It’s the general consensus that organizations nowadays need effective leaders who are in sync with the strategic objectives and core values. Unfortunately, how learning and development teams go about growing such managerial talent is not always aligned with the latest trends.

It’s important for all leadership growth programs to be both true to company goals and flexible enough to adapt to rapid changes in employee dynamics and industry advancements.

Searching for answers concerning the current state of leadership, Harvard Business Review decided to conduct a survey among L&D partners as well as their own Advisory Council which consists of senior leaders and managers from all lines of business. The end purpose of this investigation was to identify what the best practices in the field of leadership development are.

Current programs are not that great

According to the survey’s respondents, many of the programs are underperforming, inconsistent or having much room for improvement.

The number one issue standing in the way of a great program is time – so said an overwhelming 43% percent of participants. But the next three reasons for programs failing, cited almost equally, point to

  • lack of data showing benefits (“no proven ROI,” 26 percent),
  • workplaces in flux (“too much organizational change,” 25 percent) and
  • lack of funding, (24 percent).

While three of the four groups ranked “time constraints” at the top, underperformers claimed this came from “lack of support from senior management” as their biggest barrier (45 percent).

It is important to note that company size is a big factor, as the best ranking programs were all deployed in very large corporations, mainly in pharmaceuticals, consumer goods and aerospace industries. Also, though most organizations claimed that leadership development is very important and investments in such programs are on the rise, only 23% said that they are a strategic priority.

The figure below (part of the above mentioned report) is a great visual of how the importance of these programs is perceived:

The importance of L&D programs

E-learning for leadership development is clearly on the rise

Since one of the biggest challenges in the face of learning is lack of time, on-demand online courses are becoming increasingly important in all business organizations. According to gathered data, L&D teams as a whole are beginning to embrace digital learning and are open to experimenting more with various other instruction methods.

In the Harvard Business Review 2013 survey, 55 percent of L&D professionals stated they were already using e-learning. In 2015, the proportion had risen to 64 percent. Across all industries, L&D professionals strive to respond to the needs of their learners and to make all available programs both relevant and engaging to new leaders in their respective organizations.

It’s no wonder online training is gaining so much terrain since millennials occupy now a considerable proportion of managerial positions as baby boomers retire. These are individuals who were raised in a digital world and expect on-demand, continuous learning opportunities to which learning & development programs can’t but respond with e-learning, all time accessible content.

Apart from fitting like a glove this new generation, online content also has the enormous advantage of being a lot more cost-effective than traditional classroom methods of learning. It’s the wise thing for L&D managers to invest in resources that require limited investments but provide learning impact on a larger scale.

E-learning on demand is the win-win solution to keep both the learners and the CFOs happy.

Where are leadership development programs headed to in the future?

Now that we have a clear idea of where these programs are now, it’s only just that we talk about where they should be going.

What the study showed about those few “best in class” programs (those with very few items on the ‘to be improved’ list) was that they were minutely aligned with organizational objectives. So this would be the key point.

Making sure that the learning programs are in line with what the company is trying to achieve would not only get the immediate buy-in from the top management but also show in the quantifiable results. Numbers matter and the real success of a leadership development program should ultimately be reflected in the ROI.

Furthermore, it would be a mistake to restrict these programs to employees who are already in a managerial position. In order to have a strong leadership pipeline that allows promotions from within the organizations, this kind of programs should be available at all levels. Especially with Millennials, who expect to rapidly climb the corporate ladder, showing them that they have the opportunity to start doing so right away and providing access to useful instruments and knowledge is paramount in ensuring good engagement and retention rates.

The challenge remains measuring the results of such endeavors but this is the case with even the best learning & development programs.

At the end of the day, what L&D specialists can do is keep a constant eye on organizational and market developments and adapt to their requirements and needs.

Author: Raluca C

Raluca Cristescu is a Faculty of Letters graduate with over ten years of experience in corporate training, focused mainly on soft skills for customer service and direct sales.