Apr 282011

Leadership Development: The Impact of Leadership Development Programs

| Leadership Development: executive summary |

While it is commonplace for organizations to invest in leadership development programs, it is far less likely for organizations to have meaningful insights into how they can measure the effectiveness and value of these programs in areas such as increased employee performance, customer satisfaction, product quality, corporate profitability, or various indicators of mission success. The genesis for this study was the ASTD research report titled Executive Development: Strategic and Tactical Approaches. The research team for this study, which included ICF International researchers, was surprised to find very little credible information on how organizations were measuring the impact of their executive development programs. As the study was concluded, the research team recommended that a follow-up study on measurement and evaluation be conducted. ICF International agreed to sponsor and lead this study in partnership with ASTD and graduate students from Pennsylvania State University.

While this follow-on study intended to assess the most effective methods of linking leadership development programs to organizational impact measures, the research team had three specific questions that they sought to address:

• What are the best examples of organizations that are able to measure the impact of leadership development programs?

• What are the specific techniques and the required context that these organizations need to link leadership development content to organizational metrics?

• Can these best practices be transplanted into other organizations, thereby allowing them to assess and improve the outcomes of their leadership development programs?

To answer these questions, the research team used a robust research methodology that included a literature review, a pre-qualification survey, interviews with “best case” companies, a thematic analysis of all qualitative data, and a follow-up survey that gathered broad perspectives on the key findings.

Ultimately this study identified 29 evaluation techniques that “best case” organizations used to link leadership development programs to organizational success metrics. These techniques ranged from practical suggestions to robust approaches for establishing this link, for keeping stakeholders involved, for isolating the effects of the program, and for communicating the results. The research then tested the transferability of these techniques to other organizations by comparing the perceptions of respondents who had used these techniques to those who had not. For those who had used the technique, the study collected their perceptions of how well the technique worked and what types of barriers and enablers they faced. For those respondents who had not used the technique, the study asked them to forecast whether they believe the technique would work and the reasons why it would or would not work.

The study generated several key findings, including

• Organizations exist that have robust leadership development program evaluation systems, although they are relatively rare.

• Successfully evaluating leadership development programs requires fairly robust evaluation designs, availability of baseline data, a culture that supports evaluation, and a leadership team that support continuous improvements.

• The most prevalent evaluation design that allows for isolation of the programs’ effect was the time series design. The use of control groups is exceedingly rare, and the use of randomized experiment groups appears to be non-existent.

• General agreement exists on the most effective techniques. However, many of the evaluation techniques that were Considered effective by all respondents were not being frequently used. Conversely, many of the techniques that were considered relatively ineffective had a high degree of use.

• There are many barriers and enablers to the effective use of these techniques. Practitioners who are not familiar with the techniques that are considered most effective, tend to overestimate how resource intensive these techniques are when compared to the perceptions of those who have used these techniques.

• The presence of clear and relevant evaluation plans, evaluation designs, and baseline metrics is the key to conducting a successful leadership development program evaluation.

The information contained within this study will provide executives and workplace learning and performance professionals with greater insight into what techniques might work for their organization and the value they can potentially derive. Armed with this insight, organizations will be able to make informed decisions on how to tailor leadership development programs to address key organizational needs and desired outcomes and be able to determine the true impact of these programs on organizational success.



ASTD (the American Society for Training & Development) is the world’s largest professional association dedicated to the training and development field. In more than 100 countries, ASTD’s members work in organizations of all sizes, in the private and public sectors, as independent consultants, and as suppliers. Members connect locally in 130 U.S. chapters and with 30 international partners.

ASTD started in 1943 and in recent years has widened the profession’s focus to align learning and performance to organizational results and is a sought-after voice on critical public policy issues. For more information, visit http://www.astd.org/.


ICF International partners with government and commercial clients to deliver workforce development and management consulting services in the energy, climate change, environment, health, human services, homeland security, and social services markets. ICF’s Human Capital and Management Consulting Division specializes in helping organizations realize their goals through the accomplishments of their workforce. This team offers evidence-based consulting that provides a detailed assessment of workplace learning and performance issues and provides high-value, practical, ethical, and effective solutions. ICF’s Human Capital Group is dedicated to participating in industry-wide research with partners such as ASTD to provide the profession with thought leadership and our clients with new and innovative ways to excel.

The firm combines passion for its work with industry expertise and innovative analytics to produce compelling results throughout the entire program life cycle, from research and analysis and design through implementation and improvement. Since 1969, ICF International has been serving government at all levels, major corporations, and multilateral institutions. More than 3,500 employees serve these clients worldwide.


ASTD Research tracks trends, informs decisions, and connects research to practice in the field of workplace learning and performance. ASTD Research conducts a wide variety of ongoing studies on topics of interest to the learning profession.

Recently released studies include:

• Annual State of the Industry Report

• Learning’s Role in Employee Engagement

• Learning’s Role in Globally Dispersed Workforces

• Tapping the Potential of Informal Learning

• Talent Management: Practices and Opportunities

• Executive Development: Strategic and Tactical Approaches

• The State of Sales Training

• Learning in Tough Economic Times: How Corporate Learning is Meeting the Challenges

• Transforming Learning with Web 2.0 Technologies

• The Ill-Prepared U.S. Workforce: Exploring the Challenges of Employer-Provided Workforce Readiness Training

• The Value of Evaluation: Making Training Evaluations More Effective

• Improving Succession Plans: Harnessing The Power of Learning and Development

• The Rise of Social Media: Enhancing Collaboration and Productivity Across Generations

• Social Media: The Millenial Perspective

• Accelerating Revenue Through Learning: Developing Sales Teams That Win

For more information about each study, as well as ASTD Research’s comprehensive benchmarking services, visit www.astd.org/research.

