One of our partner organisations recently asked for a meeting to explain how Leaders Plus get such high net promoter scores for our award-winning Fellowship Programme.
They were reflecting on how to commission other high impact leadership training providers, wanting to replicate similar positive results for other areas of the business.
In case it’s helpful for others, too, I will explain our approach. If there is something else that has worked for you, please get in touch and we will use it to keep learning.
Our results for context
The Leaders Plus Fellowship is a career development programme available to working parents progressing senior roles with children aged 0-11.
Over the course of 9-months our Fellows have access to high-quality training and mentoring to support them to pursue their ambitious careers in a way that works for their family.
These Fellowship workshops often receive net promoter scores of 70 or even 80 – if you are into learning and development, that’s defined as “world class”, something we’re incredibly proud of.
Every year, we have Fellows emailing us out of the blue to say the experience of the programme has been life-changing.
Furthermore, on the last day of the most recent cohort, 53% of Fellows said they have received a promotion or received more senior responsibility e.g. a board role.
So what are the key things that ensure our programme is this high impact?
5 things that have worked for us to make training high impact
Here are my reflections on what matters to create high impact training, use the below to help select your leadership training programme providers.
- Selection of right participants above everything else
- Set high expectations and don’t apologise for it
- Ensure the provider focuses tightly on the desired change, and that the programme is designed around it
- Learning experience focused on action and implementation
- Ensure the training provider has excellent facilitators and provides clarity for what they expect of them
First of all, selection of programme participants:
Even for our most low cost programme, we interview every single person.
I have been advised multiple times that this is not a cost effective way to run a programme, but it’s been essential for the success of our social enterprise.
If you commission a leadership training programme, be very clear on the people you are here to serve and then select for those criteria tightly with interviews.
At Leaders Plus, we focus on people in leadership roles. Parents who want to progress careers they love to senior leadership but struggle to balance that with looking after the children they love.
If they won’t benefit, reject them!
Only select people who you know have a burning need which will be answered through your programme, don’t accept anyone who sees the leadership development programme as a ‘nice to have’.
We now routinely reject people who are great because they apply for the wrong reasons.
For example, we want every single person on the programme to need support to combine ambitious careers with young children. If you aren’t struggling with work life balance but just want some career progression support, our programme is not for you.
What happened when we didn’t interview?
For one cohort, we did an experiment with not interviewing the Fellows and just selecting based on application forms. Even though the application forms are comprehensive, both satisfaction and impact scores went down. We went back to interviewing every single person despite the huge number of hours involved.
The results from the application form selection and interviews selection is very similar. But I think the difference happens because we also use interviews to set our high expectations out very clearly.
Will they help make the group exceptional?
Ensure that you or the leadership programme training provider selects a diverse group of amazing individuals who are committed to supporting each other. If one person in a group has only mediocre motivation it makes a big difference to the experience of the whole group.
Set high expectations and don’t apologise for doing so
Be very clear what you expect from learners.
Don’t be afraid of removing people who can’t engage (assuming there are no extenuating circumstances). You may lose a few people and your course may be smaller than desired in the first year, but as a result the training will be so high impact that in the following year everyone will flock to the course and you’ll have to turn people away.
Be kind if there is a genuine extenuating circumstance, e.g. we often offer the chance to our Fellows to defer free of charge if their family circumstances change.
How we put setting expectations into practice
At the interview, we unapologetically tell our Fellows what we expect of them and what the course will be like.
We tell them for example the prework expectations which is a core part of the programme, we share that we expect them to contribute to the learning of a diverse set of peers, some people will have babies, some with older kids, some will work in the private sector, some in a charity and all genders, ethnicities and family setups.
We repeat these expectations and more in the first workshop and let them know that they can opt out after the first workshop if they can’t live up to these expectations, no questions asked and cost refunded.
Focus tightly on your desired change
Identify the 2-3 long term outcomes you want to happen as a result of the programme in 3 years (e.g. more diverse senior leadership teams), then consider what outputs you want to create (e.g. women apply to senior jobs successfully within your org) and the skills, actions and beliefs you want them to develop (e.g. they believe they can do it and they know how to present yourself in an interview).
This is essentially your simple theory of change.
