Designing leadership: the secrets to guarantee success from your leadership programs

Sunday, May 22, 2016 - 11:33

By Scott Martin, Sales Director AIM Corporate

Do you want your leadership programs to really deliver embedded learning and behavioural change?

Here at AIM, we’ve spent the past 75 years delivering thousands of leadership and management development programs right around Australia, in every industry and every sector.

Whether it’s an accredited or non-accredited program for ten people or 10,000, there are some common ingredients to the all-around success of these programs.

This list is by no means exhaustive as the factors that make a successful leadership program could fill a volume of books.

Many factors will also sound like common sense but we’ve decided to point them out here as you’d be surprised how many organisations don’t tick these crucial boxes when designing their leadership programs.

  • Better strategic planning - Start with the end in mind and take a project management mindset into developing your leadership programs. From the outset, be really clear on what the issues are in the organisation as well as the outcomes required and how we might measure success. This will greatly assist in establishing the right content, delivery methods and program elements, enabling you to further focus on the factors below.
  • Align the program to organisational values, mission and vision – If these key directions are firm and in place, it’s crazy not to include them in your leadership program. Keep coming back to what we believe and where we want to be. Often it’s great to start with a session on mission, culture and values so you can relate back to them during the program. This will effectively tie everything together.
  • Select the right people and be selective – Often people are selected for leadership and management programs almost against their will and this just doesn’t work.  Make the program something that people aspire to within the organisation. Link it to advancement within your performance management processes. A great idea is to seek applications from delegates and also their managers which address some simple but appropriate criteria. Make the program a centre piece in the organisation.
  • Develop cross company alignment and foster collaboration – When selecting a cohort as well as the program elements, think top to bottom and side to side. Much of the success of leadership programs comes from the benefits of the cohort model, not to mention the collaboration and sharing that eventuates across departments as well as the collaboration that comes from working with those above and below. There are a range of methods to ensure this collaboration is really maximised.
  • Get senior managers, including the CEO actively involved – There’s nothing quite as effective as having the CEO take the time to welcome delegates, outline the importance of the program and where it fits into the vision of the company moving forward. It’s also valuable to get line managers involved and set expectations of them as well as the delegates.
  • Foster disruptive thinking and behaviour change – Disruption is everywhere, especially in a digital context and for most organisations, if they keep doing things the same way they’ll quickly become irrelevant. Some of the greatest ideas we’ve seen have come out of continuous improvement projects built into leadership programs. It’s the ideal atmosphere to foster new thinking.
  • Get the content and context right – If you want people to learn and to truly change behaviour, you have to provide context. Take the time to ensure the content matches the skills development needs of your organisation make sure the learning relates to both the current and future environment.
  • Select the right facilitators – Face to face workshops are still at the heart of any effective leadership program and with good reason. At AIM, we work hard to get the right DNA match between a facilitator’s experience, the program content and the group mix. Also, getting the right balance between the lead facilitator and any other SME’s that might be introduced throughout the program is key.
  • Mix it up – At AIM, we incorporate the 70:20:10 concept into all of our programs. This model suggests that we learn best by spending 10% of our development time in formal courses, 20% working with others who can role model, guide and offer feedback and 70% of our time operating at work while gaining guidance, direction, information, feedback and encouragement. Our programs put as much emphasis on the 70 and 20 as the 10 which requires a real partnership with clients.
  • Include a Workplace Project or Task (group or individual) –The best programs tend to be tightly aligned to business outcomes and nothing achieves this as effectively as a group project. Encouraging people to work together in groups builds successful outcomes at many levels and ensure greater ROI from the program.
  • Include a Coaching and Mentoring Support Framework – As we mentioned above, the incorporation of the 70:20:10 model means looking further than just the 10% of formal learning. Coaching and mentoring provides the individual perspective as well as the on the job relevancy to ensure leaders are developed to their full potential.
  • Celebrate Success – Work Hard, Play Hard…well not quite but success should be celebrated by getting as many stakeholders involved as possible. Plan a morning tea, lunch or dinner to highlight the achievements of program participants. Include partners and family where possible as they’ve often been put out where extra work is involved. Include alumni, facilitators, coaches and mentors so that the good vibes can permeate to all levels of the organisation.
  • Measure success and report back – Measuring ROI is important for current and future funding but measurement can be complex. Overthinking ROI can needlessly complicate the real measures of success. That said, you need to go deeper than the happy sheets at the end of workshops. Capture new ideas, process and product improvements, delegate participation levels and utilise workplace projects and presentations to stakeholders to capture and spread the excitement.
  • Review – Always look for ways to improve the program, ensure it remains aligned to organisational directions and that content is as current as can be. Again, involve as many stakeholders as possible especially recent participants.

So there you have it. As I said, not by any stretch exhaustive and many of these elements could be seen as peripheral to the program but often aren’t considered. Our recent Australian Management Capability Index data stresses more than ever the need for strong middle and senior managers in order for Australia to flourish. Too many organisations retreat from management and leadership programs when times are tough and unfortunately that is completely counter intuitive to what’s required for their success.

AIM Tailored Learning Solutions develops customised training and education programs to address an organisation’s specific learning and development needs. Every industry and almost every business is unique, dictating that individual businesses can benefit greatly from a unique approach to development with often a diverse combination of solutions. Matching the right capabilities to organisational needs and backing this up with an investment in learning and development will ensure business success as well as an engaged and motivated workforce.