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Leadership Development

Building Choice into Leadership Development Programs


"Choose Your Own Adventure" Learning Opportunities Set Leaders Up for Success

Research has shown that the “one development program for all leaders” model does not suffice to meet the unique needs of learners–and often it doesn’t measure up to expectations either.

Many of our clients have made progress addressing this challenge with specific programs to account for the unique needs at each level of leader (emerging, high-potential, future successor, executive, etc.).

In addition to these signature programs, many of our clients still struggle with how to make learning more customized so they can:

  1. More deeply engage leaders in development programs
  2. See desired behavior change in how leaders interact with their teams and peers

To help solve for this, we’d suggest you consider adding more choice into program design using the concept of personalized learning paths.


What is a personalized learning path?

In short, a personalized learning path allows learners to choose development opportunities on their own after assessing their knowledge on the subject. It’s also been called cafeteria-style learning or a customized learning path and can apply to all types of development offerings.

This approach emphasizes learner-specific goals related to the learning objective and considers learner preferences, such as the kinds of resources they want to utilize to accomplish goals or the manner in which they demonstrate competency of an objective. The intent is to increase motivation and commitment to learning, acknowledging that the individual must play a part in focusing development opportunities on the capabilities that will help him or her achieve organizational strategy and objectives. While the L&D practitioner has the expertise to design top-notch program offerings around organizational capabilities, the individual leaders’ choice is critical to deeper engagement and behavior change we mentioned above.


How FlashPoint is putting personalized learning paths into practice

One of our long-term clients has provided classroom development programs for their mid-level leaders for years. The client already has strong signature programs in place for various levels of leaders (including executive-level, emerging leaders, and future successor programs) and for this new mid-level program, they wanted to change things up and think about new and creative methods to reach their leaders’ hearts and minds.

With the personalized learning path in mind, we set out to design an innovative program to meet a diverse set of needs, levels, and learning styles. First, we started with a training needs analysis by looking at the following things:

  1. What options did leaders prefer for learning–classroom, virtual, or other options?
  2. What frequency of learning opportunities made sense for leaders?
  3. How did leaders assess themselves on the company’s established leadership capabilities (both proficiency and relevance levels)?

Our needs analysis showed that leaders had a wide variety of preferences across learning modes and mediums. The distribution of answers showed no one clear answer: some leaders wanted development once a month (23%), twice a month (32%), or once per quarter (42%). 

In addition, we looked at leader proficiency for a set of established competencies and asked how relevant each competency was for their work. The relevance of competencies to each leader varied quite a bit as well, across function and leader level.

This data analysis, along with our research on trends in leadership development programs, led us to the conclusion that a personalized learning path was right for these leaders—they each had different preferences and needs and there was no clear singular route for all of them to take.

To accommodate all preferences, we designed an 18-month program in a “choose your own adventure” style. Throughout the program, each leader has access to leadership and management skill development targeted specifically to meet his or her situation—learning style, position/function, challenges in the workplace, and developmental needs. This program design puts the leader in the driver’s seat of his or her own development adventure.


The key to personalization is leader choice

The program is built around giving each leader choices—the amount of development he or she wants to attend, the format that fits best with his or her learning style, and the topics that are most needed for his or her role. The program offers the ability to capitalize on strengths as well as discover opportunities to close the gap on lower proficiency skill sets, all with the flexibility to choose from various program elements:

  • Half-day, in-person, experiential sessions to build skills on various competencies
  • Informal lunch + learn sessions to help deep-dive on specific skills
  • Senior leader presentations to inform leaders about various business topics
  • Group coaching sessions intended to deepen understanding of leadership challenges and cross-share “what works” between leaders
  • Monthly, on-demand, e-learning training matched to each topic that can be taken at the time and place that works best for the leader.
  • Bite-sized leadership tips sent biweekly through a reinforcement smart-phone app called Mindmarker

A branded, printed, and bound journal will guide the experience and help the leader chart development choices. The journal is an all-in-one resource that describes the strategy of the program, options available to the leader, step-by-step process to create his or her own development plan, a listing of course descriptions, a month-by-month calendar to keep sustained focus, and recognition for courses completed.


The challenge of customized learning

As you consider this type of development approach, there are potential challenges to think about around your evaluation and measurement strategy. If every leader has a different experience, how do you measure program success?

To start take a look at your standard measures—if these metrics center on participation levels or cost per participant or the like, the data from this type of program will be less when compared to more standard signature programs where leaders all attend the same set of offerings. 

You’ll also have to address how you collect evaluations and how you aggregate that information to tell the success story. With diffuse or decentralized objectives and offerings it can be difficult to understand impact—both on the individual leader and on the organization as a whole. There are also upsides to consider. For example, if you track performance goal achievement, employee engagement levels, and retention or promotion levels down to the individual level, you could correlate the level of participation in program offerings and see if those with higher participation levels achieve better outcomes in these measures. In any case, it’s critical that you think about implementation


Overall, the benefits outweigh any challenges

Programs like these present special challenges, but bringing leader choice into the process presents a credible upside benefit. With what seems like a never-ending to-do list, it's hard for leaders to focus time on professional development. In many cases, signature programs can feel like just one more thing on the leader's plate.

By choosing what matters most to them, we bring willingness into the equation and this intrinsic motivation may indeed lead to higher engagement and participation. Meanwhile, we’ll be tracking and measuring progress to tell this success story over the next 18 months so we will keep you updated.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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Krista Skidmore

Krista Skidmore , CEO and Cofounder of FlashPoint, is passionate about all things leadership. She manages FlashPoint's strategic direction with integrity and insight.