How to avoid a poor ROI on development initiatives: do the basics, transform senior leaders

Learning and Development. Does what it says on the tin, doesn’t it? Almost.

The L before the D puts the cart before the horse. Organisations spend money, time and effort on ‘developing’ leaders. Yet to genuinely achieve an ROI, organisations need to truly focus on the development aspect rather than learning. Educating highly experienced senior leaders is like pouring wine into a full glass. Develop leaders’ awareness, their behaviour, and their outlook, and their glass gets bigger.

So how can L&D leaders explain to the senior team that they need to change their ways?

With evidence. It’s always going to be a tricky conversation. Basic measures such as a thorough TNA, a significant investment of time, and clear goals make it easier to approach senior leaders with a strong business case for change. And, most importantly, these measures ensure that the programme delivers. Which isn’t only good for you, but the organisation, and the entire L&D function.

The current situation: L&D versus senior leaders

Our work brings us into regular contact with L&D people. Their most frequent lament about their role? Senior leaders don’t really get L&D. They don’t understand its purpose or its capability.

  • Purpose – according to the CIPD, the purpose of L&D is to ‘improve individual and organisational performance
  • Capability – at its best, L&D supports the overall business strategy, ensuring that business goals and aims are fulfilled. The CIPD explains: ‘A learning and development (L&D) strategy outlines how an organisation develops its workforce’s capabilities, skills and competencies to remain successful. It’s a key part of the overall business strategy’

Yet the lack of understanding of L&D’s purpose and capability becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. L&D is deployed as a quick fix because its capabilities aren’t grasped. This firefighting is barely effective – it may address the symptoms, but not the root cause. In the long term, nothing changes, which reinforces the belief that L&D ‘doesn’t work.’ It’s then harder for L&D leaders to stump up a budget. A lack of resource hampers what L&D can do, and on, and on, and on.

Why senior leadership programmes deliver poor ROIs

There are five key elements at play when senior leadership programmes fail to deliver lasting change.

  1. Senior leaders don’t understand L&D
    L&D professionals must ensure that senior leaders are aware of the functions, purpose and capability of L&D as a start. They must also put in place high-level development programmes for senior leaders which make the personal insights and potential commercial results clear
  2. The focus is on learning, not development
    Senior leaders have accrued an entire careers’ worth of knowledge and experience. There’s nothing new under the sun, and to suggest otherwise could put the defences up before the programme has even begun. Who challenges the most senior people? Who creates time and space for them to learn about themselves and to reflect on their behaviour? Development is an opportunity for senior leaders to stop, think and make changes
  3. There is no TNA process, or the process is insufficient
    Why bother with an investigative TNA process, rooted in curiosity? People know what they need. Let’s get on with it. If only that were the case. A professionally-led TNA process gives an in-depth understanding of the personal and group dynamics at play in any senior team. L&D professionals can then identify their organisation’s needs and specific outcomes. This provides L&D with the evidence to persuade the senior team to commit time and resources to the development process
  4. Not enough time, space and investment is put into the programme
    Quick fixes and simple programmes, are unlikely to have any real effect on senior leaders’ personal development. Lasting behavioural changes won’t emerge and the impact on the business’ culture is negligible, if not nullified altogether. Again, in this scenario, L&D is perceived as ineffective
  5. New L&D initiatives, born out of scant resource, are emerging – with limited impact on the business
    The scarcity of resources mean L&D professionals make do with what’s available; they put in place structures and practices which they hope will be palatable, but which are less effective. The areas that have grown and are growing include: coaching by line managers; e-learning; and, in-house development programmes. All three are cost-effective, all are useful when deployed correctly. So, what happens when behavioural change is the goal? Content and in-house development don’t cut it. For a detailed explanation of why, take a look at our blog, ‘So, you want lasting behavioural change?

To avoid a poor ROI, programmes must deliver genuine behavioural change

For leaders to change their behaviour – and for that change to stick – there are three elements which development programmes will need to include.

  1. Develop the individuals’ consciousness
    The facilitator and individual/group will need to explore personality, leaders’ values, beliefs and any biases they may have. They’ll also look at emotional intelligence, how leaders relate to their own emotions and those of other people. Underpinning all of this work is openness and vulnerability
  2. Allow time and space for reflective experience
    To get the best from the initiative, leaders must encounter the programme experientially. That means, living the initiative, not merely taking it in through an e-learning portal. Leaders will need time to reflect on what they felt and observed; an experienced facilitator will ensure that the atmosphere is conducive to reflection and supports behavioural change
  3. Make sure the initiative takes place in the right environment
    The environment is key to the outcomes of the programme. An experienced facilitator will ensure that the physical space is right and they’ll create and maintain a safe psychological space. The facilitator will provide the leader with tools to help them anchor their learning and take it forward

Do the basics right, get the best ROI possible

If L&D professionals don’t insist on doing the basics well, they hamper the programme’s impact. This creates the risk that nothing will change and that the fortune of maligned L&D initiatives will continue downwards. A thorough TNA is the starting point; it provides evidence of what’s needed. This gives L&D the confidence to approach leaders or challenge their behaviour, which is half the battle won.

Put senior people on a programme that focusses on development, not content, and L&D leaders stand a good chance of creating genuine, lasting behavioural change. The impact on business culture is positive, the commercial results measurable, and the function of L&D shows itself at its best. Get that right, and L&D will have done what seemed impossible: reversed the downward spiral into a virtuous circle, one where L&D is understood, used appropriately and seen as effective.

If you’re struggling to get buy-in from the senior team, get in touch. We’re used to handling objections to L&D and who knows? Perhaps we can make your life a little easier? Call 0117 370 1800, we look forward to speaking with you.

/* Post types */ < line fill="none" stroke="#FFFFFF" stroke-width="1.3422" stroke-miterlimit="10" x1="4.617" y1="41.609" x2="31.22" y2="41.609"/> .share