One of the best ways to create strong leaders is to implement a leadership development program at your company. However, new research from Harvard Business Publishing finds that these types of programs are not a priority for many businesses.
According to Harvard's survey of more than 700 leaders from companies around the world, businesses have been increasing their spending on leadership learning-and-development (L&D) programs, but only 28 percent of organizations see these programs as a strategic priority.
Similarly, a 2015 survey from recruitment firm Korn Ferry found a lack of support from top executives for leadership development programs.
"Given the central role leadership plays in the success of any organization, the view of leadership development has to shift from a 'nice to have' to a 'must have' business process as integral as the supply chain, marketing or IT," Noah Rabinowitz, former Korn Ferry senior partner and current managing director of Deloitte Leadership and Human Capital, said in a statement.
What's hindering leadership development programs?
Ray Carvey, executive vice president of corporate learning at Harvard Business Publishing, thinks the real challenge for L&D programs is proving their impact. The Korn Ferry survey found similar results, with 55 percent of those respondents ranking the return on investment on leadership development efforts as "fair" to "very poor."
"Most L&D initiatives are measured at the level of participant satisfaction: If a program is very well received by employees and business managers at their outset, then it's deemed a success," Carvey said. "But it falls on the HR teams to show that these programs are not only well received but also make a significant impact on the company when implemented properly."
Time constraints were another hurdle, cited by 43 percent of the Harvard survey respondents.
"Much of today's workforce is stretched thin, and taking on any additional activity often seems like a burden," Carvey said. "However, this doesn't need to be the case when it comes to L&D programs. Businesses need to implement plans that fit into the daily workflow of employees and allow for flexibility in scheduling."
Making leadership development programs work
According to Harvard, the L&D programs that work best have an impact on organizational results and are regarded as a strategic priority. These effective programs are offered for all levels, not just senior management, and they develop a strong pipeline of internal candidates, which, in turn, creates opportunities for promoting from within the company.
"While it can be challenging for HR teams to integrate a robust L&D program … there are opportunities for innovation in design, methodologies and strategic alignment," Carvey said. "Above all, organizations need new ways to measure program impact. These changes represent a new direction for L&D teams: to be more open, more communicative … and more aligned to their business-line partners."
Experts at Korn Ferry offered the following tips for how to increase the effectiveness of leadership development programs and create a strong and sustainable leadership pipeline:
- Embody development. Ensure your leadership development is embedded in your organization's culture and strategy, and that it is fully supported by top executives.
- Ensure continuity. Understand that leadership development needs to be a continuous process. For it to be successful, it can't be made up of one-time classes or one-off events.
- Include everyone. Create leadership development programs for employees at all levels of an organization, including the senior-most executives.
- Make it a priority. Don't cut down or eliminate investments in leadership development when the company is struggling financially; those are the times it is needed most.
Rabinowitz said the companies that are very successful at leadership development have made it a part of their culture and ensure they are constantly working on it.
Additional reporting by Chad Brooks.