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Is your organisation wasting money on leadership development?

Organisations in the UK invest around £42bn a year in the ongoing training of their employees, known as Continuing Professional Development (CPD), but is it worth it? Only 10% of CEOs believe that their leadership-development initiatives have a clear business impact.  Feedback from participants can indicate they have had a positive experience, but there is little evidence that training affects any lasting change in the organisation or behaviours of the workforce.

A fascinating research paper from The Oxford Review has looked at the evidence showing why this might be and what really contributes to a successful programme of CPD.

The goal of CPD should be to affect change - either in practice or behaviour; it should be based on the best available evidence and be measured by specific outcomes for the end user. 


There are two types of CPD:

Whilst technical CPD is often grounded in research and measurable outcomes, there is comparatively little research into programmes for adjunct learning that results in the same level of success. 


Adjunct learning involves topics such as self-management and regulation, people management, leadership, followership, communication skills, influencing, innovation and creativity, critical thinking, reflective and reflexive development, bias recognition and mitigation; all skills which are critical for organisational success. 


Common pitfalls to successful CPD include:


A lack of credibility

Where learning is based on outdated, unevidenced models and theories or training lore there can be a resistance to any effective change.  Learning needs to be based on the most up-to-date and contextually relevant research.


The learning transfer

Analysis shows that there is a low correlation between any learning that we do outside of the workplace (e.g. at a workshop) leading to measurable change back in the workplace.


A scientific application to behaviour change

Programmes that lack an understanding of how people learn and how humans change their behaviour is unlikely to affect any tangible difference to an individual or an organisation. 



The research goes on to outline what does lead to effective CPD.


9 Fundamentals for Effective CPD


With the goal of CPD being to effect improvement and a change in practice / behaviour, the research shows that the following works:


1. Create space 

There is very strong research evidence (psychological, neurological, and educational) to support ‘spaced education’.  This is where there is space for reflection after a period of learning. It allows the brain time to consider, reflect on and process new and often complex information and behaviour and to make incremental adjustments.  It also allows participants to practice new behaviours when the opportunities arise.


2. Use academic outreach (and academic detailing)

Academic outreach refers to more informal learning processes (compared to workshops, lectures, etc) whereby the individuals or teams connect with research from academics and universities.


Academic detailing is the process of someone translating academic research into understandable and practical formats.  Use credible, external detailers - interventions must be conducted by those with no commercial interests or involvement in the internal politics / agenda beyond providing the information and outreach.


3. Focus on one specific area at a time

Target one (or two at most) specific areas of behaviour change that are relevant to the professional’s world and context that they can act on immediately. 


4. Conduct CPD in the workplace

CPD is best conducted in the workplace, learning 'in the flow of work'.  This is because learners need to to be able to put any new skill or behaviour into context and practice as seamlessly as possible.  In what the report details as "The Learning Transfer" problem, it explains what stops participants from being able to bring external learning back into the workplace.  (See 'The Learning Transfer' below for what conditions are needed to avoid this problem where it is unavoidable to train outside of the workplace.)


5. Create a system of reminders or nudges

Short notes, prompts, suggestions and aide-mémoires can promote greater awareness and appropriate application of knowledge the professional already has.  They can include short reviews of research, videos and articles that remind professionals of how their knowledge can be applied in practice.  

They help professionals re-establish the link between their practice and their knowledge, allowing them to question current habits, decisions and routines and nudging them into more evidence-based practices and decisions.


6. Build up sequences of behavioural responses over time

Transformational leadership or a coaching management style requires changing a series of smaller behaviours. Focusing on what those behaviours are and then tackling one at a time, gives you an opportunity to embed the change before you build on each.


7. Involve participants in the process

Involving participants in creating practice reminders, peer feedback, academic outreach and detailing, critical practitioner inquiry and in communities of practice will ensure they are more invested in the programme of change and build cohesion within a team.


8. Provide facilitation or coaching/mentoring

Providing a facilitator or coach to help them look at the problems and be active and positive members of a community of practice.  Look at peer coaching and mentoring, where pairs or triads of professionals from the same functional area work together to examine an organisational/ management/ leadership issue. This forms small mutual aid groups and develops an evidence-based learning orientation.


9. Ensure participants are getting feedback

Feedback bas been found to be important in motivating practice and behaviour change. Effective practice can involve receiving feedback, being audited and engaging in debriefing  both immediately and after a behaviour in the workplace (hot-debriefing) or after some time (cold-debriefing). 


The Learning Transfer Problem

Learning in the workplace has been found to be greatly more effective than in a workshop or lecture forum outside of work.  However, there are a number of factors that can contribute to a more successful transfer of learning: 


1. The Learner:

cognitive ability - the individual's ability to process, evaluate, synthesise and contextualise learning

self-efficacy - their confidence in their ability to learn, apply learning, problem solve and levels of persistence and focus on complex tasks

motivation - the individual's motivation to change working practices and develop themselves

perception of utility - if the learning is deemed practically useful and will make their lives better


2. Design of the learning - the ability to practise a behaviour and receive feedback both in the learning and in the workplace, the extent to which people are permitted to make mistakes and receive instructions and training on what to do if problems occur and a realistic learning environment.


3. Workplace characteristics - factors such as the learning culture of the organisation, managerial & peer support, level of tolerance for innovation and creativity, modelling behaviours of others, presence of coaching and mentoring and a strongly organised safety climate are all factors in a positive transfer culture. 


The Conscious Leadership Model

Here at The Conscious Leadership Co., we have developed a progressive, evidence-based approach to leadership development that builds much of this research into our offering.  We recognise that organisations have a need to develop and grow their leaders to know more about how they can perform at their best, sustainably.  


Our scientifically-validated psychometric is a great starting place to help identify areas of change that would have the greatest impact for organisations and their leaders. It is the only diagnostic tool on the market that seeks o measure wellbeing and burnout.  It can be a useful signpost to identifying the greatest catalysts for change.


Our learning platform, Consciously, allows leaders to learn 'in the flow of work', in bite-size lessons, giving them guided reflections and experiments to implement new skills and behaviours into their daily working lives.  We support leaders by offering a learning solution that is continually updated with the latest, evidence-based learning around problems faced by leaders.  


Our highly skilled and experienced Conscious Coaches offer facilitation and coaching to our clients.  Specialising in behavioural change and experienced in offering real insights from the psychometric reports they are available to support our clients and augment the learning in the app.


If you would like to find out more about the app and how it could benefit your leaders, do please contact us to find out more. 


If you would like to read The Oxford Review's full report click here.