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How to Kick Off Your Leadership Development Program in 4 Steps

September 22, 2021

Alex Daley

in BLOG

Learn best practices and steps for how to kick off your leadership development program to build excitement and commitment for your learning initiatives and development plans.


Setting the tone and expectations up front for everyone is crucial to set up for success in any leadership development program. That's why the kickoff of your program is so important. In this blog, learn more about why a kickoff strategy matters and get the steps for how to kick off your leadership development program successfully.


Why a Kickoff Strategy Matters

The kickoff, whether done virtually or in person, is an opportunity to build excitement and commitment for your leadership development program. You know how excited you are for your leaders to dive in and start learning. The kickoff is a way to extend that excitement to senior stakeholders who are involved in the program, the managers of the learners, and of course, the learners themselves.

Additionally, HR partners and facilitators benefit from attending your kickoff and gathering all that positive energy. These groups, along with senior stakeholders, are important for your learners to know are in attendance. Learners can feed off their presence and energy as well.

Seeing senior leaders demonstrate their commitment to the program will also help learners gain commitment to the program. Similarly, the learners' managers are important kickoff attendees so they can positively reinforce the training for their teams.

The bottom line? Having a kickoff sets up everyone for success. Learners, managers, senior stakeholders, HR partners, and facilitators all benefit from a well-done kickoff. Creating clear expectations allows everyone to succeed.

Further, a strong kickoff saves everyone time. Making the investment up front saves time and effort on the back end.


A Successful Kickoff in 4 Steps

A successful kickoff is a series of events that engage the learners. It’s not just a one-time meeting. The kickoff process can happen over the course of a series of weeks. It can take about one month from the first event to the last event or step.

Here are the four steps I recommend to set up your kickoff for success:

1. CEO Message

This message can be recorded and used for multiple cohorts or done live. The goal here is to prove to the learners the importance of the leadership program. It doesn’t have to be long; 10-15 minutes is plenty of time to build energy.

It doesn’t have to be the CEO. It could be someone else at a senior level, or ideally the C-suite. What’s important is that it’s someone who employees respect, and that employees care about this senior person’s agenda.

It’s also important how the senior stakeholder delivers the message. They need to build up excitement about the program and talk about the impact of developing current leaders at your organization. This person should be able to articulate what better leaders are going to do for the future of your company, your strategy, your culture, and your customers.

2. Kickoff Meeting

Similar to the CEO message, the kickoff meeting can be done in person or virtually. This meeting includes both the learners and their managers, and accomplishes the following objectives:

  • Sets expectations for the learning journey.
  • Explains: What's in it for me? What’s in it for the organization? What’s in it for our clients?
  • Answers learners' questions.
  • Defines what great leadership looks like at your organization.

This meeting is best done live, but could also be recorded. It is most effective done live because learners can ask questions and get answers in real time, and really feel engaged in what they can expect their development journey to look like as well as what they will get out of it.

Another option is to hold a separate kickoff meeting for just the learners' managers. This can help the managers understand how they can best support their learners and think about it through just that lens.

However, it is best practice for the managers of the learners to attend the kickoff with their learners. Why? This allows managers to hear exactly the same message that the learners hear. And then managers can continue to use that messaging to help support and build momentum for their learners' development journey.

3. Moment of Need

This third event, or week three, is when you start to put some of the responsibility on the learners. In the first few events or weeks, they were doing things like watching a message from a senior stakeholder or joining a meeting that you or someone on your team ran. Now, you’re starting to ask learners to take on some responsibility and have some autonomy as they begin to access some learning content on their own.

So, what is a “Moment of Need?” At DDI, we refer to a “Moment of Need” as a curated set of content that’s already available to learners via DDI’s program delivery platform. It’s part of a personalized learning experience with only the content that learners need now. This is a learning path with content that’s already been designed by your organization’s learning and development team in alignment with your leadership development strategy.

So, when learners get into the platform and first start to access content, they can choose from an already curated set of “Moments of Need.” These moments are based on helping them overcome immediate challenges in their role.

Learners can select their first on-demand learning on their own—choosing where they want to focus their first development opportunity. For example, there may be an option for learners to access several resources on how to address poor performance on their team. Or how to have difficult conversations with their teams.

Having this autonomy to quickly access content on their own, and content that addresses immediate needs, will continue to help build your learners’ excitement for your company’s leadership development training program.

4. Meet in Peer Learning Groups

In week four, or in this fourth kickoff event, learners should meet with other learners within the same development journey in peer learning groups.

What are peer learning groups? These are groups of three or four learners in the same cohort. These meetings create a safe space for collaboration and learning. Note that if the group of peers doesn’t know each other well yet, some “speed networking” may be helpful.

This first meeting that’s part of the kickoff is when members of each peer learning group should talk about when it makes sense to schedule all upcoming meetings. It’s your job to make sure each group understands the expectations for the frequency of these meetings, and how they can make the best use of their time together. But the groups themselves should be responsible for scheduling all the future meetings for when it works best for the collective group.

(Check out this blog for best practices on how to successfully use peer learning groups in leadership development programs.)

The Kickoff Is Crucial

Making the kickoff of your leadership development program a strategic piece of your full implementation offers many benefits. Following these four steps for how to kick off your leadership development initiative will help you set clear expectations for everyone involved from the get-go and get everyone set up for success. But most importantly, following these kickoff best practices will help to build energy for your program early and help to keep that energy high throughout your leaders’ development journey.


See how DDI is by your side from kickoffs to program design to getting results when you have a leadership development subscription.

Alex Daley is a strategic learning consultant for DDI. She works directly with clients to develop leadership development programs and drive behavior change.

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