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How to Structure Your Leadership Development Program for Optimal ROI

How to Structure Your Leadership Development Program for Optimal ROI

This guide discusses the best way forward when it comes to getting the most out of your Leadership Development Programs. The solution is a blended learning approach, combining instructor-led training, accessible online resources, and regular business coaching. This method ensures that leadership skills are not only learned, but also practiced and integrated into daily work habits.

“How do we get the most value out of our investment in Leadership Development?”

This is the question that professionals in HR and Learning & Development face daily. We know how to measure the Return on Investment (ROI) for leadership development, but how do we best structure a Leadership Development Program to get optimal value from our investment? Let's dive in.

The Problem with Traditional Leadership Development

In many organizations, leadership development is seen as a perk and a way to reward employees. Many of us have attended various leadership courses and seminars. These events are greatly appreciated by employees, but their value is questionable. Attendees get a break from work in good company with colleagues in a nice setting with good catering. But back at work, the book "7 Habits for Highly Effective People" sits on the shelf, and habits have not changed.

This impression is supported by information from the Harvard Business Review, which indicates that only about 10% of the yearly $200 billion spent on corporate training and development in the United States yields tangible outcomes.

Simply put, very few leaders seem to take what they learn in the classroom and apply it to their jobs.

Illustration of a quote by Clarissa Corneliussen: The problem with traditional leadership development is that...

In the webinar on the role of EdTech in Empowering Leaders, Clarissa Corneliussen said:

“The problem with traditional leadership development is that it rarely connects the otherwise great content with the individual leader's day-to-day business. What is taught in face-to-face courses or online modules is theoretical. Only in the individual and tailored coaching sessions, when we discuss how the theory can be applied, does the learning become applicable to the individual leader. This is where real learning happens, and where learning turns into new habits as the leader tries out, experiments, fails, pivots, tries again, gets sparring from the coach, and so forth…”

The lack of application is not the fault of the leaders attending the leadership development programs. It is the fault of a method that falls short in turning knowledge into practice and habits.

The Power of Habit

Many studies have shown the power of habit. The key to establishing a habit is apprenticeship, practice and accessibility.

The knowledge acquired in training should be put into practice immediately. Any leadership training program should be followed up with regular check-ins with a business coach in either group coaching sessions or 1:1 coaching sessions. The coach holds the leader accountable for her development as a leader by following up on the topics of the leadership training. Practice between coaching sessions and conversations and reflections in the coaching sessions is the key to turning knowledge into practice and habits, just as Clarissa highlights in the quote above and as Daniel Richardsson says in the article “Training vs Coaching: How do you best Help your Employees Learn and Grow”:

The McKinsey HR report explains that asking an individual to do something completely different requires far more than a demonstration or a motivational speech. They need to be coached, helped, and given feedback after using the new skills in real-life situations. Taking small steps, one at a time, instead of trying to change everything at once, is paramount.”

How Do We Get the Best ROI from Our Leadership Development Programs?

Back to our opening question: “How do we get the most value out of our investment in Leadership Development?” The answer is:

You get the best ROI on your Leadership Development Program if you ensure it is:

  • Social and Collaborative: We cannot develop as leaders in isolation. Learning is best achieved in an interactive and team-oriented setting, where we can try out methodologies with peers and get feedback.
  • Accessible and On Demand: Learning resources should be readily available for reuse and consumption on demand.
  • Supported and Committed: Any learning journey also needs to be individualized in a way that secures commitment from participants to establish practice and helps them form habits in their day-to-day work environments - this happens best through regular coaching sessions.
  • Measured: Like any other investment, we need to measure and document our results.
Illustration of the characteristics of the best in class Leadership Development Programs.

Use a Blended Learning Approach when Developing Your Leaders

The best-in-class leadership programs use a blended learning approach. They combine:

  • Instructor-led training in F2F courses or Off-sites in combination with Online modules. The Instructor-led Training leverages the learning resources and digital collaboration tools provided by the Learning Management System and makes them understandable, relevant, and top of mind.
  • A Learning Management System as a repository for Learning Resources that can be accessed on-demand. The Learning Management System ensures that the learning materials are accessible and available - on demand - to support the leaders in their development journey.
  • Business coaching - This holds everyone accountable for turning knowledge into practice and habits. The Business Coach helps the leaders turn knowledge into habits in their day-to-day activities, as well as supports, challenges, and gives new perspectives.
Illustration of how the components / tools supports the leadership Development Program


The short answer to the question “How do we get the most value out of our investment in Leadership Development?” is the following:

Combine leadership training with business coaching and keep all learning materials accessible on demand in a Learning Management System.

To learn more about this approach, watch the Session webinar on the topic and do not hesitate to reach out to us, should you wish to learn more about what could work for you, in your specific situation and context.

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