I look at data about the impact of leadership development programs daily, but actually talking to participants about their experience is when the data come to life. People share stories about applying a tool or model they learned and how that helped them connect more effectively with their colleagues, become better prepared for their next promotion, or even make a positive difference in their personal lives.

I recently interviewed women who completed our Technical Women’s Leadership Journey, a 4-month pilot program in Silicon Valley. The program focused on helping women in technical roles develop practices for building strategic networks and influencing key stakeholders, as well as techniques for positive self-promotion.

In conducting these interviews, I’m using Brinkerhoff’s well-known success case method — that is, I’m interviewing some women who had the “most success” in the program as well as others who had the “least success” in order to learn as much as possible about these varying experiences, and the factors that contribute to those differences.

I’ve found that every woman in this particular program — “least” and “most” successful alike — valued the experience and were able to apply the learning in their professional roles. And all of the women appreciated their time learning from other women in similar roles about leadership challenges and strategies.

But participants’ expectations about the program, learning preferences, and supervisor support contributed to how much the women benefited from the program. Having this information will help with future decisions about appropriate audience and program design.

With these women, I hear stories about the courage to speak up and ask for a new opportunity, examples of building relationships with other women executives, and becoming more strategic about developing their leadership brand.

Hearing the excitement, pride, and renewed energy in their voices is something that doesn’t always come through when I’m staring at survey data on a spreadsheet. Talking to these women reminds me that behind every statistic I calculate, there are actual people who are trying to develop themselves in some way.

If a participant walks through our doors, we owe it to them to do everything we can to actually help them improve their leadership effectiveness. In my group, The Evaluation Center, we focus on understanding whether leadership development initiatives truly help individuals (or sometimes teams and organizations) achieve the expected results. One of our core principles for the work we do is that we want to learn in order to improve these initiatives, and maximize the impact we can have for our clients.

Of course we love data that support the efficacy of our programs and help our clients justify the investment, but we also design evaluations in a way that helps us learn and adapt in order to get better. If we only wanted to hear from the people who reported the most impact, we’d be leaving learning opportunities on the table, and not uncovering insights about how to get even better at developing leaders, both internally and for others trying to do similar work around the world.

Based on decades of experience, we recently updated our best thinking on how to design, implement, and leverage evaluation in the second edition of the book Evaluating the Impact of Leadership Development. Evaluation and putting our findings to use is one of the ways we fulfill our mission of advancing the understanding, practice, and development of leadership for the benefit of society worldwide.

Publishing the second edition of this book allows us to share our latest methods and approaches with other practitioners wanting to measure and improve the impact of leadership development in the organizations they are working for and with.

In the book, we give advice about metrics that organizations can use to evaluate the effectiveness of leadership development initiatives. Identifying the right metrics is critical, but asking people to tell their stories has the potential to reveal even deeper and more actionable insights.

 

Check out the book, Evaluating the Impact of Leadership Development, for yourself.

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