How to make sure leadership and talent development programmes are a success

August 24th, 2013

So you have decided to go ahead with a leadership or talent development programme? You’ve chosen something that is engaging, challenging and tailored to the delegates’ needs. And you’ve ensured that it will provide them with all the knowledge and skills to become successful leaders. But how do you make sure that once the programme is over the learning sticks? How do you make sure that once they have gone back to their busy daily routines the learning isn’t forgotten about and lost?

In order for leadership and talent development programmes to have a long term impact on individuals, and therefore organisations, the focus of the programme design cannot be entirely on the contact days alone. By this I mean the days when the training happens – whether this is in the classroom, outdoors or on expedition. The delegates may have had the most exciting, memorable learning experiences of their lives but without certain factors it is very unlikely that these experiences will be transformed into real behavioural change and tangible business results.

One factor, without which talent and leadership development programmes are guaranteed to not be effective, is feedback.   In 2004 Burgoyne et al.* drew together all the evidence they could find on what impact leadership development programmes had on organisations. In this report they discovered that one of the key factors in the success of leadership development programmes was the opportunities for receiving and discussing individual feedback.

Yet, despite the fact that this report is a number of years old, and the idea of giving feedback is certainly not a new one, it seems that with many talent and leadership development programmes feedback is still an afterthought.  How many training courses have you been on where the emphasis is more on getting through all the content rather than leaving time for feedback and reflection?  And what is your organisation’s feedback culture? In so many companies it feels like giving feedback is a chore.

For any development programme to be successful feedback needs to be made a priority. It needs to be discussed before a course in order to agree on what the delegate’s needs are. By doing this they can get the most out of the training as they know what their focus will be. And feedback needs to be discussed after the course. This can be observation about how they performed or how they progressed on the course and a discussion about what their personal action plan will be as a result.

Burgoyne said that by making sure time is spent discussing feedback from a leadership development programme you will better the chances of “increasing the accuracy of training needs diagnosis, deriving a more focused personal development plan and motivating the individual to address their development needs.”

And this leads on to another important part of making sure that talent development and leadership development programmes are successful – follow up. It’s so easy to undertake some training, write a personal development plan with all the best intentions of sticking to it, but never allowing the time for it once you have got back to the normal working routine so the learning is forgotten.

It is therefore vital to make sure that time is made for following up on what has been learned. This involves reminding the delegates what they have learned and encouraging them to revisit and review their personal action plans regularly. While this can be initiated by the facilitator, what’s really important is that the management processes back in the workplace allow the time for this reviewing and follow up.

Research has shown that for talent development and leadership development programmes to have a positive impact they need to be engaging and memorable. They also need to be tailored to the delegate’s needs. But even with all of this, if there is no feedback and follow up talent and leadership development is unlikely to be successful. Only with it can you ensure that you will reinforce and embed learning resulting in long term change and tangible business results.

By Emma Webb


* Burgoyne, J. Hirsh, W. and Williams, S. (2004) The Development of Management and Leadership Capability and its Contribution to Performance: The evidence, the prospects and the research need. Nottingham: DfES Publications