“High stakes.” 

This term was used recently by a learning and development lead in charge of designing and implementing effective leadership development initiatives in her organization. Her point was that, while the ROI on development at the leadership level is potentially very high, the impact and risk of poor outcomes are similarly compounded when compared with learning and development at other levels of the business.  

Korn Ferry’s research found that 80% of CEOs see a gap in their employee skills as a direct threat to their business. If a leadership development initiative fails to land, poor outcomes at this level may lead to the failure of major change initiatives such as digital transformation.  

Other risks include the impact of poor leadership on the rest of the team; disengagement, attrition, increased recruitment costs, productivity loss, and cultural impact. At an individual level, failing to offer development opportunities to leaders risks losing some of your best people. We found that 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their development

Yes, it’s a high-stakes exercise. But with a well-planned leadership development program, leaders can establish a pipeline of highly engaged, agile, and change-ready leaders who will take the organization to the next level. Getting it right will help drive down recruitment costs, unlock transformative leadership, and a host of other benefits—so long as the lead can overcome the common challenges and pain points that exist at this level.   

Below, we unpack the eight major pain points faced by leadership learning and development leads and demonstrate how Korn Ferry's Leadership Development solutions help address each challenge. 

1 Creating the Business Case for Leadership Development  

The payback for investing in leadership development is potentially enormous—if you can get the program right.  

Industry insights show how the ROI on leadership development can be considerable, but with leadership development generally costing more than training at other levels of the organization, unlocking budgets and winning executive buy-in is the first (and often the most difficult) challenge to overcome.  

Korn Ferry can help you address this challenge by framing the need for leadership development in the context of business requirements, such as reshaping organizational culture, growing the business, or increasing productivity. Clarify your demand for new skills to senior stakeholders by identifying exactly how the organization is changing along with the specific areas of change, and define the new competencies that leaders will need to navigate the change.  

At this level of investment, it is critical that senior leaders support the organization’s leadership development initiatives—not only from an approval point of view, but because they will be personally participating in the program and need to agree on the design. This creates a unique circumstance where leaders are signing off on their own training programs.  

2 Aligning Training Programs to Organizational Needs 

Aligning leadership training programs with the unique needs and objectives of your organization presents another significant challenge. Effective leadership development requires a deep understanding of your organization's specific context, goals, and culture.  

Conduct a thorough needs analysis to identify skill gaps and areas of improvement. This can be a fairly lengthy process, but by doing so you can tailor training initiatives that directly address your organization's specific challenges, ensuring maximum relevance and impact.  

Equally important is understanding your organizational culture, as it shapes leadership behaviors and directly influences the effectiveness of your programs. By aligning your training programs with the cultural nuances of your organization, you can foster a cohesive leadership approach that resonates with your values. 

Korn Ferry’s discovery process and deep immersion enables us to gain a thorough understanding of your organization's unique needs, context, goals, and culture to ensure a well-aligned leadership development solution.  

3 Defining What Good Looks Like 

So, you’ve made the case for leadership development and linked your proposed program to organizational needs. But do you have a clear picture of the ideal outcomes? 

Flying blind or guessing what good looks like in a leader increases the risk of developing the wrong skills and hiring the wrong people. Attempting to develop a generic set of leadership skills will not take the unique context of your organization into account.  

With the stakes this high, every decision about leadership development investment needs to be based on data-backed benchmarks.  

At Korn Ferry, our approach is to develop Success Profiles that define the skillset and mindset needed to deliver greatness in a specific job role, with benchmarks to measure your talent. We describe the work that needs to be done in any given role, and the skills, experiences, competencies and traits successful leaders should possess. Once your Success Profiles are built, then we work with you on assessing against them, and developing what you need to succeed. 

4 Assessing Strengths and Weaknesses 

Tailored leadership development means identifying and addressing skills gaps among potential and existing leaders. Just as importantly, it means avoiding training leaders in areas where they are already strong. Training leaders in skills they already possess is not only a waste of time and money but will inevitably lead to disengagement and even boredom among participants.  

Conduct a comprehensive skills assessment to measure against the combination of capabilities outlined in your Success Profiles. This will enable you to identify gaps and design targeted leadership development programs.  

