What makes for a great management development program – and how can organizations make sure they get a real return on their investment?
Negotiating through the myriad of management development offerings can be confusing for Learning and Development professionals. There is a huge variety of designs, philosophies and delivery methods on offer, all of which may appear to meet expectations – but it’s fair to say that not all will necessarily be effective.
Often, there may be a lack of clarity about what’s needed and what’s on offer – and time is wasted trying to understand too many proposals. All of this can lead to poor decisions with the result that, sometimes the return on investment is just not good enough.
The programs with the best chance of success are those that adhere to the four key principles of program design and delivery. 

Principle 1: Communities

Programs must consider each of the three key communities involved in the development. Each of them can impact on the effectiveness of any management development intervention. 
• The sponsoring organization
• The participants on the program
• The faculty delivering the program
All of these communities are interdependent and contribute in different ways to making development work. Understanding them individually, and how they operate together, helps to make sure learning ‘lands’ well and transfers back into the organization. For each program, the communities will be unique and will have unique requirements. The communities involved in virtual learning, for example, need to develop more formal processes and prompts to involve everyone. It can be all too easy to overlook this in the design process.
Principle 2: Contracts
All those involved with the program need to effectively ‘contract’ with each other.
These are the important informal contracts that surround the communities and sit alongside the formal, procurement contract. They have a significant impact on the effectiveness of the learning intervention.
Firstly, the psychological contract between the provider and the buyer is absolutely critical. The provider must show real understanding of the business context and organizational culture of the client. Equally, the organization must be as open as possible about what they see as the current or future learning needs.
A second, crucial contract, often overlooked, is the one within the tutor team. The right faculty team working well together, with complementary skills, is fundamental to any good development work.
Thirdly, the faculty/participant contract. The faculty side has responsibility for facilitating learning and help participants get real value from their learning. On the participant side willingness and motivation to learn is needed, and influences how receptive they are to the material put forward. This contract acknowledges that responsibility for learning is a shared partnership.
Principle 3: Content
There must be processes in place to allow constant monitoring and reviewing of all that can be described as program ‘content’. This means everything that takes place in, or during, the ‘delivered’ part of the learning process; the quality and relevance of the teaching; the materials offered, and the structure, design and flow of the programme. Indeed everything that constitutes the ‘nuts and bolts’ of the learning experience for participants. Content can be divided into ‘head’ and ‘heart’ issues;
• ‘Head’ issues are materials, design and methods of delivery, pace, space for reflection, etc.
• ‘Heart’ issues include everything that makes up the emotional learning experience for participants. For example, the right balance of support and challenge from peers and faculty
Principle 4: Context
No learning takes place in a vacuum. There are always contextual factors which play into learning at many levels. The four most significant contexts for management development are:
• Personal – expectations, abilities, job and domestic realities, experience
• Classroom - the atmosphere and dynamics of the learning space
• Organisational – the business landscape and reality
• Economic - the wider social and economic trends affecting the business
Shared understanding and application of these four principles will help to deliver two key benefits. Firstly, it makes sure that that the learning journey for individuals is a rounded one, offering relevance, personal insight and organizational impact. Secondly, it helps the L&D professional, and their L&D strategy, to have increased impact, through alignment with the overall strategy of the business.