According to Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning’s 2018 “State of Leadership Development” report, only one-third of managers said they became “much more effective” after participating in leadership development programs. Additionally, 80 percent of respondents said organizations need more innovative learning techniques in leadership development programs – an increase of five percentage points over 2017.

“Existing management training can work,” says Savina Perez, co-founder of new leadership training company Hone, “but it takes a big investment on behalf of the company in terms of content creation and ongoing support. The time and budget required are often too high, and so companies compromise on quality or, worse, do nothing.”

Most leaders are aware that millennials will make up the majority of the workforce very soon, and that they are quickly filling up new and mid-level management ranks. But are they prepared for them? Only half of millennials in Harvard’s survey believed their organization’s leadership development programs were aligned with its business needs. They also said “poor content, insufficient thinking and expertise from outside sources, and a failure to make a compelling return-on-investment case” were the biggest barriers to training program effectiveness.

These training problems require innovative solutions. Is your organization creating the leadership development programs your employees want and need?

Learner-Driven Development

In Harvard’s survey, 74 percent of respondents said development should be driven by learners rather than L&D. One strategy researchers identify in the report is learner-driven development strategies, including teaching storytelling as a leadership skill, using experimentation and skills practice as a training method, and using new technologies like virtual classrooms increase engagement and personalization and “to reach a critical mass of learners.” These strategies, says Ian Fanton, senior vice president of corporate learning at Harvard Business Publishing, can help organizations “capture the attention of their younger leaders” especially.

Ben Benson, CEO of Interact, believes immersive, practice-based learning is key to effective leadership development. The learning and development company, which recently announced an investment from Rockpool Investments, designs courses that are taught by theater-trained actors. In practice-based learning, Benson says, “the participants learn their way to an effective outcome through trying different approaches in a safe environment.” Darran Green, an investment director at Rockpool, notes that investors in corporate training companies “see trends moving to self-directed learning and workplace learning becoming more practice-based in the next few years.”

Blended Learning as a Service

Perez recommends “bite-sized, spaced, blended learning including peer groups to maximize effectiveness.” Additionally, “have a well-researched profile of what makes a good manager,” and clearly communicate to learners why the training is important to the organization.

Hone recently launched its “management-training-as-a-service” platform aimed specifically at millennial leaders. Modeled after software as a service (SaaS), this model is an on-demand training platform that companies pay for over time. “We saw an opportunity to reimagine the training experience for the next generation of leaders using the latest research and technologies to make it more effective, convenient and affordable,” says Perez. Hone uses virtual instructor-led training (VILT), coaches and peer groups to provide training to managers. Its artificial intelligence (AI) platform supports that training with personalized learning journeys, optimized content and automated chat.

“A modular blended format, [integrating] live virtual with face-to-face experiences, allows for flexible design of the learning experience and leverages technology for scale,” Fanton says. “Through small learning bursts that eliminate time away from work, this approach delivers the content in a compelling way that allows leaders to develop over time, apply their new skills, shift their mindset, learn from each other and cascade their learning.”

Aligning Programs

Involve senior leaders in programs from the beginning, Fanton says. “Give them a voice in programs” to make sure you align them with business strategy. Doing so will also provide younger leaders access to those key decision-makers – something he says they are “asking for in spades.” Similarly, Perez says it’s important to ensure senior manager buy-in to programs.

Measurement is also key. Hone uses 360-degree assessments to measure behavior change, as well as “lighter-weight check-ins between assessments to ensure learning is sticking and help out when it’s not,” says Perez.

“Too many learning and development professionals spend time designing leadership development programs yet fail to answer the most important question of all: What is the business need for this program, and what is the business outcome we’d like to see?” says Fanton. He recommends identifying metrics that are aligned with the behaviors and business impacts you want the training to affect, and use a mix of action learning projects as well as self-, supervisor, peer and sponsor assessments to measure progress. “Many of our clients look at four key metrics to evaluate their leadership development programs,” he adds: “financial, customer, people and processes. This alignment moves the organization forward, while simultaneously reinforcing the culture and behaviors which provide an organization competitive advantage.”

With strategic design and delivery, along with the measurement tools to evaluate impact, organizations can create a training program that will develop effective leaders throughout the organization and across the hierarchy.