Investment in Leadership Development is a tricky thing. You understand its value and necessity. It’s costly to do well. And it can be difficult to determine and justify the return on investment (ROI) to executive leadership, shareholders or other stakeholders.

There are many formalised ways to attempt to measure the ROI of developing your people, and they can be expensive and time-consuming. And if that is your thing, then great – go right ahead.

But sometimes it may be more useful (and inexpensive) to appreciate the complexity of the human in learning and growth. To focus more on the concept of ROE – Return on Expectation. What is it that we ‘expect’ to see, feel and experience as a result of the change in the thinking and behaviour of those undergoing the development … and those they directly or indirectly influence.

What are you trying to achieve?

After all, the role of the leader is to influence behaviour and improve the individual and collective performance of those in their care. Leadership is the art and science of inspiring and enabling others to accomplish shared goals and vision. Despite many years of leadership theory development during the last century, no single approach to leadership has been identified as the best for all situations, so you can’t go shelf shopping.

In essence, the fundamentals of leadership – to motivate and direct a group to achieve a common goal – have not changed over time. But the complexity and context in which leaders work has evolved greatly. They must now lead in a time of accelerating change. There is ‘no one solution’ and ‘no one outcome’.

What you need is an understanding of what it is you are really trying to achieve. By that I don’t mean financial or other tangible results. You need to identify the thinking and behavioural habits that are interfering with, or missing in the pursuit of, those more tangible outcomes.

These will come from your observation and identification of the symptoms. For example:

  • duplication of effort may be a result of siloed thinking and attitudes
  • inability to complete projects may be a result of poor methods of communication and conversation
  • too much time spent on non-useful and emotional outbursts and the distraction of whinging could be the result of poor self-leadership and an inability of your leaders to have those tough, accountability-focused conversations

What needs to change to reach your goals?

Patti Phillips in her article ‘The Bottomline on ROI’ suggests that only 5–10% of programs should be evaluated at the purely financial return level. I would suggest just as much value can be gleaned through a solid but collaborative exploration. One that clarifies and refines the expectations of key business stakeholders in converting the learning interventions into observable, measurable business or strategy outcomes.

The process is theoretically simple: What specific thinking and behavioural habits need to change or be developed in order to support the achievement of your goals, and what specific interventions can be designed and implemented in order to effect that change?

5 clear steps to get you started:

  1. Get clear on your desired thinking and behavioural outcomes.

    What exactly are you needing to change or achieve and what human skills are going to support that?

  2. Start noticing.

    What’s working well in your workplace, what’s getting in the way and what is frustrating you most? Stand back and be objective, what are you hearing, feeling and seeing, and how would you like it to be different?

  3. Interventions

    Design specific and targeted interventions that address specific and targeted behaviours and cultural habits.

  4. Expectations

    Take the time to get clear about what you ‘expect’ to see, hear and feel when the interventions are successful, and communicate that clearly as the measure of success. Storytelling can be invaluable here.

  5. Keep noticing and reporting on the observable changes

    When you begin to see that return on the expected behaviour, you can deem your intervention successful.

    Assessing then whether the changed behaviour is having the desired impact will help to decide the next phase of your ongoing focus on creating the human culture that will support your business to success.

As a final note, the collaborative and explorative conversations required to facilitate this process are often the most invaluable learning!