©2010 by the American Society for Training & Development. All rights reserved.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the publisher, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, contact copyright.com.


TALENT MANAGEMENT PRACTICES AND OPPORTUNITIES identifies how talent management is currently being used by a diverse range of organizations and lays out the best practices of an effective talent management program. Use this research data to improve your talent management program or find out the best before starting one in your organization.

For more information about this report, click here.

LEARNING’S ROLE IN GLOBALLY DISPERSED WORKFORCES identifies the many ways that learning professionals can ease the transition to globalization by involving the learning function. Use this research data to determine what your organization can do to work through the numerous challenges that go along with the expansion into global markets.

For more information about this report, click here. 

LEARNING’S ROLE IN EMPLOYEE ENGAGEMENT investigates how organizations are addressing employee engagement, one of the most important corporate issues today. The study identifies the strategies and organizational factors most responsible for influencing employees to become more engaged, with a specific emphasis on learning. Use this research data to determine what you can do to boost employee engagement in your organization.

For more information about this report, click here. 

TRANSFORMING LEARNING WITH WEB 2.0 TECHNOLOGIES describes how Web 2.0 technologies are being used for learning in today’s organizations. The report looks at what technologies are gaining the most use in organizations and reviews the risks and rewards of adopting Web 2.0 tools. Included are findings and recommendations to help companies leverage the next generation of collaboration and communication tools for learning and performance improvement.

For more information about this report, click here.

STRATEGIC AND TACTICAL APPROACHES TO EXECUTIVE DEVELOPMENT is an in-depth look at the executive development practices of today’s organizations. With many firms struggling to find the right way to develop top-level leaders, this study helps to answer common questions about the state of executive development.

For more information about this report, click here.

STATE OF SALES TRAINING explores how today’s organizations are approaching sales training and sheds light on opportunities that organizations are missing to optimize those approaches or consider new ones. The study will equip you with the statistics to inform important sales training decisions, provide you with a background on the current sales training environment, and give you policy recommendations that can get you started on the road to success now.

For more information about this report, click here.

TAPPING THE POTENTIAL OF INFORMAL LEARNING helps today’s learning professionals gain insight into how informal learning works and how to improve its effectiveness. The study breaks the findings into six main categories that best explain how and why to harness the potentially untapped power of informal learning.

For more information about this report, click here.

THE VALUE OF EVALUATION: MAKING TRAINING EVALUATIONS MORE EFFECTIVE explores the complex issue of learning evaluation, the techniques being used, barriers to effective implementation, and strategic uses of learning metrics. With greater scrutiny and emphasis on effectiveness, organizations continue to explore ways to communicate and document the value of training and development they provide to employees. The data in this report can help many firms become more proficient in successful measurement of the learning function.

For more information about this report, click here.

LEARNING IN TOUGH ECONOMIC TIMES: HOW CORPORATE LEARNING IS MEETING THE CHALLENGES presents compelling information on best practices organizations are using to cope with financial uncertainty. This study provides real data, ideas, and tools that you can implement to be a strategic business partner and help position your organization for success in the recovery.

For more information about this report, click here.

THE RISE OF SOCIAL MEDIA ENHANCING COLLABORATION AND PRODUCTIVITY ACROSS GENERATIONS explores the business case for supporting and using social media technologies from a learner’s point of view. This exclusive perspective provides business leaders with insight into leveraging the power of social media tools. The report includes valuable results and recommendations to help executives make strategic decisions about social media that can positively affect organizational goals and growth.

For more information about this report, click here.

IMPROVING SUCCESSION PLANS: HARNESSING THE POWER OF LEARNING AND DEVELOPMENT explores the business case for succession planning and breaks down how companies are executing it. Most companies admit their succession planning efforts have significant room for improvement. This report is a powerful tool for implementing meaningful change within organizations: the analysis leads to recommendations on the creation of metrics, candidate selection, and key practices to cope with barriers to effective plans.

For more information about this report, click here.

INSTRUCTIONAL SYSTEMS DESIGN: TODAY AND IN THE FUTURE explores how instructional systems design (ISD) is adapting to the current, fast-changing learning environment and the uncertain future. The evolution in the world of learning means most companies need to better position themselves for the future. This report includes valuable results and recommendations to help executives and ISD professionals make strategic decisions about ISD within their organization.

For more information about this report, click here.

ACCELERATING REVENUE THROUGH LEARNING: DEVELOPING SALES TEAMS THAT WIN study complements the ASTD State of Sales Training report and is a must-have reference for all sales driven people and organizations. The report investigates three primary sales issues: how the sales process has evolved, how that evolutionary process has affected the training requirements of  salespeople, and how sales training functions within corporations respond to these changes. Ultimately, it provides valuable learning objectives and recommendations to positively influence sales effectiveness.

For more information about this report, click here.

SOCIAL MEDIA: THE MILLENNIAL PERSPECTIVE study provides business leaders with insight for a new strategic priority: to leverage the power of social media tools in order to maximize learning and increase the performance of the entire workforce. It also includes valuable results and recommendations to help executives, managers, and supervisors make strategic decisions that can positively affect organizational goals and growth, and leverage the power of social media and the Millennial generation.

For more information about this report, click here.


Research reports published by ASTD can be purchased by visiting our website at store.astd.org or by calling 800.628.2783 or 703.683.8100.

ASTD Research On Time, On Target, On Demand

Volume 2 • No . 6



To Discuss how these Solutions will add value for you, your organization and/or your clients, Affinity/Resale Opportunities, and/or Collaborative Efforts, Please Contact:

Tom McDonald, tsm@centurytel.net; 608-788-5144; Skype: tsmw5752

leadership development, McDonald Sales and Marketing, LLC