Why Leadership development isn’t working and Why To Invest in It Anyway

Posted on October 31st, 2019 by Pinnacle Performance Company

Companies spend an estimated $50 billion annually on leadership development programs. And it’s not going well. Consider:

  • Only 1 in 6 HR professionals said their leadership development activities were very effective, according to SHRM research.
  • Only 41% of C-suite leaders believe their organizations’ leadership development programs are of high or very high quality, according to the DDI Global Leadership Forecast 2018 study.
  • Only 33 percent of respondents believed that they have become more effective as managers after taking part in development programs, according to a 2018 Harvard Business Review survey.

Why invest in leadership development

So why do companies continue to invest in leadership development? Because they have to address two of the biggest workforce challenges facing global businesses – older workers are retiring and the next generation of workers isn’t adequately prepared to fill their shoes.

According to SHRM research, 35% of HR professionals said managing the loss of key workers and their skill sets due to retirement would present one of the greatest human capital challenges in the next decade. 35% cited leadership as an applied skills shortage among applicants in the past 12 months. Another 16% said lifelong learning/self-direction was lacking skill among job candidates.

That’s why 39% of HR professionals said developing the next generation of organizational leaders would be their greatest human capital challenge in the next 10 years.

Leadership Development Potentially Offers Tremendous Benefits

Despite its challenges companies need to invest in leadership development programs for three main reasons.

Affects the bottom line

Companies that invest in leadership development deliver stock market returns five times higher than companies that place less emphasis on human capital, according to studies by Harvard Business Review and McBassi & Co.

Attract and retain talent

According to Bersin’s “High Impact Leadership” study, leaders play an important role in attracting and retaining talent. They are expected to inspire people to follow them, execute and achieve results through their people, and build talent for competitive advantage.

Middle managers, in particular, play a critical role in employee engagement. According to Gallup, managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement.

Increase potential for change management success

According to a recent ATD study, 92 percent of organizations have faced change in the last three years. Unfortunately, only 19 percent of participants surveyed said their workforce was highly effective in addressing change.

Nearly half (46 percent) of all change management efforts fail during execution because of a lack of communication, according to a Robert Half Management Resources survey.

How HR Can Improve Their Company’s Leadership Development Programs

The challenges for leadership development are clear. The business case for leadership development is clear. So what can HR leaders and talent development professionals do today to improve their leadership development programs, particularly for managers?

According to the global consulting firm McKinsey, four sets of parameters matter most for increasing the potential for leadership development success.

  1. Focus on the behavior that really matters, with context

As we mentioned above, leaders are expected to inspire people to follow them, execute and achieve results through their people, and build talent for competitive advantage. These expectations require people management skills and effective communication skills. Unfortunately, most managers are reviewed primarily on their business performance.

According to a McKinsey study in the UK, 46% said company leadership saw no value in performance evaluations that assessed senior leaders and managers on their people-management skills, compared to only business performance.

Focus on developing the people management and communication skills that matter most. What are those? We highlight some of them in The Bullseye Principle. They include motivating others to follow or take action, clearly communicating information and vision, leading effectively by example, seeking and accepting responsibility, and knowing personal strengths and limitations.

  1. Ensure sufficient reach across the organization

McKinsey recommends making leadership development an organizational journey, not just cohort-specific. In other words, large companies must empower leadership development at every level in every market, not just by title. Why? Because leaders must be empowered to respond to clients, markets, and competitors at the speed of business.

A recent Development Dimensions International (DDI) and The Institute of Executive Development (IED) study echoes this recommendation. The DDI study found the highest quality programs had specific global competencies and used more development methods. It also found providing a wide array of experiences in multiple functional areas (such as sales, finance, operations, and marketing), as well as understanding competitors and local market dynamics also increased the potential for leadership development success.

The DDI study also found the most important global competency is the ability to influence or motivate cultures from other cultures, according to the study. That requires leaders to communicate with a strong intention.

  1. Design for learning transfer

Successful leadership programs encourage individuals to practice new behavior, align content with projects that stretch participants, and ensure individuals apply what they have learned to new settings.

It seems simple, but we know how challenging behavior change can be. It requires a lot of time, energy and resources from end to end to encourage growth. It all starts with the program design.

How can HR and talent development professionals design their programs so they stick? Author and learning development professional Catherine Lombardozzi offers six keys to creating successful learning environments In her book, Learning Environments by Design:


  1. Learner Motivation: Clearly demonstrate the link between learning and performance, self-direction, and confidence in learning ability.


