Leadership Development Program Impact Effectiveness Project

American companies spend an estimated $170 billion a year on leadership development programs (LDPs). Despite this HUGE investment and commitment there is NO good evidence leadership development programs are earning a desirable return; no good evidence these programs are actually producing leaders. And, there are few if any established measurement metrics to even assess impact. Dr. Michael Johnson, The Boeing Company Professor of Business Management at the Foster School of Business, University of Washington, concluded the vast majority of leadership development programs have little to no evidence that following their models will make people effective leaders. A comprehensive literature review supports Dr. Johnson’s assertion that numerous organizations fail to measure LDP effectiveness and don’t even seem to be able to effectively convey what effectiveness actually looks like.  Epstein and Yuthas (2014) argued “organizations need clear answers to questions such as: What are we trying to accomplish? What do we need to do to accomplish these goals? How do we define success? How can we measure success? How will we know when we have succeeded? and How can we do better over time?” Discovery Northwest attempts to address those questions in its research project on LDP effectiveness.

Clarity about impact is essential for effective management said Epstein and Yuthas (2014). Without such clarity, argued the authors, organizations are operating “in the dark.” Awareness of LDP impact is vital for knowing whether LDPs produce desirable results. Without assessment, decision makers cannot determine if what they are doing is achieving a LDPs mission or goals.

Two major conclusions emerged from a recent comprehensive literature review. They were:

1) There is little to no good evidence demonstrating the positive impact and effectiveness of most leadership development programs.

2) Many companies don’t assess the impact of their programs, and as a result don’t know whether their investments in leadership development are actually effective at producing leaders.

Hard data is used to make informed decisions about virtually every organizational activity, function, process, program or initiative. It is essential for management oversight and control. LDPs are no different. Without hard data about the impact and performance of LDPs, it is problematic for decision makers to determine if investments in leadership development earn a desirable return and produce expected outcomes. Without hard data decision makers can’t determine if LDPs need improvement, overhaul, termination; or whether they are achieving desired outcomes. The absence of appropriate, relevant, and real-time metrics to assess LDP impact undermines effective management of vital LDPs, and ultimately the current and future success of organizations.

Leadership development is clearly an area where organizations cannot afford to operate in the dark; because darkness of this kind, in such a vital area, threatens current effectiveness and future success. To address the lack of evidence about the effective impact of LDPs, Discovery Northwest has developed a research project aimed at answering the following questions:

  • What are LDPs trying to accomplish?
  • What do LDPs need to do to accomplish these goals?
  • How do organizations define and measure LDP success?
  • How will organizations know when LDPs have succeeded?
  • How can organizations determine how they improve LDPs over time?
  • What evidence exists that proves LDPs produce effective leaders?
  • What criteria is used by organizations to determine what defines an effective organizational leader?
  • How many organizations or consultants assess the impact of LDPs and/or how many organizations or consultants fail to assess the impact of LDPs
  • Why aren’t LDPs being assessed?
Ship in front of glacier

Discovery Northwest needs partners to collaborate with us to fund and implement this project. If you are a scholar, author, university, college, consultant, or director of an organization’s LDP you need to know the answers to the questions we are researching. Please support us with funding, guidance, and any other assistance that can contribute to this project’s effectiveness. Please contact us through this web site or email Dr. George Kelley, at ggkelley@live.com.