4 Ways to Boost ROI for Your Leadership Development Program

Tim Royan
April 13, 2020
4 Ways to Boost ROI for Your Leadership Development Program

I have an idea to create the greatest racing team and driver in the world and I’m looking for investors.

For my new car company, Powder Keg Motorsports LLC, we’re going to get the most promising Junior Go-Kart Champion we can find.


Then, we’re going to spend tons of money and time putting him through our Race-Leader Development Course to get him behind the wheel of our brand-spanking-new T-Bomb — the hottest sports car of 2020.

The goal is to win LeMons, Monaco, the Indy 500, Daytona, that super colorful one from Mario Kart — we’re shooting for gold in all of them!

Everyone in our current management has agreed to spend at least $14B grooming this up-and-comer for racing success.

But… about 75% of them say they’re “pretty sure” the car will blow up like a Wile E. Coyote Rocket-Sled before it even finishes a lap.

So, who’s in? This is a once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunity!

No one?


...it’s that whole explosion thing, isn’t it?

Yeah, it’s probably just common sense not to expect a return on your investment when 3/4ths of PKM LLC leaders don’t even believe it will work.

But if it’s common sense, why is that so many business leaders seem to waste resources on their own leadership development programs they believe are just as doomed to fail?

Do they hate money?

No. Everyone knows how important it is that we recruit, engage, retain and equip our top talent in order to grow the next generation of leaders — so much so that companies know it’s worth the $14B a year they’re collectively spending to do so.  

The problem is, they’re just pessimistic about the current state of leadership development programs — you know, on account of all the exploding cars getting in the way of their ROI?

And that begs the question...

Why do so many leadership development programs fail? Leadership development programs fail because companies:

  • Identify the wrong people to invest in
  • Miss the human element
  • Struggle to build connection and commitment to their company
  • Lack the systems and accountability to achieve growth plans and deliver ROI

It’s very likely one of these problems is the wrench in the works keeping your team from developing its next wave of leadership.

But don’t worry! There are plenty of ways you can tackle these problems and make sure you are only investing in leadership development programs that produce real ROI and leaders who are miles ahead of the pack.

So, let’s take a close look at how.

  1. Identifying the right people for leadership development programs

If you want a return on your leadership development investment, you need to make sure you are picking the right candidates to invest in.

Our company goals only get bigger, so we need to make sure that we have people to step into leadership as necessary. And it matters who steps in! Companies rise and fall on leadership.

These are the people who are driving innovation and who are creating the culture that gets the most out of our teams. These are people worth millions in the value they create. In fact, superior talent is up to 8x more productive than average talent.

Who are you going to choose to invest in?

First and foremost, the employees you identify as future leaders need to be growth-oriented and high-potential. We need both. If we stick to the racing team metaphor, these are like the steering wheel and the engine on our racecar.

You can drop a jet engine of potential into the car, but without the right orientation, it’s going to crash. And even the best driver in the world is going to struggle to win a race behind the wheel of a Reliant Robin.

High-potential means the talent we deal with has the ability and ambition to hold successive leadership roles in your company. Ambition and ability.

And there is a science and an art to identifying this in your employees. You need to really be looking at their personality, their people skills, their giftings and whether they are entrepreneurial or have a strategic mindset.

Some of this can be done by looking at performance reviews and ratings, but it’s important to have ongoing talent conversations with your management teams discussing the answers to these two questions:

  1. Is this person truly high potential?
  1. Do they have the strategic chops to be a senior leader in this company?

The most common mistake companies make — and it happens way too often — is assuming someone will be great at successive leadership roles just because they are a high performer.

The ugly truth is the vast majority of people who are great at their current jobs fail when they get promoted.

This doesn’t mean there’s no one in the pit-crew who could possibly make for a great driver. It just means we need to be disciplined and thorough in identifying the qualities in them that will lead to future success when they get behind the wheel.

And that can mean the difference between getting Speed Racer steering the car or that creepy guy with the dog.

It’s tricky, but it’s worth it.

2) Remember the human element in your leadership development program

The whole point of a leadership development program is to help you grow your high potential talent, right?

Not in some terrible sci-fi movie premise way — you just want to nurture the qualities in that person and build the skills that would qualify them for leadership.

The problem most companies face is they only focus on the business side of things and not the human side.

It’s a lot like that freakishly buff guy at your gym who always “skips leg day” and, as a result, looks like a T-bone steak precariously balanced on toothpicks. In order to foster a world-class leader, you need to take the whole person into account — and ignoring growth in the things that motivate us as humans is a lot like skipping leg day.

To paraphrase Walt Whitman: People contain multitudes. And what drives a great leader to be, well, great is multifaceted. Think about any great leader in history or in your personal life — was their motivation just to master the skills of their trade?

Of course not! Martin Luther King didn’t write his “I have a dream…” speech just to impress his English teacher. His powerful oratory and beautiful writing were tools he used as a leader, but they aren’t what made him great.

It was his purpose, the values he lived by and his mission in life that allowed him to grow into the legendary leader he became.

Everyone has values they live by and a mission in life. And these need not be as grand and society-transforming as MLK’s. Some people want to be the best role model for their children they can be. Others want to inspire the people they meet to live their best lives. Maybe they just want to know they’ve made the world a slightly better place during their stay.

And if you want great leaders, these things matter as much as the business skills. True growth and transformation only happen when you embrace the whole person and connect what drives them to your company’s mission.

