Leadership development can be an inspiring learning experience for the individual, but for the employer it is an expensive leap of faith. It’s puzzling that in 2004, millions are being spent on something for which there is little quantifiable evidence to prove that it works.
We all want to believe that leadership development makes a difference – that there’s a causal link to employee and organisational performance – and yet we struggle to prove it.
Key players in the leadership movement have been questioning the lack of effort around measuring return on investment and linking it to business goals (see page 1). Both the providers in this field and HR teams must take responsibility for this ongoing weakness.
From a provider’s point of view, it seems ironic that some continue to win significant business in this sphere without providing the tools to truly evaluate their effectiveness.
HR has been allowed to get away with it because few business leaders understand the concept and even fewer have actually benefited from leadership development themselves.
Paul Kearns’ criticisms of the BBC’s leadership approach will have been well intended as a warning to other businesses. He has been one of the strongest and most effective advocates for the HR profession to be accountable and to get into shape with human capital management. For years, his mantra has been: talk about the value not the cost and look for outputs not inputs.
The BBC defends its lack of performance objectives by insisting that it’s a public service with no bottom line. But the same applies to local government, the NHS, and all the emergency services, which are all wrestling with the challenges on a day-to-day basis.
At its most simplistic, just tracking change in your leaders once they have been involved in development initiatives is a good starting point. For instance, are there differences over time and what contribution has this made towards achieving the overall strategy? Retailers, for example, are now able to quantify the relationship between the development of their leaders and increased levels of satisfied employees and customers.
As the most high-profile public-sector organisation, the BBC should be aiming to set an example for the rest of the country to follow. And while financial measures may not always be the right tool for measuring success at organisations like the BBC, some attempt at evaluation is essential, even when something as subjective as creativity is a key output.
Leadership providers are doing themselves a disservice if they ignore the need for hard results. There are some fantastic development schemes out there, but too many are failing to prove their worth.