From high-volume, high-tech self-assessments to personal evaluations led by our consultants, Korn Ferry works to give you the full picture by understanding competencies, traits, drivers, and experiences—the proven predictors of engagement, productivity, and leadership effectiveness. Assessments draw on methodologies including behavioral and market interviews, team and peer feedback, self-assessments, and simulations.

Leadership Development

Leaders who can tap into the power of all

5 Developing a Well-Planned and Targeted Learning Journey 

By this point, if you have already taken the time to develop Success Profiles and assessed your leaders’ capabilities against those profiles, you are well on your way to planning your leadership development journey. Again, the challenge is to create targeted interventions for specific gaps rather than employing one-size-fits-all solutions.  

Korn Ferry’s Strategic Leadership Journey Design Process provides a flexible framework for creating an integrated development strategy. At its heart is the crafting of a design architecture that addresses learning objectives and creates a high-level map of accessible development experiences. 

Talk to your participants and seek ongoing feedback to make sure the program remains aligned with individual and organizational goals. Don’t make the mistake of building a program that’s immovable or set-in-stone: make it flexible enough for regular assessment and refinement to adapt swiftly to evolving needs. 

6 Catering to Diverse Learning Styles 

While a senior executive would benefit from intensive one-on-one coaching sessions, a first-time manager may prefer self-paced online modules that can be accessed from anywhere. Should you attempt to cater to both?  

Designing leadership development programs that accommodate a variety of learning preferences is challenging but crucial for engaging participants, enhancing their learning experience, and making the training stick. Leadership programs should address the unique learning needs of individuals at different seniority levels, from senior executives to mid-level managers and high potentials. Be aware that people have different learning preferences, with noticeable differences across generations.  

Make sure your learning journeys have options by introducing a variety of training formats such as experiential learning that allows for practical application of leadership concepts, virtual classrooms that offer flexibility and convenience, self-paced modules, and one-on-one coaching. 

At Korn Ferry, we embrace this diverse approach to training formats by offering a variety of programs such as the Chief Executive Institute and Executive Coaching for senior, executive, and enterprise-level leaders; and Leadership Accelerators and Leadership U for mid-level, first-time managers and high potentials. 

7 Scaling Leadership Development Programs 

We get it. All this talk of tailoring and customization inevitably raises concerns about cost, especially when scaling a development program through every layer of leadership in the organization. Program leads need to manage cost, complexity, and ensure the quality of the training experience is retained at scale.  

From one employee to many, Korn Ferry can enable development however you need it, through scalable journeys that can be run any time, for any number of leaders, anywhere in the world. In order to make the learning last, we ground every journey in the science of behavior change and proven experience. 

Technology is the catalyst that makes this possible. Through self-scheduled coaching sessions, self-guided learning, and assessments, we offer a scalable digital learning platform designed to embed new behaviors, mindsets, and knowledge. 

8 Measuring Success and ROI 

You can’t improve what you can’t measure. What are the evaluations and metrics that help you understand the effectiveness of your learning journeys and the progress of your leaders?  

Measuring the success and ROI of leadership development programs is crucial for assessing their impact and making informed decisions. Several evaluation methods can be employed: 

  • 360-Degree Feedback: Collecting feedback from participants offers insights into strengths, areas for improvement, and the effectiveness of the program in enhancing leadership capabilities. 
  • Pre- and Post-Assessments: Conducting assessments before and after the program allows for measuring changes in knowledge, skills, and behavior. Comparing the results helps gauge the program's effectiveness in achieving desired outcomes. 
  • Performance Metrics: Tracking relevant performance metrics such as employee engagement, productivity, and retention rates can indicate the impact of leadership development on organizational success. 

Ongoing evaluation and feedback loops are vital for continuous improvement. Regular check-ins, post-program surveys, and follow-up assessments will enable you to gather insights, address gaps, and refine future programs. Embrace a data-driven approach to measuring success. 

Get in Touch 

Take the pain out of leadership development by partnering with Korn Ferry. Our experts work with your team as a transparent and inclusive partner to achieve and exceed your business goals. We have the knowledge, expertise and experience to help you achieve greatness. Talk to a Leadership and Professional Development Expert today.

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