Designing Leadership Development for Organizational Impact

Data. Metrics. Impact. Evaluation.

These key words are only becoming more dominant in organizational life as we have increased our capacity to collect, process and analyze larger amounts of data. But what are we really measuring? Often times, when we think about program evaluation, especially leadership development programs, we ask people if they liked the program and if they learned something useful and call it a day. What we forget is that just liking a program or learning something does not always translate into organizational impact.

And in fact, participants might even say they didn’t like a particular experience, but at the same time, it was one of the most transformative experiences that they have ever had. Additionally, when we think about impactful learning, we often think about the importance of inducing a bit of “productive discomfort” in the participant as a means of creating a transformational learning experience. This also might not be ranked so highly on the smiley scale. Clearly, measuring impact is important, but measuring impact only from participants’ on-the-spot evaluations falls short.

Just as connection to mission, intentionality, and advanced stakeholder alignment are crucial to designing and evaluating any initiative, they are also critical when designing and evaluating leadership development initiatives in a way that has a clear, measurable impact. Thus, it is crucial to intentionally engage all of the key stakeholders early in the process of designing the leadership development program and create metrics of success together.

As key stakeholders, participants should also be included in the process of designing metrics because they will be the ones doing the learning. Additionally, if they understand and are involved in designing their own goals for the leadership development experience it will be that much more powerful.

And of course, these metrics of success should be tied to organizational mission or bottom line results, or else why is the organization spending resources on it? For example, one measure of impact could be that at least 90% of participants will receive higher rankings from their direct reports in their next 6-month 360 in a pre-determined aspect of leadership that has been deemed crucial to organizational success (tied to mission or bottom line).

Knowing and agreeing upon these metrics from the beginning creates more opportunity for having broader organizational impact because the starting point of reference is grounded in organizational impact rather than creating a positive individual experience. While measuring organizational impact of leadership development initiatives might be more of an art than a science, this challenge is no excuse not to try to think in terms of impact and metrics.

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Samantha Goldman