By: Sarah Stawiski
In November of 2020, my colleague Valerie Ehrlich and I introduced a new impact themed blog series. Since we both lead teams that focus on measuring the impact of leadership programs, our goal was to share insights, stories and learning from the vast amounts of data we collect from leaders globally. It is now time to formally conclude the blog series, and I’d like to share some closing reflections.
- Effective leadership development programs can result in a multitude of significant outcomes, that go beyond financial returns.
Financial returns and “Return on Investment” are important, as many of our clients would attest. In fact, my colleague Stephen Jeong contributed to the impact blog series by sharing how to use analytics to maximize ROI by pinpointing leadership development needs, as well as some simple steps for demonstrating ROI. We have evaluation data to support that leadership development can and does impact the bottom line. For example, Micela Leis wrote about how a leadership program for principals reduced turnover which resulted in an estimated $1,425,000 in savings for the State of Vermont.
However, as David Wallace, Elisa Torres and Stephen Zaccaro [i]recently wrote about in a 2021 Leadership Quarterly article, leadership development outcomes are multidimensional. Beyond financial returns, there are many other outcomes that are important to pay attention to and measure: behavior change, cognitive and affective shifts, leader maturation, and outcomes beyond the individual level, to name a few. Our own Leadership Development Impact Framework recognizes that outcomes can occur for individuals, groups, organizations and beyond (e.g. community, industry, societal). From our collective decades of experience evaluating leadership programs, we know that there are many compelling stories and metrics of impact that do not have anything to do with money.
In this blog series, we shared quite a few examples of a diverse range of outcomes:
- My colleagues Jeff Kosovich and Stephanie Wormington presented evidence that leadership development can boost confidence, and that confidence matters. They shared findings from diverse samples ranging from leaders working towards promoting health and equity, college students, and K-12 school principals.
- Along with my colleagues Douglas Riddle, Joanne Dias and Sarah Pearsall, I presented some findings about what can happen when meaningful connections are sparked and nurtured through a learning experience. When we studied a program for women who were senior leaders in healthcare, we saw the value of these relationships. They reported sharing information with each other, including information related to their organizations’ COVID-19 response, as well as providing encouragement and emotional support and career advancement opportunities
- Sarah Pearsall and Michelle Schneider shared findings from an evaluation of a women’s leadership program, that 81% of participants reported being better prepared for future leadership roles, and 87% were better able to create a climate for other women to feel engaged and empowered.
The examples above along with many others that we see through our work point us to outcomes that are meaningful; even if it is hard to state them in monetary terms.
- Listening to leaders is critical to continue to improve the impact of leadership development solutions.
In order to continually learn, improve and adapt to changing needs and conditions, we must stay connected to leaders and understand their experiences. In the past year alone, we have collected data from thousands of leaders across the globe during and/or after their participation in a leadership program.
- My colleagues Sol Bukin and Michelle Schneider shared an effective and efficient approach to analyzing significant volumes of text data. They provided examples of how program designers and facilitators can use the data to inform programmatic decisions such as prioritizing time in small groups and grouping participants with leaders they do not already know.
- Michelle Schneider and Jayke Hamill presented an example of listening to and learning from participants when partnering with Disability Rights North Carolina and North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities to develop an inclusive, state-wide disability advocacy leadership training. The feedback provided by leaders was instrumental in making program improvements for future cohorts of leaders. They also reminded us of an important point that is too often forgotten – it is important to close the feedback loop by letting leaders know how their feedback is being used.
Through surveys, focus groups, interviews or observation methods, we have much to learn from listening to the leaders we serve.
- Multiple factors determine how effective and impactful a leadership solution is, and data can help uncover what matters most.
In CCL’s Leadership Development Impact Framework, in addition to outlining four levels of impact, we also describe three categories of factors that determine program effectiveness – the program itself, factors related to the leaders, and contextual factors. Some of the blogs in this series provided insights about the factors that can make a difference in how effective a program is:
- Mike Raper shared data that supported including 1:1 coaching sessions in a leadership program; leaders who participated in follow-up coaching and their colleagues reported better learning transfer and overall results compared to those who had not completed coaching.
- Jeff Kosovich, Valerie Ehrlich and Stephanie Wormington shared data collected from hundreds of leaders that showed that the three most important factors that determine overall satisfaction with a program experience are: achieving program learning objectives, ability to apply what was learned to self/daily life, and ability to apply what was learned in their jobs and organizations.
Our team of researchers, evaluators and data scientists who collaborated to produce this blog series sits in a privileged position; every day, we work with data that often paint an inspiring and compelling picture of impact. We also have the opportunity to use the data to learn and improve our approaches to developing leaders. While the blog series is formally coming to a close for now, we intend to continue to share insights in service of CCL’s mission to advance the understanding, practice, and development of leadership for the benefit of society worldwide.
Thank you for reading!
[i] Wallace, D., Torres, E.M., & Zaccaro, S.J. (2021). Just what do we think we are doing? Learning outcomes of leader and leadership development. The Leadership Quarterly, 32(6), DOI:10.1016/j.leaqua.2020.101494