So, when seeking to develop leaders, ask yourself (and your whole leadership team) 3 questions:

  1. What motivates them?
  1. What are their values and their purpose?
  1. How can we help them connect that to their work at our company?

If you can connect the dots between these, you’re well on your way.

And, this is something that we say all the time around here, but you’ll know you’re winning when your leadership development is a valued employee benefit.

You are not going to get the ROI you’re looking for if an employee feels like they’re checking boxes, jumping through flaming hoops and dancing on cue arbitrarily.

Instead, you want your high-potential talent to leave work thinking “Wow, my company values me so much that they want to invest in me in a meaningful way.”

And if you’ve paid attention so far, that should be true.

3) You should be building connection and commitment to your company

So, you’ve picked the right people and you’ve decided to grow them as a person holistically, focusing on their personal growth as well as professional growth. You’re done, right?

Not so fast! Before you rush your talent into a classroom setting, you need to take a hard look at what your content is and how it’s delivered.

All too often, companies push their future leaders into generic classroom training that teaches empty theory that never actually connects the dots to their company. Instead, we should be making sure our training is tailored to the individual and connects them in a deeper way with the company.

When your company delivers generic content your high-potential employees can find anywhere, it doesn’t fit them personally and it makes them feel uncomfortable and less connected to the company.

To compound the connection problem, companies often send their talent off to learn this generic content with groups outside of the company. This presents another layer of problems because any meaningful relationships they build will not be tied to your company.

People who have meaningful relationships with their colleagues at work are much more likely to stay with their employer — and what’s the point of developing leaders who lead elsewhere?

So, be sure to focus on leadership development that fosters a connection to your company and builds meaningful relationships inside your organization.

The content you deliver should be animated by its connection to your company and your employees should consume it alongside their high-potential peers.

4) Building systems and accountability to deliver ROI in your leadership development programs

So far, we’ve gone over how to pick the right people, how to grow the whole person and how to make sure they’re engaged with your business. These are all important points to keep your programs from failing.

But did you know that 95% of high-potential programs fail to drive development follow-through after doing all these steps?

I’m going to go back to the racing metaphor here because that’s basically like leading the whole race, getting within 5 feet of the finish line and getting out to stretch your legs for a bit.

Nobody enters a race just to drive in circles, just like nobody starts a leadership development program for the sake of leadership development or for the sake of learning. It’s not done in a vacuum.

We do it to drive business results.

We want to win! We want a return on our investment. And that’s almost impossible when we don’t get follow-through, no matter how well we did on the previous laps. We need to build the right systems and accountability to achieve our growth plans.

One way you can drive follow-through is through collective leadership development.

Collective leadership development is like a mastermind group within your company. It’s specifically for your high-potential leaders, where they consume great content and bring it to life with real-world examples and systems to make sure they’re executing on their growth plans.

There are tons of benefits to collective leadership development.

Your employees get intentional with their growth plans and share them with their peers, committing to take specific actions to achieve them. That sharing part is absolutely crucial. It lets everyone benefit from the momentum and accountability generated in the group setting.

It’s similar to why — even though you may want to — you aren’t going to sit down and eat a whole pizza at your nephew’s Chuck E. Cheese birthday party. You’re an adult, you paid for the pizza and, somehow, it’s perfectly legal to eat a family-sized pepperoni in one sitting. The group setting guarantees you will be held accountable for your very, very poor decisions.

Only, with collective leadership development, you’re held accountable for your good decisions and how you follow through on them by a group of like-minded people who are also very intentional about their own personal growth.

Your high-potential, growth-oriented talent get an opportunity to support and encourage each other and share lessons learned on their own growth journey. It builds the system you need to drive follow-through and get the ROI you are looking for.

It also builds friendships and community and, as we’ve already mentioned, employees with a strong bond and connection with their colleagues are less likely to run away from your company.

Or, you know, they’re much less likely to get another job.

How we do it:

One of the key systems we use with CoThryve Growth Groups is called the 4x4 Dashboard.

Each month, we set our “4x4's.” These are the 4 things we commit to getting done over the next 4 weeks that will impact our lives and careers.

It's amazing how much we accomplish by focusing on what will drive the most value month-by-month. It gives us time to reflect on what really matters, but also be intentional about what we can and should accomplish.

And, by sharing these stretch goals out loud and documenting them in a dashboard with peers, we never fall victim to that routine of going to bed every night and saying to yourself “tomorrow I’ll start…” and never following through.

The motivation and momentum to make them happen is contagious.

We succeed. And we do it together.

Summing up

Hopefully, you have a much better idea of what causes leadership development programs to fail and how you can do more than just avoid making those mistakes — you can get a genuine return on your leadership investment.

Still, we covered a lot of ground, so to recap...

If you want to build effective leadership development programs that deliver ROI:

  • Be disciplined about identifying high-potential, growth-oriented leaders
  • Make it about the whole person and never lose sight of the human element
  • Connect them with your company, your mission, your team and make it about real-world challenges and opportunities at your company,
  • Forget all the generic stuff and build real relationships within your company
  • Leverage systems and accountability to actually follow through on growth plans and drive business results. Collective Leadership Development is a highly effective way to do this.

On the other hand, if you read this far just to find out where to invest in my racing team, you can find the investment jar next to the flaming car at a race near you.

If you want more crazy-useful content around leadership development and company culture, be sure to check out Crafting Culture on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or follow along on our website.