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Why Learning and Development Should Be an Individualized Process

In my last article, Hiring The Wrong Leaders Is More Costly Than You Might Think! the true cost of hiring a bad manager and the value that hiring a good manager can bring to a company. Now, let’s turn our attention to leader development.

The Current State Of Leader Training And Workforce Development

Leadership training and development is a $366 billion dollar industry (, with $166 billion of that being spent in the US alone. Yet, the vast majority of leadership training programs fail to result in changes in leader capabilities or meaningful impact to the business and yet 74% of companies still engage in these one-size fits all programs.  Dr. Brinkerhoff, internationally recognized learning effectiveness expert, reported that his study on leader training effectiveness showed that just 15% of leaders who receive traditional leadership training actually convert what they learned to permanent changes in behavior and performance as a leader. The other 85% either do not try at all to implement what they have learned or try and fail or give up.

Improving The Classroom

Malcolm Knowles, the father of adult learning theory, tells us that classroom-based instruction is the least effective way to engage adults in learning and, ultimately, behavior change. 

According to Malcolm Knowles, adult learners need:

    1. To know and understand why the knowledge, skill, or ability needs to be acquired or developed.
    2. Relevant, real-world task-oriented learning experiences, not information memorization — learning activities should be in the context of common tasks to be performed on the job.
    3. A learning experience that is individualized to them. No one-size-fits-all program is effective for all learners. Previous experiences differ, and so too should current and future learning experiences. 
    4. Learning experiences should allow them to discover things for themselves, but guidance and help when mistakes are made are key to making the experience impactful.

If we apply this theory to developing our leaders, there would be much less time spent sending managers into the classroom and, instead, companies would be helping managers to learn through real-world experience. Classroom training events are great if you need to introduce managers to a new concept or ensure a basic level of understanding and some pre-real-world practice to generate a level of comfort with the new skills and related behavioral application. However, to have an impact and improve performance, people need to continuously practice and apply what they are learning to real-world situations. 

Top View of young business people putting their hands together

If the desired outcome is a behavior change, this can take 12 months or longer before it becomes the natural ‘go-to’ behavior in similar, real-world situations. In addition, behavior change ultimately means a shift in mindset or perspective, and these types of shifts rarely if ever happen because of a new piece of information acquired from a training event or program. Managers need to learn new ways of being (and leading) within the context of their organization and by practicing the new behavior or skills on the job, getting real-time feedback on their performance. 

Use The 70-20-10 Rule

If we take the principles of adult learning for Knowles, the value of following the well-known 70-20-10 rule for learning and development becomes even more clear.

  • 70% of learning happens through challenging experiences and assignments
  • 20% of learning happens through developmental relationships (mentoring, coaching, feedback from others)
  • 10% of learning happens in the classroom

Two women taking a business education class

Setting individual leaders up for developmental success

In order to improve the leadership skills and abilities of managers, companies should be assessing managers with a scientifically validated tool to uncover areas managers excel and where they need development. In the areas where a manager excels, he or she can provide mentoring or support to others. In areas the manager needs development, the company can provide individualized and focused experiences such as mentoring, coaching, project work, or well-designed stretch assignments to help the individual learn new skills and develop new leadership behaviors. Including the employee in the design of her or his individualized development plan and letting her or him take ownership of the development is also key. 

If you are already using pre-employment tests to measure abilities and assess behavior, then you have the information you need to design impactful, individualized leader development experiences that can begin during the onboarding process. If you are not already using pre-employment tests of this kind, or if you don’t have the internal resources to assess managers and help in the design of the individual development plans, working with an organization that specializes in the assessment of leader behaviors and abilities and in development planning is cheaper and more effective than sending you managers to events-based training programs. 

Check out this short video on using assessments to help individualize leader development.

PSP Metrics has been at the forefront of science-backed employee assessments and measurement systems for over 75 years. Our mission has always been to help give you a competitive business advantage through your company’s most valuable resource — your people.

Dr. Nicole Scott Headshot

Dr. Nicole Scott

Dr. Nicole C. Scott is a Principal Psychologist at PSP Metrics. Her expertise is in talent gap analysis and development, individual performance development, team development, employee engagement, DEI, and coaching (individual, team, and group), with a deep expertise in job evaluation, competency modeling, succession planning, and both high potential mid-level leader development and frontline worker career development programs. Dr. Scott can be contacted at: or via LinkedIn.

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