• Jun 28 2023

How to Design a Leadership Development Program That Drives Business Impact

An L&D leader's guide to aligning learning to organizational goals and deploying high-impact programs.

In today’s rapidly evolving business environment, leadership development has never been more critical to an organization’s short- and long-term success. Today’s leaders need to continuously learn the right skills to meet shifting demands in the marketplace and lead their teams to drive business impact. L&D professionals are the critical link that connects leaders to the development opportunities they need to succeed. 

So, how can L&D professionals anticipate emerging competency needs at their organization and design leadership development programs that are timely, relevant, and drive maximum value for leaders and the bottom line? 

Read on for tips on designing, deploying, and measuring high-impact learning journeys using learning collections that target leadership capabilities aligned with your company’s goals. 

Understand your needs and objectives

To understand which competencies leaders need to succeed at your organization, you first need to assess your organization’s business goals, values, and culture. 

Review existing documentation: Start by reviewing the company’s mission statement, vision statement, strategic plans, open job descriptions, and any other relevant documents that outline the organization’s goals and values.

Engage key stakeholders: Interview key stakeholders at your organization, including senior leaders, department heads, and employees at different levels. Ask them about their perceptions of the company’s strategic goals, values, and culture, and the culture they aspire to create.
*Tip: to gain a broader view of employee perceptions, conduct surveys or focus groups

Learn how stuff gets done: Observe the organization’s day-to-day operations, decision-making processes, and communication channels. Look for patterns and behaviors that reflect the company’s strategic priorities and cultural values.

Assess employee engagement and satisfaction: Use employee engagement surveys, pulse surveys, or other measurement tools to assess the overall satisfaction and engagement levels within your company. 

Spot the difference:  Now you’ve developed two pictures:  Picture A) what your company aspires to be, and Picture B) how your company actually operates and perceives itself today. Assess where these two pictures are the same and where they are different.

Mind the gaps: Assess what skills and capabilities your leaders already exhibit that are aligned with company goals, and where there are capability gaps. In addition to your research into your own company, leverage industry research and best practices to understand what skills leaders need to succeed. 

Define your goals and hone your curriculum

Now that you understand the competencies broadly needed at your company, you can start refining your leadership development curriculum accordingly. 

Determine the specific knowledge, skills, and competencies that are needed at your company. Once you have your list, determine which leaders need which knowledge and skills to drive maximum impact. Of course, leaders at the executive level will likely require a different skill set than those of leaders at the middle management level. 

Next, stack-rank your list of desired skills and capabilities by order of priority. Assess which capabilities will, if developed by the right population of leaders, have the biggest impact on your company’s goals and values. 

Using your prioritized list of desired competencies, research leadership development courses that are designed to develop those competencies. ExecOnline empowers users to search our catalog of leadership development programs by desired capability and leader level to build comprehensive programs according to their specific goals. 

Now your leadership development curriculum is starting to take shape: you have a prioritized list of which leadership capabilities need to be developed by which leader population to drive maximum impact, and you have an idea of the programs and courses that can be leveraged to develop those capabilities. 

But how will you deploy and deliver these programs in a way that is accessible and engaging for your leaders? 

Design a multimodal leadership development curriculum

A one-size-fits-all approach to delivering leadership development that meets the needs of all of your leader populations does not exist. Highly effective leadership development programs combine on-demand learning, live forums, applied learning, and coaching. Assess which leader populations will be reached most effectively and with the highest impact by which modes of learning. For example, senior executives may benefit most from a combination of live forums and individual coaching, where leaders at the manager level may be better served by on-demand learning and group coaching. 

Leverage online learning platforms to ensure that your programs are accessible and scalable. The barrier to access in-person, fixed-schedule leadership development programs is high for today’s busy leaders. By leveraging online learning, particularly on-demand learning, you help ensure more leaders can take advantage of the opportunity to develop their skills. 

Create collections of programs curated for your different leader audiences. Your talent objectives for a particular leader group may comprise multiple competencies that those leaders need to develop. By curating collections of learning experiences, you offer leaders a roadmap for developing the skills they need that are aligned to your company’s goals. 

ExecOnline offers a library of Learning Collections that curate learning and coaching experiences to target key talent objectives and leader populations. For example, users can choose from Collections such as Business Transformation, Enabling the Hybrid Work Environment, and Women in Leadership to accelerate learning in these areas. Or, L&D professionals can use ExecOnline’s flexible leadership development platform to curate a collection of programs and coaching experiences that target their specific talent objectives. 

When designing your collections, consider whether you want your curriculum to be sequenced or flexible. A sequenced Collection or curriculum will offer programs in a prescriptive order, starting with programs designed to build foundational knowledge in a particular capability and expanding to more advanced concepts. Flexible collections allow leaders to choose from elective programs that complement their core learning paths based on their individual development needs or interests. 

Evaluate and optimize your strategy

How will you know whether your leadership development curriculum is making an impact on your objectives? Before you launch your curriculum, understand which metrics you will use to gauge its effectiveness and by what mechanisms you will measure them. 

For example, many L&D leaders measure enrollment and completion rates in their programs, as well as leader engagement and satisfaction with the programs (via participant surveys). Fewer L&D leaders measure the extent to which learning has taken place, is being applied, and is driving impact on business results. 

ExecOnline’s impact reporting dashboards empower users to drill down into a variety of performance metrics to measure enrollment, engagement, learning outcomes, business impact, and ROI of our programs. Our proprietary Impact Framework also offers users a unique methodology for measuring your curriculum’s financial impact through three key metrics: retention, productivity, and goal achievement

By understanding and communicating with key stakeholders the metrics you will use to measure the success of your curriculum, you create a data-driven template for continually optimizing your strategy, and making micro-adjustments to meet the needs of leaders and your business. 

Your leadership development design checklist

In summary, follow these steps to build a high-impact, evidence-based leadership development curriculum that is tightly aligned to your organization’s business and leadership needs: 

  • Conduct a document review, surveys, and key stakeholders interviews to develop a comprehensive understanding of your organization’s business goals, values, culture, and to identify gaps in leadership competencies across the organization.
  • Identify the specific knowledge and skills that leaders at various levels of the organization need to develop in order to achieve organizational goals and live up to organizational values. Stack rank those skills by order of priority to target the capabilities that will drive the biggest impact on your goals. 
  • Align learning and coaching experiences to your prioritized list of skills, and ensure that the experiences are offered in a multimodal format, which offers a mix of live forums, on-demand, independent learning, and coaching.
  • Utilize learning collections to offer robust knowledge and skill-building in a particular talent objective
  • Measure and optimize your curriculum, using data to regularly inform which leadership development experiences to offer to which leader population in order to continuously improve impact on organizational goals. 

Interested to learn how ExecOnline curated Collections empower our clients to deliver leadership development that drives impact? Let’s chat.

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