Budgeting for Leadership Development Without Breaking the Bank

July 8, 2016

Making the business case for leadership development can be tough, especially when leaders at the top are committed to doing more with less.


However, just as Henry Ford once observed that a man who stops advertising to save money is like a man who stops a watch to save time, scaling back your investment in leadership when your company is focused on improving your bottom line amounts to making a similar mistake.


Companies that reduce their commitment to leadership development will be less prepared to identify successors for key positions and will ultimately face talent shortages. Yet of the more than 900 leaders we surveyed in our own research, 46 percent did not have a program in place to fill key management positions.


If your company is among them or you find yourself struggling to get approval for new leadership development initiatives, here are five ways to make every dollar count.


1. Focus on Competencies That Make a Difference


Rather than offering basic leadership development programs with a broad focus, use competency modeling to identify the leader behaviors that are most critical to the future success of your organization and focus on them.


Internal data, such as performance management data or 360° feedback, can help you determine key development areas. For example, if leaders need to successfully operate in a matrix organization and enhance accountability, it is beneficial to offer programs that will help leaders build these skills. In addition, if data suggests leaders are strong in delivering results but weaker in strategic thinking or managing change, this information helps prioritize training needs.


2. Take Learning and Development out of the Classroom


Many organizations are creating activities that provide on-the-job learning opportunities such as cross-functional teams, job rotation and action learning projects where leaders work on solving real business problems. Recently, Hartford Steam Boiler recognized a need for its senior managers to enhance their level of customer focus and strategic thinking. The CEO sponsored an action learning project where high potential managers worked in two teams to solve important business issues. The teams generated high-quality recommendations to address these challenges while gaining knowledge that addressed their development needs.


3. Focus on Identifying High Potential Employees and Critical Roles


When training dollars are scarce, focus on identifying and developing high-potential employees who will be critical to future success. Using leadership assessments will provide objective data that is more reliable. In addition, determining what roles are of strategic importance to the company will help ensure there is a talent pipeline. While succession for key executive positions is important, it is also beneficial to identify potential gaps in bench strength for other critical roles (e.g., sales management or procurement positions) throughout the organization.


Investing differentially in talent is a strategic decision that pays off. GlaxoSmithKline implemented a leadership acceleration program to develop future leaders. After identifying high potential employees, employees participated in ongoing developmental activities to prepare them for additional responsibility. Despite the challenging economic environment, GSK proactively took steps to prepare leaders for mission critical roles.


4. Use Blended Learning


Rather than simply reducing the number of leadership development programs, use creative ways to ensure leaders receive the necessary training to be successful. Due to travel restrictions and a need to increase efficiency, many organizations offer online training programs or blended learning solutions (a combination of web-based and in-person meetings), which can result in significant savings.


Other organizations leverage internal line managers to facilitate their leadership development programs.


5. Measure the ROI of Leadership Development


Companies with data that illustrates the ROI of leadership development initiatives have a powerful business case for talent management. Senior executives who understand the importance of strategic talent management continue to invest in their leaders. Therefore, it is important to implement a measurement plan that demonstrates the value of talent management initiatives. For example, data that shows the link between leadership development and customer satisfaction is compelling.


Although it can be difficult and require a clear vision and strong commitment, companies that continue to invest in succession management and leadership development during tough times are more likely to see the pay off when tough times are a thing of the past.


Leadership Development: A Long-Term Investment


Ultimately, leadership development is a marathon, not a sprint. While it’s important to demonstrate the return on your investment, it’s impossible to fully capture the long-term benefits you will realize over time. And like every journey of a thousand miles, it starts with a single step. In this case, that first step is often convincing your boss of its value.


Need help starting the conversation? Take a moment to download these talking points to help sell your boss on leadership development.


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