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10 tips for creating a public sector leadership development program: changing demographics an impending "brain drain," and a need to enhance retention levels are driving public organizations of all sizes to explore tools for ensuring the stability of their workforce.

The Winter 2004 issue of Public Personnel Management focused on one of the hottest issues facing today's public sector human resources professionals: workforce and succession planning. Numerous agencies are incorporating leadership development as an element of their workforce planning efforts. In my observation, many of the best practice elements in public sector leadership development are consistent among agencies. The purpose of this article is to share 10 practices that appear to be common threads among agencies that are developing leaders internally to fill anticipated vacancies in the future. The following tips are provided as guidance to public sector organizations that may be interested in developing their own leadership development programs.


Before any training or development activities can take place, it is critical to identify the skills and competencies that will be developed as a result of the effort. As discussed in the Public Personnel Management article, Henrico County has developed 20 core leadership competencies, including communication, critical thinking and decision making, organizational astuteness, and personal integrity. These competencies provided the framework for the county's development efforts. Other agencies, including San Diego County, base their leadership academies on the same model as Henrico County's multi-rater, 360-degree feedback tool.


Each agency must determine for itself the best method for selecting leadership development program participants. Factors including collective bargaining influences, time, and the intended target audience may impact the process you use to identify participants. Some organizations target potential future executives only, while others offer leadership development opportunities organization-wide.

In my experience, the highest levels of success in terms of participant commitment result from a competitive process where interested participants apply to be involved. By self-selecting, rather than by being appointed, participants are more likely to clarify their purpose for wanting to take part in the program. When participants are mandated to attend a leadership development program, they are often reluctant to commit the time and energy into their development, and oftentimes, they do not fully understand why they are being asked to participate.


It has been said in numerous articles about employee and leadership development that without the full support and involvement from the executive leadership team, the program will fail. Top management must be involved in the development of the curriculum, the selection of the attendees, and in the presentation of the program. Their support is critical for the success and long-term viability of any leadership development program.


360-degree survey tools provide feedback enabling leaders to realize strengths and areas for development based on their own and other's perceptions. Typically such feedback comes from the participant's direct supervisor, direct reports, and peers. Today, such processes can easily be facilitated online, and feedback reports are comprehensive and detailed. Numerous vendors can now customize survey tools to reflect your organization's competency model (see Tip 1 above).

The feedback process, however, is only the start of the development process. It is recommended that the feedback be delivered in conjunction with opportunities for one-on-one coaching, as many participants find the feedback difficult to translate into everyday behaviors. A trained coach can help participants make sense of the data. In addition, participants should be expected to develop their own individual development plans that address competencies highlighted in the feedback report. The individual development plan, once endorsed by the participant's direct supervisor, should then become the blue-print for the participant's leadership development efforts.


Another popular tool for enhancing leadership skills in public organizations is the use of action learning. Action learning is a common educational approach whereby participants learn by addressing issues that are unique to their own organization and/or community. The format involves a continuous process of learning and reflection, built around learning groups of colleagues, often with the aim of getting work-related initiatives accomplished.


It is important to make full use of your organization's executive leadership team sessions that directly relate to the organization's strategic plan, culture, and expectations. However, individuals outside of the organization may be better positioned to present other concepts. You may find that your organization does not have the capacity or expertise to address all of the competencies included in your model. A balance of internal and external presenters provides participants with the opportunity to compare and contrast the government's approach with the practices and methods used outside of the organization.


Leadership development programs demand a great deal of time and energy of both the participants and their managers and staff, who must often cover for participants as they attend program activities. You can communicate the goals and outcomes of the program and recognize the importance of the effort by using internal communications tools like e-mail, newsletters, and Intranets. Everyone who is touched by the program should understand its importance to the organization's goals.

Prior to the start of the program, formally introduce the participants to the organization and encourage each organizational member to support them. After the program, each graduate should be recognized using the same communications tools, and their managers and staffs should be thanked for supporting them. Internal publicity can help garner support and enthusiasm for the program and its goals.


The first version of any comprehensive leadership development program is rarely perfect. It is important to continually modify the program based on the feedback received not only from the participants, but also from their managers. By continually improving the program, it will better meet the needs of the organization, even as the organization changes. In every leadership development program I have developed and managed, the agenda and curriculum is modified during the program and after graduation to reflect the changing needs of the participants and the organization. It is critical to be flexible and to listen to the program participants and their managers in order to ensure the program continuously improves and maintains its credibility and relevance.


A learning opportunity such as a leadership academy or leadership development program requires a commitment of time and resources, not only on the part of the coordinators, but also on the part of management and the participants. A graduation or other public celebration is critical to recognize the achievements of all involved. The graduation does not need to be elaborate or lengthy. A brief lunch with informal presentations will do the trick. Nevertheless, finishing a program like this without some recognition is like going to a movie without credits.


While each organization determines the level and extent to which the results of a leadership development program are measured, a variety of tools can be used to determine the impact of the program. Such measures include:

* Knowledge of leadership concepts as measured via a pre- and post-assessment tool.

* Perceived change in selected leadership skills as measured by a multi-rater, 360-degree feedback tool administered at the beginning of the effort and again one year later.

* Number of participants retained over one, three, and five years.

* Number of participants promoted over one, three, and five years.

* Perception of the participant's supervisor related to the participant's change in behavior after attending the leadership development program.

* Reaction to the leadership development program curriculum as measured by end of session evaluations.

However your organization decides to measure the outcomes of your development efforts, it is recommended that the measurements be established prior to the start of the program and that they be monitored closely. Such measures will allow you to make appropriate adjustments to future programs and will assist you in showing the impact of the effort on your organization's strategic objectives.

If your organization has not yet embarked on a leadership development effort, it is likely that you will in the near future. Changing demographics, an impending "brain drain," and a need to enhance retention levels are driving public organizations of all sizes to explore tools for ensuring the stability of their workforce. And, while many organizations are exploring these efforts, each must find a solution that works best for their unique culture and goals. The elements presented in this article reflect the common practices in public sector leadership development efforts today.

MARNIE GREEN is the principal consultant of the Chandler, Arizona-based Management Education Group. Green is a speaker, author, consultant, and trainer who focuses on helping organizations optimize their talent pool. The Management Education Group's program, The Art and Practice of Public Leadership, has been implemented in numerous public organizations and is the basis for the recommendations in this article. The author can be reached at 480-705-9394 or
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Title Annotation:Management & Careers
Author:Green, Marnie
Publication:Government Finance Review
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2005
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