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Improving the success of management development programmes


The TalentLens UK blog returns with Emma Donaldson-Feilder and Rachel Lewis from Affinity Health at Work looking at how the success of management development programmes can be improved.

Organisations spend large sums of money on management development programmes with the aim that managers apply their recently learned skills and behaviours in the workplace.

However, evidence suggests that this may not always happen.

Often organisations focus on choosing the right provider, the right model and running a ‘training event.’  However this does not take into account the fact that changing behaviour in the long term needs both support and an organisational context that encourages the change.

Recent research carried out by Affinity Health at Work aimed to create a framework for practitioners to help them apply the available evidence about management development and contextual issues. This research recently won Emma and Rachel the British Psychological Society Practitioner of the Year Award 2014.

The research reviewed academic and practitioner literature to understand how to create the context and implement development programmes for manager behaviour that enhance employee engagement, health and wellbeing.

From this research Emma and Rachel have identified five important ways to improve the success of management development programmes:

  • Interventions should be long term - Research suggests that one-off training does not work and that interventions should be both long term (3 months plus) and involve a variety of methodologies (such as coaching, feedback and workshops).
  • Senior managers need to be on-board/supportive and lead by example - Demonstrate the business case for the programme and the positive development opportunity it offers in order to ensure that senior managers are supportive and willing to champion it. Litigation risks or statutory duties can also be highlighted.  Additionally, senior mangers need to role model the relevant management behaviours to encourage long-term positive change in middle and first-line managers.  Top to bottom management development programmes may also be useful to consider.
  • Set clear expectations for both the programme and day to day management behaviour – Participants in management development should be set clear, challenging and realistic goals to help motivate them to learn; and these goals should be revisited throughout the programme. Ensure competency frameworks, appraisals and development processes are clear and consistent so that there is clarity within the organisation about how managers are expected to manage. 
  • Support managers to see the value of the development programme and feel confident that they can learn from it – If managers view the programme as a learning opportunity (rather than doing it for the perceived status or as a promotion opportunity), they will be more likely to use their learning from it.  A priority should be supporting managers to feel confident in their ability as a manager and to succeed in the programme as this is critical to ensuring transfer of skills.
  • It is vital to create a supportive culture within the organisation – A culture in which there is open dialogue across all levels of the organisation, and respect and recognition for all employees is embedded and visible, will support managers to apply the positive people management approaches they learn from development programmes.

One of the outputs of this research was a practical checklist that practitioners can use to determine the extent to which they have in place the factors that are important for management development success. 

The checklists are useful for practitioners who are planning to run a development programme, currently running a development programme, or facilitating the transfer of learning after a development programme.


Next steps

We are inviting practitioners who are responsible or partly responsible for running management development programmes to complete the checklist online to explore which factors are in place in their organisation and help further our understanding of the factors described in the checklists. 

Please feel free to complete the checklist.

For more information about the research and its findings please visit the Affinity Health at Work website.


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