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Leadership development - worth the investment?

By Lester Coupland


Here at Cranfield Executive Development, we work hard to ensure that our leadership development programmes consistently deliver the value that businesses both need and expect. We get great feedback from course participants, many of whom are only too happy to tell us about the difference attending Cranfield has made within their business and to their personal outlook and career development.

And yet, sadly, leadership development programmes are still perceived by many as not offering good value for money. You don’t have to look far to find evidence that outcomes from this type of training often fall short of organisations’ and individuals’ expectations.

A company priority

A recent report by St Gallen Executive Education found that 93% of business leaders would put executive leadership development as one of their top two priorities for their organisation when targeting future success. Meanwhile, further research by the organisation found only one in five people thought their company was unlocking the full potential of executive learning and leadership development.

So, leadership development is clearly considered an enabler of innovation and growth, and yet still so many of the programmes out there are falling short of what is needed. How can we and our fellow educational providers begin to tackle this shortfall, and set about improving the reputation of leadership development programmes?

At Cranfield, we have been designing and delivering leadership development programmes for many years, and have consistently ranked highly for the impact of our work. At the same time, we have been working hard to address the issue of ‘perceived impact’ in our own research and pursuing innovation in our work with individual clients. We have been striving to understand what works in leadership development, for whom, and in what contexts.

Design for Impact

The culmination of seven years’ research led by our Executive Development Director, Dr Wendy Shepherd, Design for Impact is our own design philosophy, which aims to help organisations evaluate their needs and therefore gather the evidence needed to justify their investment in executive education, as well as prove return on that investment.

Design for Impact is intended to be a rigorous process: it has several key stages, each enabled by a set of tools and methods which are applied working in close collaboration with the organisation concerned.

The design methodology starts with our Learning Capital Audit (LCA), which reviews an organisation’s current approach to learning and how it fits within its wider context and strategy. The output of the LCA is a set of recommendations for change, which in turn form the foundation of something we call a Development Impact Model.

This model, co-created during a design workshop, provides an explanation of how the development intervention will deliver change at the individual, team and organisational level.

Once the Development Impact Model is agreed, the final stage of design involves the creation of what we call Development Pathways, and the curation of content.

The programme impact is measured at five different stages of the intervention: input, activity, output, outcome and impact. Design for Impact offers a range of carefully crafted tools and techniques to support organisations in implementing changes.

Those responsible for leadership development interventions in organisations can often struggle to produce the evidence required when asked by their Executive Board to report back on their investment. By encouraging a different way of thinking and some new practices, Design for Impact aims to help organisations to justify the time, money and effort they put in to executive development, and produce results that prove invaluable.

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