Lessons Learned from Award-Winning Leadership Development

February 24, 2017 in
By Jacob Flinck & Stacy Cook

Photo of typical large professional meeting room

Earlier this month, we were thrilled that one of our clients, Excella Consulting, made it to the Winner’s Circle for HR.com’s LEAD Award for Best Use of Classroom/Traditional Training in a Leadership Development Program. FMP HR.com Lead Awards LogoConsulting worked with Excella over a six-month period to carefully craft the program, blending together our knowledge of the best practices in leadership development with Excella’s unique (and progressive!) approach to cultivating its leaders. Want to know how to build your own award-winning program? Here are a few critical lessons learned to get you started.

Lesson 1. Engage senior leadership in the development process.

Leadership commitment and buy-in is an essential part of any successful organizational development initiative. Good leaders will not only tell staff that growing talent is important, but they will invest their own time to be present throughout the initiative to ensure its success.

We were very lucky to work with an organization that places as much emphasis on growing leaders as Excella. From the very beginning, the Partners of the firm were engaged in the program’s inception and early design. They willingly helped the instructional design team create short video interviews where the partners talked about their past experiences with leadership. Furthermore, the Partners participated in a pilot of the program to test the content and give meaningful feedback on alignment with Excella’s culture and values.

Not all leaders are quite so engaged. So how do you pull them in? First, identify the biggest influencers in your organization – the people that your workforce looks to for inspiration and direction. Then, find ways to get them involved in the program. Some examples include asking them to help craft scenarios for activities, come to the sessions and participate in a leadership panel, or simply reach out to their staff to share a story about a leader that was really influential to their own leadership practices. Before you make your request, be sure to put yourself in their shoes to fully appreciate the time (and energy!) commitment you are requesting. A little bit of empathy can go a long way.

Lesson 2. Don’t just design a classroom experience.

Ok, we’ll say it. Most training programs rely way too heavily on training. Now, before you go cross-eyed, think about this: going into a classroom is only one, very small part of what it takes to actually learn. The general wisdom today is that only 10% of organizational learning really happens in a classroom. As much as 20% comes from social learning (i.e., from mentors or peers during conversations) and 70% comes from trying things out on the job. This is what is known as the 70-20-10 rule of learning.

Leadership development is certainly no exception. You can’t tell people how to be leaders. You can expose them to new ideas, you can reveal new tools for their tool box, and you can even inspire them to action in a classroom. But, until they go out into the world to try, fail, and recover you can be sure that they aren’t actually learning much.

Excella’s leadership development program included classroom elements, to be sure. But, the program’s design also included a suite of additional activities that Excella could use to reinforce the learning from the program. Pre-work included a battery of assessments, as well as agendas, to use when checking in with supervisors on program expectations. Follow up work occurred for three weeks after each program and included additional reading, assignments, and references to reinforce the concepts. Beyond this, FMP also helped created accountability toolkits that senior leadership could use to blend program elements into day to day activities like staff meetings, employee check ins, and corporate communications.

When working on your own leadership development program, don’t forget to build time (and budget!) to build these typically low cost and high impact components.

Lesson 3. Don’t wait until the program is dead to evaluate it.

Most people treat learning evaluation as a “post mortem” style activity. You wait until everything has happened and then you run the numbers to see how it went. This summative evaluation technique might give you a sense for whether a program performed as it was supposed to, but it does nothing to make the current program more successful as it is unfolding.

One of the secrets to Excella’s success was creating a robust formative and summative evaluation approach. Don’t get lost in the terminology, formative just means that the team collected and analyzed evaluation data throughout the entire program in order to make meaningful adjustments along the way.

For example, one of the biggest challenges we find with learning programs of all kinds is that participants don’t make time to engage in pre- and post-work. The Excella-FMP team managed this obstacle by sending all pre- and post-work through MailChimp, an online tool that lets you track open rates, click rates, and other useful data. Using this tool, we could see exactly who opened the email to do their pre-work, and could send a helpful reminder from the Partner team to those who were falling behind. We even showed participants how their stats were stacking up to generate more participation in out-of-class activities.

Get creative with your evaluation techniques and don’t wait until the program is over to use the information to benefit your program.

Start Growing Your Leaders!

These lessons are a great place to start when pulling together your own leadership development program. Want more help? FMP can help you strategize your approach or even build your own custom program. Contact us today to learn more.