Business Leadership Today

How To Measure the Success of a Leadership Development Program


Matt Tenney, Author of Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process

The success of an organization is heavily dependent on the quality of its leaders. Gallup’s research highlights this factor as the most influential element in an organization’s long-term prosperity. 

Organizations spent approximately $3.5 billion on leadership development programs and vendors globally in 2019. However, these investments often fail to bring about enduring behavioral changes, which reduces their effectiveness to mere perks without a substantial return on investment. 

Despite these shortcomings, leadership development programs are still a worthwhile investment, as they play a central role in nurturing leaders. 

To ensure that the investment isn’t squandered, it’s essential to measure the success of these programs continuously. This approach allows for ongoing improvement and ensures the effectiveness of the leadership development programs. 

Measuring the success of a leadership development program is a multifaceted process that requires several strategies:

  • Clear goal-setting
  • Consistent feedback collection and response
  • Ongoing evaluation and adjustment

This should occur within a framework such as the Kirkpatrick Model that provides objective, quantifiable metrics tied to business outcomes.

In this article, we’ll delve into how to measure the effectiveness of leadership development programs to ensure success. 

The Importance of Clear Goals 

In the realm of business, the establishment of clear and specific goals is of paramount importance. These goals serve as the compass that guides the direction of all business activities, ensuring alignment with the overarching business needs.

The Need for Clear, Specific Goals

Clear goals provide a roadmap for businesses, offering a sense of direction and purpose. They enable businesses to focus their resources and efforts toward achieving specific outcomes, thereby enhancing efficiency and productivity. 

Specific goals allow for the measurement of progress and success, facilitating continuous improvement and growth.

In relation to business needs, goals must be tailored to address the unique challenges and opportunities that a business faces. They should reflect the business’s mission, vision, and strategic objectives, ensuring that all activities contribute to the fulfillment of these elements.

Guiding Program Development and Implementation

Once established, these clear and specific goals play a vital role in guiding the development and implementation of business programs. 

They provide a framework within which these programs are designed, ensuring that each element of the program aligns with and contributes toward the achievement of the set goals.

During the implementation phase, goals serve as benchmarks against which the effectiveness and success of the program can be measured. 

They enable businesses to track progress, identify areas for improvement, and make necessary adjustments to ensure the program remains on track toward achieving its intended outcomes.

Clear and specific goals are not just desirable but essential in the business landscape. They provide direction, enhance focus, and facilitate measurement, playing a critical role in the successful development and implementation of business programs. 

Businesses must invest time and effort in setting clear, specific goals that align with their business needs.

The Kirkpatrick Model

The Kirkpatrick Model is a widely recognized and applied framework for evaluating the effectiveness of training programs. It comprises four levels: Reaction, Learning, Behavior, and Results.

Level 1: Reaction

The first level, Reaction, assesses how the trainees react to the training program. It is often measured through feedback forms or surveys at the end of the training session. 

For example, you might ask participants to rate the relevance of the content, the quality of the delivery, and their overall satisfaction with the program.

Level 2: Learning

The second level, Learning, measures what the trainees have learned from the training. This can be assessed through tests or quizzes that evaluate the participants’ understanding of the training material. 

For instance, if the training was about a new software tool, a test could be designed to assess the participants’ understanding of the tool’s features and functionalities.

Level 3: Behavior

The third level, Behavior, evaluates the extent to which the trainees apply what they’ve learned to their job. This can be measured through observation, feedback from supervisors, or self-assessment. 

For example, if the training was about improving customer service skills, you could measure changes in behavior by observing the trainee’s interaction with customers or by asking for feedback from customers.

Level 4: Results

The fourth and final level, Results, measures the impact of the training on business outcomes. This can be assessed through key performance indicators (KPIs) such as sales figures, customer satisfaction scores, or error rates. 

For instance, if the training was aimed at improving sales techniques, you could measure its effectiveness by comparing sales figures before and after the training.

Measuring reaction, learning, behavior, and results enables businesses to assess the value of their training programs and identify areas for improvement.

The Role of Feedback

Feedback plays a pivotal role in the continuous improvement and success of any program. It serves as a valuable tool for understanding the effectiveness of the program and identifying areas for improvement.

Importance of Collecting and Responding to Feedback

Collecting feedback is crucial, as it gives you a glimpse into the participants’ experiences, their understanding of the content, and the impact of the program on their performance. This information is invaluable in assessing the program’s effectiveness and identifying areas that may require improvement.

Responding to feedback is equally important. It demonstrates to the participants that their opinions are valued and considered in the decision-making process. It also fosters a culture of open communication and continuous learning.

It’s not enough to rely on participant feedback alone to measure the effectiveness of a leadership development program. Direct reports can also provide feedback that can help you evaluate it.

Using Feedback to Improve the Program

Feedback plays a vital role in enhancing the effectiveness of a program. It provides valuable insights into the program’s strengths and weaknesses. 

Participants’ feedback can help improve the program’s content and structure. For instance, if the feedback suggests that certain aspects of the program are challenging to comprehend, revisions can be made to enhance clarity. 

Additionally, if the feedback indicates that the program is too lengthy, adjustments can be made to make it more concise yet comprehensive. Feedback can also highlight the program’s strengths, and positive feedback can be used to reinforce effective teaching methods and approaches. 

Feedback from the direct reports of participants can be incredibly beneficial in evaluating the program’s effectiveness. It can provide a better understanding of how the program has impacted the participants’ leadership skills, and how it has influenced their work. 

By assessing employees’ feedback on the effectiveness of their leaders, the program can be adjusted to better address the participants’ needs and expectations, while also making the participants better at addressing the needs of the employees they lead.

