Leadership programmes are becoming a staple activity of L&D professionals, more so as the lines between L&D, talent management and development become more enmeshed. Research by the CIPD and other bodies shows that organisations are increasingly utilising these type of learning activities when supporting the potential of their senior managers.

When working with other L&D professionals I find myself being asked a fair few questions about leadership programmes, such as:

What exactly are they? How are they different to a regular training programme? What’s different between a leadership and a management development programme? How do you design it effectively? How long should it be? What content should be covered? Should we outsource or do it in-house? How do we evaluate it? Can we obtain a Return on Investment? 

I am sure that as a L&D practitioner you had similar questions yourself, or were asked them by key stakeholders at some point. A separate blog post already discusses my point of view in relation to evaluating such programmes. This one focuses on the rationale behind such programmes, providing you with my tips of designing an effective one.

1. Select your audience (and don’t leave the rest behind)
One of the first critical decisions that needs to be made is in relation to selecting candidates for the programme. Some organisations create development centres; perhaps utilising personality assessments, interviews and other methods to identify key talent. These methods provide invaluable insight in relation to selecting your participants however don’t forget the people that do not make the final cut. Make sure that you have development and learning opportunities in place for those individuals who made the effort to prepare, be engaged and show involvement in the process. These individuals still form part of your key talent – investing in them is equally as important.

2. Design with the audience in mind
Some organisations then churn out a leadership programme that is either off the shelf or utilises a combination of courses sourced externally. Typically there will be limited analysis of the individuals’ actual and real learning needs. Tacit knowledge is completely ignored and focus will be on the external outcomes of the programme. A properly designed leadership programme recognises that your people will have different needs, learning styles and expectations. Therefore the ‘learning needs analysis’ part is key. A lot of information will feed in through the development centre and as a result of appraisals and 360 feedback. However, do not forget to speak to the individual learner – what does he or she want to achieve out of the programme?

3. Don’t link in financial rewards
This might sound controversial, however I find that linking financial rewards to a leadership programme will be more of a hindrance and (may I even be as presumptuous to say) an added complication. It will inevitably attract a different calibre of individual to apply, shift motivation extrinsically and can lead to disappointment if such promises are not met. Instead focus on non-financial rewards, reap engagement and support individuals’ line managers with effective tools to support performance feedback and ongoing development.

4. Make space for learning 
Let’s admit it… you cannot expect your employees to keep on performing at the same operational level whilst undertaking a leadership development programme. It is unrealistic to have such expectations and, even if you don’t, make sure that they know this! Communicate with them and ensure that they have systems in place that support their operational work. 

5. Harness learning that happens, accept change and be learning flexible 
Due to the nature of these programmes they can be lengthy, involve a range of learning components and cut across different departments and locations. As a result of this your leaders will learn, develop and change. It is crucial that as L&D professionals we acknowledge this as a critical part of a leadership programme. Trust your employees, support them in identifying and communicating their learning achievements and use this knowledge at key points on the programme to update, change and further tailor their programme.

​Of course these are just some of the key areas areas that we have identified when working with clients designing their leadership programmes. What points did you consider when developing your own leadership programme? Let us know on here, on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn pages.