How much tailoring is appropriate for a leadership development programme?

Developing leaders is, quite rightly, seen as a core business activity in the majority of contemporary organisations and the marketplace is inundated with a wide range of open programmes that leaders can attend.  The challenge here is finding the one that most accurately meets the needs of the individual participant and is aligned with the values and strategic imperatives of their business.

Assuming that these two challenges can be addressed appropriately, there is great benefit from meeting leaders from other organisations, sectors, and cultures to discuss leadership practice and develop knowledge, insights and skills in a mutually challenging yet supporting environment.

‘Open’ programmes attended by individuals from a variety of organisations therefore have a place, but there are times when the organisation needs to adopt a more specific approach.  For example, when seeking to embed a particular performance culture, aligning leaders around a focused strategy or developing potential future leaders to name but a few.

Having decided that an in-house programme is the most strategically appropriate, the business then, in conjunction with their development partner, has to decide on the degree of organisation-specific customisation required.  A programme can be designed from first principles or be adapted from a ‘shell-programme’, using a standard structure and content flow, with varying degrees of organisation-specific customisation or tailoring.

Each approach has pros and cons and it is worth exploring these in more detail:

Bespoke ProgrammeAdaptation of shell design
Most useful when: Most useful when:
Seeking to drive the performance culture and strategic competencies with clarity and focus

Content is absolutely specific to the business, e.g. designed around a specific performance framework

Developing high potential groups where significant business-specific knowledge and leader-contributions are required

The business wants to maintain the IP of the content
Meeting the need to provide more generic leadership development to a group

A swift delivery is required to meet a pressing business issue or opportunity

Cost is an issue

Wanting to work with a proven concept in a successful formula to mitigate risk

When wanting the programme to have industry comparability

When qualifications are a required output
Areas of potential concern:Areas of potential concern:
Bespoke designs are expensive

Design time may compromise a fast roll-out
May not be fully aligned with the business strategy

May introduce language or approaches that are disconnected

Of course, over and above the decision to have a programme written or adapted is the need to have a successful and aligned learning process and business outcome, which means that we need to ensure that the following pre-conditions apply:

  • You have absolute confidence in the track record, capability and alignment of your development partner
  • The programme design and delivery link very clearly, and tangibly, with the strategy and performance culture of your business
  • The programme focuses on skills development not just knowledge acquisition
  • The participants have access to business leaders who can explain how the knowledge they are acquiring is translated into performance within their specific context
  • The participants have permission, opportunity and support to use their learning to create demonstrable value to the business
  • The triadic partnership between learner, leader and development partner is well thought through and firmly embedded with clear operating principles and commitments
  • The programme equips learners to deal with real issues in real time and focuses on the transferability of skills and knowledge
  • The programme has a clear cascade architecture so that the wider business benefits

It can be difficult to balance the decision making between what you want to achieve and what you can afford to do in terms of time and cost commitments, but as with most aspects of management, time spent thinking and planning with a clear outcome focus, will pay dividends and ensure that the learning intervention lives on well beyond the programme dates.

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