Change Management WalkMe TeamUpdated April 14, 2019

Tips for Designing a HR Leadership Development Program

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Tips for Designing a HR Leadership Development Program

An HR leadership development program can help your organization train a new generation of leaders.

These leaders in turn, can greatly benefit the organization and its mission.

Here are just a few ways that leadership programs can generate ROI:

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  • Improved performance metrics for leaders’ departments
  • Increased employee engagement and retention
  • Better work environments and work cultures

However, as we’ll see below, leadership programs can’t be everything to everyone.

Every program has a limited time frame and a limited budget.

So how do you design a program that works for your organization … and your trainees?

Let’s find out.

How to Create an Effective HR Leadership Development Program

Here are a few tips to developing an effective HR leadership development program.

Align your program to your business needs.

The first priority should be discovering the strategic advantage of a program.

In other words, how will the leadership program help your organizational strategy?

By putting this objective front and center, it will be easier to justify the program to executives.

Also, a strategic focus will help ensure that the program actually produces tangible ROI.

When defining this strategy, think of ways to measure this goal in terms of KPIs. Below, we’ll look at a few examples.

Tailor the program to fit your leaders career goals.

Program trainees will certainly have their own career in mind when taking such a program.

Therefore, make sure to show how the leadership development program will help them build better careers.

Good curriculum material should include:

  • Overall leadership skills, such as communication skills and other soft skills
  • Abilities that leaders will need going into the future, such as digital competency
  • Skills gaps that are specific to employees in your company

Customizing the program to fit your employees’ needs is essential.

Employees will be more likely to sign up for the program, they will make better use of it, and they will be more likely to succeed in their leadership roles.

As a result, your program will perform better and have a higher ROI.

Stay focused on the context.

Context determines success in leadership, as McKinsey has pointed out.

This means that a small number of strong skills work very well in specific contexts.

For instance, leaders working in frontline sales may require a very different skill set from those working in a bank.

Providing your leaders will contextualized skills will help you develop programs that meet the above criteria. That is, employees will be better equipped to succeed and lead.

If, however, your program provides an “alphabet soup” of recommendations, the curriculum will be spread too thin.

Consequently, trainees will have less to take away from the experience.

To stay focused on the context, write down the main purpose of the program – such as increasing sales performance or improving employee engagement.

This will help you stay focused on the skills that matter most to your situation.

Make your program experiential.

Scientific studies have proven that people learn best when they “experience” something.

Practically speaking, this means you should use experiential learning as much as possible.

Don’t use pen and paper, lectures, and exercises that make trainees “think” about leadership.

Instead, use real-world, context-driven experiential learning.

Replicate the exact experiences that trainees will face in the real world.

Simulations, role-playing, and unstructured dialogues are good examples of experiential learning.

After experiential learning, thoughtful reflection will be more productive.

But if you simply provide an abstract, pen-and-paper lecture, you can expect much of the training to be forgotten.

Integrate analytics into the program.

When you measure your program, make sure to set up change management KPIs before and after the program.

Here are a few metrics to include:

  • Participant engagement, satisfaction, productivity, and performance
  • Which leadership behaviors and skills are being applied, and how much they are being applied
  • Intangibles, such as how participants felt about the program

For HR and executives, proving program ROI is vital.

This is why you should continue to measure the program’s impact, well after program completion.

To measure business impact, use metrics that evaluate:

  • Whether trainees were promoted to higher leadership roles
  • Employee metrics for those working under the trainees, such as employee engagement, retention, performance, and satisfaction
  • Profits, sales, and performance metrics for the leaders’ departments

These can help you demonstrate the program’s value, both to yourself and to executives.

Adjust your program as you go forward.

Using the metrics mentioned above – along with employee and executive feedback – you can improve your program each go-round.

This type of ongoing improvement will help:

  • Improve program performance, ROI, and relevance
  • Make the program more useful to trainees
  • Increase the chances of executive buy-in and support

Continual improvement should be a staple of any HR development program, including leadership development programs.


Designing an HR leadership development program is not easy.

It can be difficult to know what to focus on.

And proving ROI is not always easy.

However, by focusing on a narrow context and a small set of goals, it is possible to produce tangible, positive results.

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