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The Chicken or the Egg: Using Assessment Data to Create Better Leadership Training


Wed Apr 17 2019

The Chicken or the Egg: Using Assessment Data to Create Better Leadership Training

Whether you’re a nimble startup with 100 employees or a multinational conglomerate with 100,000, effective leadership training is critical to your organization’s success. There’s no shortage of leadership theories and development methods, but generic models often fall flat in leadership development programs. It’s much more effective to tailor your curriculum and your leadership model to your specific environment and leaders. Tailored content can be the difference between an effective program that accelerates leadership and an ineffective program that’s cut to save costs.

Assessment data is often overlooked as a way to tailor your leadership development program. Typical programs use leadership assessments, such as 360-degree feedback, to show leaders how they stack up. Some programs also have an individual coach to guide leaders in how to respond to the feedback. While all this is valuable, it misses an important opportunity: drawing a clear link between the leadership curriculum and the specific feedback results. Leaders may connect the dots on their own—or not. Many programs also miss the chance to use leaders’ data to shape the curriculum itself. This wastes rich and valuable insights into training needs.


Once an organization decides to harness these opportunities and use leaders’ feedback results to level up their leadership development program, there’s a core question: Which comes first, the curriculum or the assessments? Like the chicken-or-the-egg paradox, either way may work.

Method 1 (the egg): A large university wanted to develop its administrative leadership with a one-year development program for high-potential leaders. The university had always done standard leadership programs that covered the full range of leadership; but this year, training staff decided to offer a more tailored approach. They identified 50 leaders, then did a 360-degree feedback process. They also had each leader talk with an executive coach to understand their results and make a development plan. The training designers examined the feedback results and talked with the executive coaches to uncover the most pressing training needs. They used these data to determine which topics should be emphasized in the leadership training curriculum.

Method 2 (the chicken): A real estate development firm chose a dynamic, highly tailored approach to building content for its leadership development program. Instead of using a generic set of theoretical leadership competencies, they took a hard look at what their leaders needed in their specific environment. They also focused on areas where their organization was unique and on their latest business strategy. Then, they stepped up the curriculum even more by customizing a 360-degree feedback survey. Leaders took the survey before starting the program, and on their first day, they learned where they measured against the curriculum. This way, they could use their results to tailor their individual learning within the course.

There is no better way to waste leadership training dollars than to have learners spend time on irrelevant material. You can tailor your curriculum based on a prior analysis of your leaders’ needs. You could also give them individualized assessment results to shape their own learning path. Either way, your training dollars will go a lot further and your training ROI will be much stronger using data-based methods.

Want to learn more? Join me at the ATD 2019 International Conference & Exposition for the session, "A" Is for Analysis: Innovative Data-Driven Methods for Determining Training Needs


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