Leadership Development: Are You Data-Driven?

The executive leadership group of ACME Financial Services Corporation couldn’t have been happier. They’d asked for a management certification program, and its rollout was just days away.

“This program is going to inspire and invigorate our leaders. It’s a groundbreaking approach to ensuring we have strong leaders for generations to come,” Tony stated. As the head of the leadership development team, his excitement was palpable.

I smiled. This kind of enthusiasm was contagious, and I knew the company had long sought to be on the cutting edge of talent management. Curious to learn more, I asked, “So, how will you know how successful your program is? What are your established success measures?

Unphased by the question, Tony nearly leapt to his feet with his answer. “Well, the CEO has been asking for just such a program. He’s going to be thrilled.”

I continued to press this question of metrics…but to my dismay, Tony seemed to be missing the meaning behind the question. In fact, I never received even the slightest notion that metrics were driving the desire for a new program, nor that the company had any sense of how they would measure its success.

Most of the best known and most widely used leadership development programs (both those developed within the walls of large organizations and those contracted from outside vendors) fail to adequately emphasize data-driven programs. It’s easy to see why…..

The fact is, nearly anyone with a grasp on leadership theories and a prevailing sense of leadership development trends can build a relatively robust and impressive looking program. Harder is designing and launching an initiative that truly aims to not only strengthen leadership, but also proposes to demonstrate the extent of that strengthening.

Measurement is tough. Often, a solid comprehension of statistics or econometrics is required to fully understand issues such as validity, reliability, confounding variables, correlational versus causal relationships, variance, and measurement error. These are skills not easily mastered, and, quite honestly, not many have either the patience or the perseverance to devote themselves to this understanding.

For organizations serious about embarking on truly impactful programs (be they in leadership development or any other development and training area), it would be wise to invest in statistical measurement expertise. Hire for this skillset. Or contract with a local or regional industrial/organizational psychologist.

This isn’t so much a plug for my profession as it is to implore organizational leaders everywhere to stop wasting time and money in the pursuit of noble ideas with less than serious efforts. To build and rollout programs without having established them with and around serious metrics is one of the most egregious business errors one can make. But it’s easy to avoid.

Just because you’re the successful leader of a large company doesn’t mean you don’t hire experts to fulfill the many aspects of an organization. You hire a marketing guru to development advertisement campaigns. You bring in accountants to handle the finances of the company. So, why do so many leaders not insist on expertise in measurement and statistics?

Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know…well, now you know…..

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