HR professionals are under a lot of pressure to prove that leadership development programs have a return on investment. When leaders’ time is precious and financial resources are limited, how do organizations get the most out of their programs? One way is to focus on the difference between learning and development. But what is the difference?
Learning is defined as gaining new knowledge. Development is applying that knowledge to drive results and growth. For leaders, we simply can’t afford to build programs where they learn but don’t develop.
How does the distinction between learning and development show up in your organization? For starters, if your leaders are learning but not developing, you might notice one or both of the following:
- The organization relies too much on self-directed learning. It’s common to hear that leaders should “own” their development. Yes, it’s true that leaders should fully participate in development and try to apply what they’ve learned to improve. But this doesn’t mean that they should solely rely on self-directed learning. Many organizations invest in huge online libraries of learning content, which are promoted to leaders as a “one-stop shop” for building leadership skills on demand. Sounds great, right? And this content is often high quality and presented in a compelling way.
Unfortunately, this “build it and they will come” strategy doesn’t provide the same benefits as a more intentional leadership development program, which allows leaders to practice identified skills in a safe environment and socialize new behaviors while interacting with their peers. Lately, leaders have been asking for more development experiences with a social component. In the era of virtual and hybrid work, leaders feel more isolated. According to DDI’s recent Global Leadership Forecast, leaders’ most desired development experience is instructor-led training. Meanwhile, self-paced digital learning scores near the bottom of the list of preferred learning methods.
- Leaders participate in programs but don’t change and grow. Learning only becomes development when it’s applied on the job. When leaders go to training programs but don’t change their behavior, they may have learned, but they haven’t developed.
The cause of this lack of change and growth? It’s often a shortage of self-insight. Resources like 360 feedback tools and simulation-based assessments uncover blind spots. These resources also do a good job of showing leaders why they need to change and how to do it. In addition, with the data and insights these tools provide, leaders become more committed to making a change.
Leaders also have difficulty changing when they feel their development isn’t connected to the organization’s business or cultural priorities. If the same learning programs have been in place for years despite significant changes to the organization, leaders may see the programs as outdated, irrelevant, or a mere formality. How do top organizations avoid this? Regular leadership needs analyses are a good place to start. It can also be helpful for organizations to align development offerings with the specific challenges their leaders are facing today.
Read about additional warning signs that your leaders are learning but not developing on DDI’s blog.