish a direct connection between the program and the desired organizational outcomes. Most studies that attempt to do so often use flawed scientific methods, making it hard to convince those we are trying to persuade. The issue lies in the lack of a clear conceptual framework that outlines how the leadership skills taught in the program, as independent variables, impact specific organizational performance variables, as dependent variables. This link varies from person to person, depending on their role in the organization. For instance, a compliance head may have a different impact compared to a sales head or an HR head versus a technology or operations head. Additionally, the effect of the program will depend on how each individual's skills change due to the program and how these changes relate to their performance outcomes.
A more pragmatic approach to measuring ROI is to shift the focus from the program to the individual, which also aligns with the program objectives. We use reflective practice methods to help each individual assess how their skill development affects their ability to deliver the organizational impact expected from their role. We help them develop an operational definition of the skill objectives of the program and create a personal conceptual framework that links those skills to their role activities and outcomes. We do this at different stages, before and after some interventions and deliberate practice. We then use the data from their reflections to identify who has improved their results and what skills they attribute to their success.
The need for external validation of the results and change becomes less important when validation is embedded in reflective practice. Individuals can validate their findings as part of their reflective practice by asking questions such as "How do you know you achieved the results?" or "How do you know you developed the skills?"
The proposed impact and case study approach is based on the pragmatic strategy described above. It can be applied to any program, but this example is geared towards non-individual contributor senior leadership interventions.
Identifying and Configuring Deliberate Practice Projects for Leadership Programs
A lot of programs, leadership programs included, tend to configure ‘learning’ projects as part of the leadership program experience. The idea is to provide a purpose-built project experience that allows the skills addressed to be deliberately practiced and assessed or validated.
The greatest challenge with these ‘learning’ projects tends to be a lack of ownership by the participants and lack of follow-through as often delivering or completing the projects properly requires more time than the program has by design and often requires the individuals to add these activities on top of their day roles resulting in them giving it less time or attention.
To encourage the participants to take it seriously, presentations to senior stakeholders are included as part of the end-of-program requirement, which raises the importance of doing a good job and the consequences of doing a bad one.
The result is that the program objectives get lost, and the focus shifts back to delivering the project under stressful conditions so I don’t fail!
An alternative approach that is aligned with the proposed impact study approach is to have each person frame a worthy project from their day job. If this can be achieved, then remain in the context where the skills change, and impact are expected to happen, and there is no perceived additional stress from extra activities introduced by the program. In addition, the program can withdraw the scaffolds at any time without impacting the follow-through as the ‘projects’ are part of their day job, not the program, and thus will continue even without the scaffolds. Finally, using activities and results from their day job as the context for deliberate practice removes the need for any additional effort to transfer the skills from the intervention or external project to their day job context. The change is embedded, and the impact is aligned to their success.
The project identification and configuration approach proposed below is designed to guide participants in framing the project opportunities in their day job, something they should be doing anyway.
Blog Post: Building Blocks of a Non-Individual Contributor Curriculum — A Different Take on Leadership Development
In thinking about how to help non-individual contributors develop the skills to be more effective in the role, we need to develop a working model of how accountability and responsibilities evolve. The model described in this post is a 7-stage model where each stage requires and builds on the stage before it.