Leadership development: from zero to hero

Nigel Paine explains why having no budget is no barrier to great leadership development and shares tips on how to build zero cost programmes that work.

Smaller organisations can give up on leadership development because it’s either too expensive, sucks in too much of the available resources for the benefit of only the few, or – occasionally – because it is seen to deliver little for the investment required. In other words, it is poor value for money.  I think that these assumptions point us in completely the wrong direction.

The two main questions I get asked about leadership very frequently reflect these misunderstandings. The first is: how much does it cost to put together a programme for my leaders? And the second: how long will it take to ‘work’. I have two stock replies. The first answer on cost is: let us start from the assumption that you have zero budget, and work up from there. The second answer is more troubling and unwelcome: there are no instant fixes – it’s going to take months and months of consistent work before the benefits impact the whole organisation.

A really good leadership development programme never stops i.e. the organisation gets into the habit of continuous leadership development and improvement. This mindset is incredibly healthy and I want to develop that idea further. So, if a zero budget is a realistic investment profile for some of the trickiest, most important development offered inside your organisation, that must be good news. But that has to be swallowed with a bitter pill: there are no instant fixes in spite of your CEO’s fervent desire for immediate impact.

Start from a zero budget

You should start out from the idea of zero cost and work upwards, rather than starting with a large budget and back to what you can actually afford. But what exactly does that mean and how can it work?

  1. Zero budget = maximum creativity

It means living on your wits! If you don’t have a budget, you have to have imagination and creativity. With no budget, you seek out the best resources that already exist. You build a development model around facilitation and action learning. You involve leaders directly in their own development and hand over ownership to them.

  1. Great resources might have been right next to you all along!

There are so many great, free resources out there. Being forced to make them work for you is a hugely beneficial process in its own right. But it is not only what is out there. It is what is right next to you that matters too. Search out relevant internal documents. Interview great leaders, or try to get CEOs to define their vision. This can generate great resources that cost nothing but can have an immediate impact. You should build as much as possible from what exists for nothing, and then decide what is left and what you are going to do to fill the gaps.

  1. Keep going: it’s sustained effort – not budget – that creates success

The best of ideas often emerge when you are forced to work with the lowest of budgets. If you read my book, you will have seen that there is no set model or optimum methodology for learning about leadership development. There are many, many approaches, and they can all be made to work or they can all fail. Their success has nothing to do with their cost. So never assume programmes work straight out of the box. Everything needs fine tuning and contextualisation to make it relevant.

  1. Do your leaders ‘own’ their development?

The best people to help you on this journey are the people to whom the programme is aimed at. They can test every component out and ensure it delivers the right kind of impact. Just because you like something does not mean that it works.  Co-creation is very important.

  1. What does success look like?

Start from the change you want to see and work your way forward from there. This gives you clear, quantifiable impact measures (did it work?). Think of your programme as a series of small elements which can be moved around and reordered, reworked or replaced. Brainstorm creative ideas to deliver these components, then assemble them into a sequence that will work for the target group. Context is everything here.

I have a great idea! Why don’t we work together on this? I would love to help you build your own unique development strategy for your leaders. We could put a four session, online development programme together that will help you build a unique programme that works for you, using the guidelines and processes I have suggested. You bring your ideas, and the change you want to see, and I will bring my methodology. Together we will search for resources, and test out our plans. Let me know if you want to try it.

This blog is based on the ideas in my book called: Building Leadership Development Programmes: zero cost to high investment programmes that work  The book was published at the beginning of 2017.

About Nigel Paine

Nigel Paine is an author, broadcaster, blogger, coach and University teacher in all things learning, leadership and technology. Find out more at http://www.nigelpaine.com/

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