Map this onto an evaluation framework and ensure every single part of the course delivery system (facilitator observations, session outlines, handouts etc) is tightly linked to those outcomes. Keep it simple: all this should be done on a one page document.
For our programme, we have a very clear theory of change.
This is filtered through all the actions facilitators take, all the session outlines and materials down to very practical key messages at every session. Every discussion our Fellows have is directly informed by the action we want them to take in 2 years.
The importance of constant evaluation
I have learnt from the Cambridge University Social Ventures course that a baseline assessment is super important, so we do a baseline assessment at the beginning and an end of programme impact survey and then analyse progress.
The most important thing is that you evaluate whether or not the change is taking place that you want to see, both in the session (e.g. they implement something they have learnt within 2 weeks following the session) and long term (e.g. has this underrepresented group been promoted in 2 years?).
We discuss this in detail with every cohort, we involve our alumni in reviewing the data etc. but you won’t see us producing a lengthy impact report because we decide to focus our team time on discussing how we can improve further instead of creating pretty reports.
This year, for example, my colleague Helen Fraser interviewed the people who reported the highest impact to identify what we can do to build on strengths and increase the impact further and she interviewed those who have reported the lowest impact to understand where we can do better.
We then did a lot of careful thinking involving the whole team and our alumni council to think about where we can increase the impact further.
Be clear on what is the most important measure of success – for us it is the number of parents promoted and remove things that aren’t contributing to this, so you have space to add things that are contributing.
Don’t mistake satisfaction for impact
People might love a leadership training programme but it might not make a difference. And, sometimes, individuals may not be satisfied in the immediate sessions because they have been asked really challenging questions but it may be those questions that influence how they lead 2 years on.
If you want your training providers’ facilitators to be exceptional, they need to be able to take risks and challenge leadership programme participants in supportive ways. You need to be clear with them what risks they can take (e.g. sending tough messages to leadership programme participants) and what risks they can’t take.
Refine the leadership development programme partnership with the training provider over the years, the most important part is to remove content or experience elements that are low impact, so that there is more space for the high impact interactions. \
Resist the temptation to put everything into the programme that people ask for.
We used to have sessions with sleep consultants as part of our programmes but the evaluations showed that while the Fellows loved them, the medium term impact was limited. So we removed them.
Instead, we scaled up things that did make an impact, e.g. the work around developing a vision & purpose for career and family life.
Learning path focused on action you want learners to take
Generally, a longer programme with follow up has a higher impact, so if you are just commissioning a one off training session e.g. for line managers, I would build some follow up into that even if it is just a peer debrief two weeks later where they feedback how it’s been implemented.
That’s one of the reasons why our social enterprise focuses on longer programmes rather than regularly offering our employers plenty of one off sessions.
Ensure it is very clear what change you want to see after each of the modules and ensure that the training provider builds taking actions into the design.
It’s when people implement what they learnt in a workshop that transformation happens.
Clarity for facilitators: the Leaders Plus Way
Create simplicity for what you want to see in the sessions – I think if it’s more than 4 things you have too many.
You can ask your training provider to show you their expectations of facilitators and also their quality assurance approach.
We have a very clear framework for what we believe makes high quality workshops, which includes four things:
- Workshop must challenge thinking to go further and deeper
- Workshop must result in strong connection between the attendees
- Workshop must enable courage
- Workshop results in action: we ensure that the sessions are delivered in a way that facilitates implementing the learning straightaway
We select our facilitators based on their ability to do the above, our observation template, we pay for our facilitators to observe each other and I observe them based on the principles above.
I think it is also helpful to remind yourself that facilitators are highly skilled and therefore we need to trust their professional judgement to adjust the sessions, so we try to be clear what facilitators can and can’t change.
I think the other thing is to invest in facilitators properly, e.g. to pay for their books to read to become experts in the area if applicable, pay for time to read as part of their induction, pay for them to come together to do a debrief session, to be observed, to observe each other etc.
How Leaders Plus can help
There is more to write, especially also around session design but hopefully the above is a useful start.
I hope this is useful to some of those readers commissioning leadership training providers. Please get in touch if you do great things that we could learn from!
Our focus in supporting leaders with young children to progress their careers. To find out more about working with Leaders Plus to support parents in your organisation visit our Employer Pages.
Verena Hefti MBE, Founder & CEO of Leaders Plus