How to measure the value and success of a leadership development programme

Businesses that view success from a broader perspective beyond short term financial profitability may implicitly understand the benefits of leadership development programmes – and be prepared to invest in them.

In reality though, for many businesses almost everything is ultimately driven by bottom line results and concrete figures. And when it comes to something like a leadership development programme, it’s difficult to know how to translate its value into numbers. 

If profits increase or employee turnover decreases or the company is better perceived by public opinion, how can you be sure that’s the result of more effective leadership and not some other variable?

To gain some insights, we’re speaking to Marcus de Vasconcelos, Managing Partner at TPC Leadership Switzerland, and Frédéric Lhospied, Managing Partner at TPC Leadership France. 

They recently shared their insight on the foundations you need to ensure a leadership programme is successful. Today, they’re discussing where organisations can look to assess that success.

Why measuring leadership matters

Discussions about values and culture can often feel pretty hazy to those who aren’t familiar with leadership development. We can all agree that successful organisations need ‘good’ leaders, but when businesses invest in development programmes they often seek some concrete proof that the investment has helped the bottom line.

“When we work with organisations on self- and team-awareness, it’s not easy because it’s not tangible,” Frédéric says. That lack of definition can sometimes be a barrier to people who need the reassurance of figures – especially in large corporations, where rational data reigns supreme.

Before starting any leadership development programme, it’s crucial to know how you’re going to measure its impact. The value of a leader might not sound like something that can be quantified. But in order for an organisation and its leaders to grow, there needs to be some kind of benchmark for how things were before the programme and what changed as a result.

5 levels of success – from simple to complex

Marcus identifies five levels to look at the impact of a programme, each with a different degree of complexity and depth of insight.

1) Participant reaction

As a first step, you can look at how participants react to the programme. This information can be gathered and codified fairly easily, for example through a satisfaction questionnaire.

It can also be useful to track how reactions change, comparing the post-programme thoughts to what participants perceived that the programme would deliver before they started.

“I can remember one guy who was fully against participating in a leadership development programme,” Frédéric remembers. “And by the end he was so happy with what he’d learned and achieved. He could see why it had been important for him to participate.”

2) Benefits gained

Next, think about what was gained from completing the programme. How many people completed the course? What modules did they complete? How many people did they interact with?

Although this information doesn’t necessarily tell you what actual impact the programme has had, it indicates the potential impact based on participation.

3) Behavioural change

This is where you can start to see the lasting impact that a leadership development programme is having on the behaviours of the individuals taking part. 

To track behavioural change, it’s important to create a benchmark at the beginning, which can then be compared to similar information post-programme completion. At TPC Leadership, we usually do this by conducting 360º assessments. These assessments can be used to measure perception of leadership behaviours, such as empathy, for example, or self-awareness.

“Take each competence and give a score between zero and five,” Frédéric says. “Do it again at the end of the journey and you get a concrete figure for how each individual and the whole team has changed.”

Frédéric shared an example of a programme delivered for a team of senior middle managers. Comparing the first and second set of results showed that positive scoring increased by 9.7% while negative scores were reduced by 4.9%.

4) Tangible team measures

Impacted individual leaders should go on to impact their teams, which is the next level to measure. It may be possible to see clear results in terms of increased retention levels, for example, or a reduction in absences.

Although it is likely that factors other than a leadership programme will have contributed to these changes, it’s useful to understand if there is a general positive trend. These trends will typically only be observed in the mid-term, hence the importance of seeing leadership development as a continuous investment.

5) Bottom line impact

The final level of measurement, which Marcus calls “the holy grail”, is the bottom line impact – how the leadership programme affects the company’s success, whether that’s in terms of profit margin or other metrics that present a more holistic view of an organisation’s contribution to its stakeholders. Often, measuring impact at this level is a mixture of quantifiable data and qualitative insight.

With each level the evaluations get more subjective. The key to ensuring the figures stay meaningful is to always have a clear idea of why you’re measuring them. Don’t set out to measure arbitrary criteria – set clear aims from the start about what valuable change looks like to your organisation and what each of your direct reports is looking to achieve.

As important as measuring is, sometimes you have to let go

Even with these ways of measuring, there will always be an element of uncertainty around assessing the impact of a leadership development programme.

The simpler an outcome is to measure, the less meaningful it generally is. And as you move through the degrees of complexity, the issue becomes proving causality. With so many variables at play, can you empirically say that a change in staff retention or customer satisfaction is predominantly caused by leadership development?

Ultimately what makes leadership development so difficult to measure is that some aspects are just unmeasurable. Leadership is by nature an intangible skill, and some of its impacts will remain outside the reach of meaningful concrete figures. Assessing the outcome of a development programme is about finding the balance between evaluating rational data and trusting your gut.

“There is one automotive company we began working with at the beginning of the pandemic, and their financial future was not looking promising,” says Fred. “They were looking at minus 50% forecasts – and as you can imagine this affected the atmosphere within the company.”

But even though this organisation was under tremendous pressure to protect themselves financially, they decided to keep our leadership development programme in their budget. They understood they needed this kind of support more than ever.

“In some cases, leadership development is a leap of faith,” says Marcus. “You have to believe that better leaders will produce better working environments, which in turn will produce the results the company wants to see.”

Looking for leadership development or consultancy? Get in touch with us to find out how we can help.