Organizations today face numerous challenges to operate efficiently and maintain a competitive advantage in times of change. Change requires new behaviors, new routines, new methods, new customers, new perspectives and new technology. It is up to leaders to provide the direction to help their teams navigate these challenges and adapt appropriately. Improving alignment between the achievement of business goals and leaders’ skills starts with the creation of a business strategy, followed by a leadership strategy, followed by a leadership development strategy.

Leadership today is not delivering on board-level expectations. According to Brandon Hall’s 2015 “State of Leadership Development” report, 71 percent organizations say their leaders are not ready to lead for the future, 25 percent say they have a ready successor identified for one out of 10 critical leadership positions, and 81 percent say that their company’s leaders are not effective at developing leaders. In addition, research shows there are problems developing leaders in time (in role and for the role) and in a consistent and cost-effective way. There’s a growing need for organizations to completely rethink how they develop their leaders.

How Leadership Development Can Deliver on Its Promise: Redefining the Strategy

It is important for L&D to develop a clearer understanding of how leaders in its organization prefer to learn and how they are learning now and then adapt its current leadership development strategy. Define the target audience, identify key KPIs, provide assessment capabilities, and offer personalized, just-in-time training based on required leadership skills. Classroom training is still the dominant method in leadership development, and adding online learning components to the mix makes it possible to develop leaders at all levels more quickly and flexibly. This approach can provide a crucial advantage for time-constrained leaders and organizations with geographically dispersed operations. Blended and modular learning enable L&D to respond to the specific needs of its target audience while reducing transaction time and costs. This greater flexibility makes it possible to personalize L&D activities and tailor them to the specific challenges facing leaders.

High-impact Leadership Development Strategy

L&D must collaborate with senior executives to define the ambitions and objectives for their leadership development initiatives. In parallel, research from Bersin by Deloitte has found that leadership development program leaders need to become aware of the success criteria and barriers to high-impact leadership development in order to optimize their blended design for a future-proof leadership development plan. The outcome is a high-impact leadership development strategy that offers:

  • A framework to develop leaders at all levels, without exception, with limited resources and budget
  • A just-in-time approach that develops all critical and future leadership capabilities and ensures that they are embedded in daily work
  • An opportunity to change the leadership development from a program- or event-based approach to a systematic and holistic process with personalized learning
  • Global consistency of key leadership capabilities across countries, functions and levels
  • Specific metrics/KPIs to improve business performance through learning

A re-shaped leadership development framework stands out because it makes a clear distinction among four leadership development solutions “columns,”  offered in parallel to each relevant leadership level. To ensure that they add value at each level, there should be a strong link to the organizational performance cycle and assessments. The topics in the four distinct leadership development columns are identified through an annual needs analysis process and research on future leadership skills. They consist of:

  1. Organizational transformation programs: Strategic transformation programs enable organizational strategy and are offered to each leadership level to help them prepare for change. Key characteristics include a link to organizational strategy, being offered to all leader levels, a top-down invitation, requiring an intensive and major investment, and using blended learning.
  2. Career programs: Broad and long (six to 18 months) leadership development programs prepare selected leaders for their next role to help them prepare for tomorrow. Key characteristics include a link to talent strategy, being offered to progressing leaders by invitation, requiring a major investment and using blended learning.
  3. Performance modules: Stand-alone and short (up to three days), topic-focused leadership modules upskill individual leaders based on their performance needs to help them prepare for today. Key characteristics include a link to the performance cycle, self-registration, requiring a limited investment, resulting a short time to competence and using blended learning.
  4. Digital Academy: Short learning nuggets, available 24/7, help leaders at all levels handle immediate business issues so they can prepare for now. Key characteristics include a link to immediate issues, self-registration, being two to 15 minutes in duration, requiring a limited investment, scalability, resulting in a short time to performance and using digital learning.

The promise and opportunities are there to seize, but leadership development professionals must understand the current barriers to diversifying leadership development to realize its full potential. To what extent can leaders at all levels “own” their personal development? Are they ready for the new learning era? Is L&D able to achieve executive buy-in for this transition and the required investments in learning technology? Does L&D have the right skills and mindset to design, implement and manage blended learning? Can leaders at all levels be encouraged to adopt new ways of learning to develop them and their employees in a supportive learning climate? How should L&D market the new leadership development approach to all leaders?

These questions highlight the need to establish a structured L&D governance with senior leader sponsorship for the new leadership development strategy and to invest in developing L&D capabilities, roles (i.e., managing communities, supporting workplace learning, marketing and communication, and data analytics).

The Bottom Line

Organizations need to rethink how to develop their leaders at all levels in order to prepare them for organizational change, their next career step, improving today’s performance and solving immediate leadership issues. Re-shaping corporate leadership development strategy can deliver these ambitions, but it requires a transformation from today’s dominant “career-step,” face-to-face learning approach. This transformation, in turn, requires skills and courage from leadership development leaders and a clear vision of how to structure and offer a best-practice leadership development framework to deliver on the promise.