Feedback is an essential tool that can help in improving the program and making it more effective. By collecting and responding to feedback, program leaders can ensure that their program remains relevant, effective, and aligned with the participants’ needs and expectations.

Case Study: Skillsoft Leadership Development Program

Skillsoft is a company that specializes in developing learning technology. They have developed a leadership development program aimed at effecting significant behavioral changes in leaders. 

To evaluate the effectiveness of this program, Skillsoft has created an assessment that allows direct reports of leaders to provide feedback. This survey is supposed to be completed by all the leader’s direct reports on a regular basis. 

The assessment results are utilized to generate a summary report, which is then used to create a tailored learning plan for the leader. The learning plan concentrates on the areas where the leader needs to improve. 

As time passes, the aggregated report should display a constant increase in the scores that are summarized in the summary report.

This case study highlights the importance of using feedback from direct reports to evaluate the success of leadership development programs. It shows how a combination of daily self-reflection and formal assessments can provide useful insights into the effectiveness of the program and the progress of the participants.

Ongoing Evaluation and Adjustment 

Evaluating and adjusting a leadership development program is an ongoing process, integral to its long-term success. This iterative cycle of assessment and modification is designed to ensure the program’s effectiveness, relevance, and alignment with the evolving needs of the organization and its leaders.

Continuous measurement is a fundamental aspect of this process. It involves tracking the progress of participants, gauging the achievement of the program’s objectives, and identifying areas for improvement. 

These insights form the basis for necessary adjustments to the program. These adjustments could encompass a range of modifications, from altering the content and delivery method to redefining the goals, ensuring they align with the participants’ needs and facilitate the achievement of desired outcomes.

This process of ongoing evaluation and adjustment plays a pivotal role in the program’s success. By measuring outcomes continuously, organizations can assess whether the program is meeting its intended objectives and delivering value. 

Adjustments based on these measurements allow the program to adapt to the changing business environment and leadership needs. This ensures that the program remains relevant and continues to equip leaders with the necessary skills and knowledge to navigate the dynamic business landscape and remain agile and adaptable.

This process enables organizations to stay responsive to changing needs and underscores the importance of a proactive and adaptive approach in leadership development, highlighting the need for programs to evolve in tandem with organizational needs and market dynamics.

Other Quantitative Measures 

Apart from the standard metrics used to evaluate the success of leadership development programs, there are other quantitative measures that can provide additional insights into the program’s effectiveness. 

These include retention rates, engagement levels, and achievements.

Retention Rates

Employee retention rate is defined as the percentage of employees that remain at an organization during a specific time period, whereas turnover measures how many employees leave during a certain time period. A high retention rate indicates a low turnover rate and a high degree of employee engagement.

A high retention rate is often indicative of a program that is engaging, relevant, and valuable and that it is having a positive effect on leaders, who are, in turn, having a positive effect on retention. 

Conversely, a low retention rate may signal issues with the program’s content, delivery, or relevance and that it is having a negative impact on the employee experience and employee engagement, leading to high turnover.

To calculate an organization’s retention rate, divide the number of employees who have remained with the organization for a specific period of time by the initial number of employees for the same period of time, and multiply that number by 100.

(Remaining employees during a set timeframe / Initial number of employees during the same time frame) x 100 = Retention rate

Engagement Levels

The effectiveness of a leadership development program can also be measured by examining its impact on the employee engagement levels of the participants’ teams. 

Leaders who have participated in the program are expected to apply their learnings to their leadership practices, which should ideally result in increased engagement among their team members.

This can be quantified through metrics such as team performance, employee satisfaction scores, and employee retention rates. High scores in these areas suggest that the participating leaders are effectively applying their learnings from the program, thereby positively impacting their teams’ engagement levels.

Tracking these metrics provides a tangible measure of the program’s success, offering insights into how well the program is fostering effective leadership practices that drive team engagement. 

It underscores the importance of creating leadership development programs that not only educate leaders but also have a positive impact on their teams. This, in turn, contributes to better organizational outcomes.


Achievements refer to the accomplishments of the participants during or after the program. This could include promotions, successful project completions, or recognition awards. 

Tracking these achievements can provide a tangible measure of the program’s impact on the participants’ career progression and success.

These additional quantitative measures offer a more comprehensive view of the program’s effectiveness. By considering retention rates, engagement levels, and achievements, program leaders can gain deeper insights into the program’s impact and make informed decisions for future improvements.

Measuring the Effectiveness of a Leadership Development Program Is Key to Its Success

Leadership development programs are crucial for nurturing effective leaders. Their success, however, hinges on robust evaluation methods. 

Clear goals guide program development, while models like Kirkpatrick provide a structured evaluation framework. 

Feedback, both from participants and their direct reports, offers much-needed insights that can help the program and its participants make course corrections. Case studies like Skillsoft highlight the importance of feedback in driving behavioral change and helping leaders build better habits. 

Ultimately, continuous measurement and adjustment ensure the program’s relevance and effectiveness, underlining the importance of these practices in leadership development.

Matt Tenney has been working to help organizations develop leaders who improve employee engagement and performance since 2012. He is the author of three leadership books, including the groundbreaking, highly acclaimed book Inspire Greatness: How to Motivate Employees with a Simple, Repeatable, Scalable Process.

Matt’s ideas have been featured in major media outlets and his clients include numerous national associations and Fortune 500 companies.

He is often invited to deliver keynote speeches at conferences and leadership meetings, and is known for delivering valuable, actionable insights in a way that is memorable and deeply inspiring.

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