  1. Resources: Provide just in time, high-quality training, within the appropriate context through support tools, job aids, podcasts, video chats, manuals, and databases.
  2. Training and Education: The education event – on-the-job training, courseware and seminars, certifications or licensing and follow-up exercises – and how it’s delivered – in person, self-study, online, or a combination.
  3. Experiential Learning: collaborate, self-assess, and learn by doing.

Post-Training Support

  1. Development Practices: Use support systems to encourage, manage, and review talent development practices.
  2. People: Encourage practice through peer support, coaching, connections, and communities.
  3. Reinforce to lock in change

To provide the return companies are looking for, new skills have to stick. Unfortunately, there are some sobering numbers according to employee development solution provider Bridge:

After one hour, people retain less than half of the information presented.

After one day, people forget more than 70 percent of what was taught in training.

After six days, people forget 75 percent of the information in their training.

As McKinsey highlights, the key is to reinforce the training. Authors Anthonie WurthKees Wurth offer seven science-backed principles to keep learners engaged and encourage them to apply the new skills in their book, Training Reinforcement:

  1. Close the Five Reinforcement Gaps
    Successful programs teach the right knowledge and skills in the right environment in an understandable way to overcome the five reinforcement gaps that hinder the ability to learn: knowledge, skills, motivation, environment, and communication.
  2. Master the Three Key Behavioral Phases
    To change behavior, learners must gain awareness change is necessary, acquire the skills and knowledge to change behaviors, and apply new behaviors to create a positive impact.
  3. Create Push and Pull to Encourage Learner Engagement

Push factors remind learners to take action. This includes emails or notifications to complete training. Pull factors reward learners after achievements, which motivates them to pursue more training.

  1. Encourage Social Friction and Provide Direction
    Apply learning to daily tasks. Integrate real-world scenarios to reinforce what was learned.
  2. Find a Balance Between Challenge and Satisfaction
    Engage learners by creating a balanced reinforcement flow. Use short-term goals to challenge participants. Highlight progress through built-in feedback points to encourage learners. Offer breaks so learners can recharge and refocus.
  3. Set Measurable Behavior Change Targets
    What behavior do you want learners to exhibit after a training session? Measure learners’ reactions, knowledge, behavior, and outcomes to encourage reinforcement and adjust training programs.
  4. Place Learners at the Center of Your Programs
    Consider the needs, preferences and learning styles of participants at every stage of the process and ensure each training module delivers value to learners.

Our Commitment to Leadership Development

We view communication skills like any other skill or behavior. To promote behavior change, create new habits, and reinforce long term skill adoption and retention, communicators, like athletes or musicians, must keep their skills crisp through continuous practice.

That’s why we created the Pinnacle Learning Vault. The Learning Vault is a robust, all-in-one Internet platform that helps us deliver, manage, and encourage retention of our Intention-based Communication Skills.


We deliver our training sessions through a Flexible Learning Journey: a customized, blended learning solution featuring on-site workshops, video learning modules, live and recorded webinars, and our proprietary Virtual Coach™. Each Flexible Learning Journey is scalable, developmental, and completely customizable to our client’s training needs, time allocation, and budget.


The Pinnacle Vault tracks participant’s progress throughout their customized, individual journey. The Vault allows participants to complete and submit individual needs analyses and a video diagnostic after participants upload a video of themselves delivering a short message. It allows for scheduling webinars and provides logistical information, including when and where workshops are hosted. It also provides notifications when new exercises are available and approaching deadlines for skill completion.

Encourage Retention

To encourage retention, the Pinnacle Learning Vault provides each participant with a personalized Toolbox featuring exercises, downloadable documents, videos (from workshops, virtual coaching sessions, and quick tip videos of key Pinnacle methodology), and skill reports.

As part of our commitment to reinforcing our effective communication skills training, we recently launched our new Ascend Program. The Ascend Program encourages past Pinnacle workshop participants to adopt, retain, and apply Pinnacle’s effective communication skills training in the workplace.

Advanced Presentation Skills and Advanced One-to-One Communication Skills are the first two workshops available in the Pinnacle Ascend Program. These interactive, exercise-based workshops were designed for past workshop participants who want to continue their education. The instructor-led workshops are delivered on-site and culminate in project-based simulations applicable and customized to the participant’s role.

Effective leadership plays a pivotal role in professional and company success. Leadership development can improve morale and the bottom line. To learn how we can help support your leadership development program with effective communication skills training, please contact us.


Contact us now to request a customized program for your organization. Every program includes the core modules of The Pinnacle Method™ and is totally adapted to your needs

Our program is delivered by our amazing team of trainers as a face-to-face workshop in your company. We also have totally integrated online and app-based solutions for live learning on the go


Contact us today