6 Reasons Development Programs Fail

At LDP Connect, we like to accentuate the positive. 

That’s why we’ve written about how companies can build successful early career programs from scratch and about what high-performing LDPs are accomplishing at leading global organizations

At the risk of sounding a bit negative, today we’re going to look at where programs get stuck. Where they falter. Where they fail.

Of course, your program faces many potential pitfalls, and when a program truly fails, it’s usually a combination of at least a few of them to blame. 

Perhaps the program leaders failed to anticipate how the organization’s needs would change. Perhaps insufficient cultural development left participants feeling like “outsiders.” Or maybe company leadership never really understood the value proposition behind the program to begin with. As a result, the disconnect meant less funding, less enrichment, and no real improvement in organizational bench strength.

Here are six reasons LDPs fail—plus some hints about how to course-correct.

#1 Not Articulating Goals

McKinsey leadership-development survey showed that most company executives believe their development initiatives don’t deliver the desired results. 

This may be because those “desired results” weren’t clearly articulated from the beginning.

Steve Wronski, with the talent development organization RJ Wronski Associates, Inc., says you should set goals for the short-term and the long-term. Short-term goals might include diversity recruiting goals. Long-term goals might include specific net promoter scores or a target rate for post-program job offer acceptance. 

“You need those short-term goals in the beginning because it could be three, four or five years before you come close to measuring the long-term results.” 

Carefully consider how you’ll structure your program to meet your goals, keeping in mind that the actual impact can take months (and even years) to realize.

#2 Not Demonstrating ROI

Short-term goals matter, but too many programs focus solely on near-term results. A more powerful approach uses data to tell a compelling story about how the program benefits the organization in the long run.

“At the end of the day the leadership team wants to know the return on investment,” says Tammy Bohen, a certified on-boarding and performance coach who founded the talent management consultancy Development by Design and held several corporate leadership roles over the years. 

Tammy says program managers should partner with analytics teams to ensure the program is an integral part of the organizational talent strategy. Too many program managers are wearing blinders, remaining focused on internally-driven objectives without considering the overall organizational impact.

“Dollars, head count, resources, training, time … What is the business getting in return for its investment?”

Data can justify the program’s approach—or show where changes are needed.

#3 Not Tracking The Right Metrics

Articulating goals, then using data to show steps towards those goals, means gauging current participants’ progress and long-term alumni performance. 

Participant feedback isn’t enough. Use scorecards to capture the success metrics that the C-suite cares about, from training outcomes to compensation packages. Track long-term metrics to show how LDP participants outperform their non-program peers. How many of them are in senior roles one year after the program? What about two years? Five? How many left the company? 

You should have identified clear goals; now make sure the program is tracking progress as intended.

#4 Failing To Communicate With Rotation Managers

Gauging a program’s ROI means watching a participant’s progress wherever they land for their rotation. You’re looking at:

  • The performance of the participant
  • The value the business unit gets when hosting a participant
  • The feedback of the participant’s rotation managers

Molly Slepecki, Director of Talent Solutions at Highmark Health, says you need constant communication with the managers hosting rotations.

“They can tell you how (program participants) are adding value,” Slepecki  says. “Does their performance compare to other entry-level people or other people in your organization, entry-level or not? Do they excel in one area or another? Take a look at the whole picture, then you’re going to know what value they bring.”

#5 Failing to Adequately Train Recruiters

Do you have formal training for your campus teams to make sure they’re representing the brand the right way on college campuses?

Make sure recruiters understand the ground rules about how the matching process works. 

“The worst thing you can do is not have that team trained well,” Tammy says. “If they go out and communicate the wrong things, you have a participant who starts with false expectations. That’s just setting yourself up for disaster.”

Don’t leave any room for surprise in the onboarding process. Incoming employees should know what formal training to expect when he or she starts a rotation. They should know how they will move through the organization during the course of the program, including job responsibilities, the duration of each rotation, and details about how you evaluate performance.

#6 Not Learning From Peers

Keeping the program successful means learning about how other programs are structured, emulating what is working for them, and avoiding the mistakes they’ve made.

One way to do this is by completing the 2020 LDP Survey by September 30th to get benchmarking data, including:

  • Compensation levels
  • Retention rates
  • Curriculum approaches
  • Off-boarding practices
  • Rotation matching
  • Evaluation metrics
  • Budgeting and staffing ratios

You can learn more about LDP Connect and the LDP Survey at https://www.ldpconnect.com/early-career-talent-development-survey/

leadership development programs can crash and burn - photo of a crashed airplane
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