• Jun 18 2020

A 3-Step Guide to (Re)-Prioritizing Leadership Development Investments

In a typical year, the end of June marks the midpoint of the calendar, and is a natural time for reflection and strategy reprioritization. We tend to ask ourselves, “How have our priorities shifted?  Where do we need to update or adjust our goals?  What’s new that we need to incorporate into our strategic planning?”  In the year 2020, this has morphed into an almost daily conversation, as we respond, adjust, anticipate and reprioritize our resources in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, uncertain economic prospects, and emerging opportunities for significant social change.  

It is also during times of uncertainty and economic challenge that the need for learning increases, but companies tend to pull back from investing in development.  To help heads of leadership development manage this challenge, we recommend reviewing your existing leadership development portfolio with a keen eye towards re-prioritization.  As your business landscape shifts, where and how do you need to adjust your development strategy to ensure you are meeting the current challenges of the business, and anticipating the next areas of need?  

To support heads of leadership development in this re-prioritization, ExecOnline applied a leadership development lens to the process shared by best-selling author, sought-after speaker, and longtime professor at Columbia Business School, Rita McGrath, in a webinar we hosted with her in April.  The focus of Rita’s webinar was innovation tools to help you find opportunity in crisis; however, the principles she introduced are also applicable to the leadership development space. The following steps contextualize this guidance, and focus on helping heads of leadership development refine their leadership development portfolios to ensure program offerings reflect the organization’s greatest needs. 

(Re)-Prioritizing Leadership Development Investments in the Current Business Climate  

Step 1: Conduct a Portfolio Inventory

Start your evaluation process by conducting a portfolio inventory–a list all of your leadership development programs and activities.  It’s logical to start with programs offered across the company, but to ensure you develop a comprehensive list, think also about programs that are: 

  • Only offered in specific locations or business units
  • Previous programs (e.g., Leadership in Times of Uncertainty) that could be relevant today with some updating 
  • Under consideration for future delivery
  • Currently on pause or cancelled because they were only available in an in-person format 
  • Etc. 

Beginning with a comprehensive view of your leadership development portfolio will allow you to identify the programs with the greatest potential impact for your organization and that are best aligned with your leadership development strategy.  It may also show you where components of a program could be repurposed or adapted to serve a different need, especially for courses where the content is aligned to business needs, but the delivery format is not currently viable (e.g., in-person programs).  

Create Your List of Programs 

Example List:

  • Developing New Managers
  • Developing Experienced Managers
  • Building an Inclusive Organization 
  • Building Global Leaders
  • Developing High-Potential Leaders 
  • Leading in Times of Uncertainty
  • Becoming a Virtual Manager
  • Managing Change and Building Resiliency 

Step 2: Reevaluate Your Leadership Development Strategy

With the goal of ensuring your leadership development portfolio is closely aligned to organizational needs, we next recommend thinking through your overall leadership development strategy. What are your key goals? Where/how do your goals need to change to align with the current state of your business and the current business climate?

The following are provided as examples of leadership strategies; the strategy that you use across this exercise should be specific to your organization and your goals.  


Sample strategy #1: The goal of our leadership development programs is to develop a strong bench of ready-now leaders for our organization. 

Sample strategy #2:  We expect to continue to manage through business complexities and uncertainty.  The goal of our leadership development program is to build agile leaders across our organization.  

Step 3: Evaluate your Current Leadership Programs Against Your Updated Leadership Strategy

The next step is to cross-walk the list of programs identified in Step 1 with the updated leadership development strategy in Step 2. How well does your current leadership development portfolio reflect the leadership needs of your business?  To conduct this analysis, start by developing screening statements (dimensions) based on that strategy and give a weight to each statement.  A list of potential dimensions is provided below, but this list should be customized to align with your leadership development strategy from Step 2.  Table 1 below further provides sample screening statements for a selection of these dimensions. 

Potential Screening Dimensions

  • Alignment with business needs
  • Breadth/Depth of leadership competencies addressed
  • Fit with emerging business needs
  • Adaptability to virtual delivery 
  • Impact on development
  • Program reach/number of potential participants
  • Cost of program
  • Level of demand 
  • Flexibility of delivery 
  • Other: ____________
  • Other: ____________

Sample Screening Dimensions and Statements

Strategy:  Build a Strong Bench of Ready-Now Leaders for the Organization 

Table 1

After identifying dimensions and screening statements, carefully review each of your programs against them to prioritize your list of leadership development programs aligned to your strategy.  The following table provides an example:

Table 2

While conducting your analysis, consider the perspective of multiple stakeholders.  How would your CHRO prioritize your leadership development portfolio?  How would this compare with your CEO, C-suite leaders and broader leadership team?  How do your leadership development programs fit in with your larger learning and development program offerings?  Also pressure test your priorities through the lens of the current business environment.  Where have you seen collective strengths through your organization’s COVID-19 response, and what challenges or opportunities have emerged?  Use these additional inputs to pressure test your conclusions and reprioritize as appropriate.  

Additional Considerations to Finalize Your Updated Leadership Development Portfolio

These conversations may uncover additional leadership development needs, or programs, that are not currently part of your portfolio but for which there is a current or anticipated future need in the business. There may be places where sourcing an external program will be necessary if the skill or knowledge need is short-term or urgent. Alternatively, this could be an opportunity to see if you can repurpose parts of an existing program, or work in partnership with part of the business to develop a new program.  

In addition to refining your leadership development portfolio, spend time evaluating how your function has responded to the current business environment.  What have you learned from shifting programs online?  How have you adapted to changing business needs and priorities?  What can you learn from the past few months that can be applied to your future state as a function, in addition to the future state of your leadership portfolio?  

Are you working on re-prioritizing the leadership development programs offered at your organization? We are happy to help. Reach out today.

Beth Wiles

Director, Client Advisory at ExecOnline

Beth Wiles is an experienced talent management researcher and advisor, with a passion for helping people achieve their goals and potential.  Prior to ExecOnline, she worked in the consulting field and spent several years at CEB (now part of Gartner) working with Chief Human Resources Officers, Heads of Learning and Development, and Heads of Recruiting.  

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