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FALSE: All Leadership Development is Ineffective

By Barry Stern, Ph.D.

Barry Stern, Ph.D. It’s become fashionable to characterize leadership training efforts as failures, with reputable data points and sources supporting this claim. In her 2012 book The End of Leadership, Barbara Kellerman talks about the failure of the “leadership industry.” The Harvard Business Review referred to “The Great Training Robbery” in a 2016 article assailing leadership training. And, in their 2017 Workplace Learning Report (a survey of 500 L&D professionals in the U.S. and Canada), LinkedIn Learning found that, while over half of L&D professionals surveyed say that developing managers and leaders is the #1 objective for their organization:

  • Executives want to see data showing the business impact and ROI of L&D programs, yet only 8 percent see business impact data and just 4 percent see proof of ROI.
  • Less than one-fourth of L&D professionals surveyed were willing to recommend their own L&D programs to peers.

Indeed, one of the most alarming findings in the report is that among the most commonly used ways organizations measure the success of L&D are qualitative feedback from attendees and satisfaction of attendees—neither of which connect to the business.

As an industry, we need to do better.

Proof of ImpactThose of you working in the L&D space aren’t surprised by these findings. You live with daily resource and scalability challenges, the (still unrealized) digital opportunity to extend your learning reach in more impactful ways, and the battle for attention from boardroom executives all the way to individual learners at their seat or screen in increasingly disrupted organizations. You know more than anyone else that you win some and you lose some, that there is no holy grail of impact, and that no digitally driven, highly scalable system or magical classroom experience will by itself produce dramatic impact. Yet, despite the all-too-human tendency to focus on failures and the knowledge of how much more impact you want to have, you still know that you have achieved significant successes.

The research scope

Earning the right to claim success does not come easily. To add more balance to the discussion, we tackled a massive project based on the work our clients have done to measure the impact of our leadership development system (Interaction Management®, or IM®). The result is an unprecedented aggregation of studies including responses from more than 18,000 leaders and over 12,000 observers of leaders completing the IM® program. While the research spans more than four decades, many of the studies come from just the past few years. I encourage you to spend some time with the report, but I also want to highlight a few of the key takeaways.

Business impact and ROI

Our research lists 16 bottom-line metrics that have been impacted after leaders participated in an IM® training program. These include such results as a 114 percent increase in sales, 71 percent increase in customer satisfaction, 36 percent increase in productivity, and 49 percent decrease in overtime expenditures.

Results from specific organizations also underscore the system’s business impact, including $4 million in cost savings for an investment services organization due to reduced turnover and a 70 percent reduction in accidents at a specialized equipment manufacturer.

Additionally, our research includes 22 studies that specifically assess the ROI from the leadership development implementation. These ROI figures range from 147 percent to 633 percent—one heck of a return on investment!

Measuring behavior change

A major reason why our industry is so vulnerable to being characterized as a failure is the continued lack of rigorous research and reporting on behavior change. Our clients have produced results because they are impacting core behaviors representing effective leadership. Our research shows that those core behaviors, when consistently engaged in by enough leaders, have deep, lasting, and positive effects on organizations. Four noteworthy study findings related to behavior change are:

In addition to those cited above, the study includes findings that capture Interaction Management’s positive impact on employee engagement and leadership at all levels, and ability to compensate for years of leadership experience.

Leadership training will pay off

Data like this prove that behaviorally oriented leadership training like that offered by DDI is not a cost, but rather a solid investment likely to pay off. In fact, the data are so compelling that it can almost be considered a leadership development insurance policy.

My hope is that citing data like this will help you make the case for quality leadership development focused on behavior change, and that your commitment to measurement is unwavering. We feel so strongly about this organizationally that we continue to work with our clients—at no cost to them—to prove the efficacy of their leadership development efforts and the value to their organizations.

Want to get more insights on the research? Register for the March 30th webinar Yes, Leadership Development Can Really Work. Here's Proof!

Barry Stern, Ph.D., works out of DDI’s Pittsburgh headquarters where he heads up the Leadership Development Solutions group. Outside of work he is best found on a perennial, lumbering, and highly indirect search for the best restaurants and views, in or out of any nearby town, on his motorcycle.

Proof of Impact
PROOF That DDI’s Leadership Development Pays Off
40+ years of research on the impact of Interaction Management®

Posted: 21 Mar, 2017,

Talk to an Expert: FALSE: All Leadership Development is Ineffective

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