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Is evaluating the leadership development process valuable? Though evaluation is often neglected or even misused, it can and should be an engaging activity that leads to powerful learning and well-informed action, says the Center for Creative Leadership’s Kelly Hannum.

Evaluation is the process of collecting and synthesizing information or evidence. As the investment in leadership development has increased, so has the need for evaluating that development. Stakeholders at all levels want to know if what they are doing is having an impact. Funders and senior management wonder if their investment produces results.

Designers of leadership initiatives seek to prove the value of their ideas. Program participants want to know if their lives will change for the better.

The push to demonstrate the value of leadership development programs has generated more interest in evaluation, according to Hannum, who is an editor of The Handbook of Leadership Development Evaluation, published by Jossey-Bass this year.

Leadership development is a particularly complex process. Development efforts can seed changes in individuals, teams, organizations and communities that continue to emerge over time. According to Hannum, evaluation is a much more useful tool for leadership development when it is an integrated, ongoing part of leadership development from the beginning.

Here are four ways in which evaluation benefits leaders, organizations and communities:

First, evaluation clarifies outcomes. Evaluation helps us better understand and document the desired outcomes of leadership development. It can encourage more comprehensive discussion about what works and why. Evaluation seeks to systematize large concepts. It separates real outcomes from wishful thinking, slogans or vague program aspirations.

Second, evaluation focuses attention. Evaluation pinpoints needed leadership competencies and directs attention to critical issues. When leadership development efforts use evaluation effectively, there is a clear intention about what to achieve and why. If, for example, a team knows that a goal of their leadership development is to improve group decision-making, then the members of the team can change their behaviors accordingly. If they know they will be evaluated specifically on those behaviors, the impetus is even greater.

Third, evaluation supports ongoing learning. Evaluation can be used to fine-tune a proposed or existing leadership development intervention. It can provide constructive observation to guide a program’s evolution. Once a program is established, evaluation continues to contribute by assisting the program managers to optimize their use of resources on behalf of the participants. Just as important, evaluation contributes to a learning mindset – a perspective that values asking questions, assuming multiple perspectives and challenging assumptions.

Fourthly, the process of evaluation influences future actions and decisions. Evaluation serves to demonstrate more fully how participants, their organization and their communities benefit from their leadership development program experiences. This information can then be used to make choices about future efforts.

Evaluation is learning, and learning is evaluation, says Hannum. So view evaluation as an integral part of the development process, and you will be able to build on what is working well and eliminate efforts that are less effective.

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