“Education is what survives when what has been learnt has been forgotten” is something that B.F. Skninner once said. One has only to apply that insight to one’s own ‘education’ to fully appreciate just how correct Skinner was in that assessment.

tape-measureYet, given that insight, I don’t know of a single business school executive or senior leadership development programme that measures it’s success by that yardstick.

The metrics used in such programmes is very much around the ‘here and now’ – what is measured is the daily take-out (really the daily ‘enjoyment’) of the participants. The true measure of the value or return on investment for such programmes is something that we should measure after three months, six months or even a year. But that is not the case.

This means that in course design and in the development of the learning process the wrong metrics are guiding the process. It means that learning programmes develop an intolerance for the disruption and disequilibrium, both essential ingredients in true learning – or in the formation of ‘education’ according to Skinner. The easies way to understand this is simply to ask any parent if this has ever been their experience: when it comes to disciplining your child, have you ever had your child (in the moment of exercising that discipline) turn around and say, “Mom / Dad, thank you for that, I know it was for my own good?” The answer of course is a resounding “never!”

The outcome of discipline can only be appreciated, understood and measured with the passage of time. Surely that applies to leadership development as well? Yet, that is not what our metrics – or the way we go about our metrics, implies. Because the whole focus of our leadership development metrics is on the ‘here and now’ satisfaction of the participants, most programme designs lack the courage to build in the necessary disruption of real learning. The result is we have all this activity and spin around leadership programmes with the result that we aren’t developing effective leadership practice – or at least, we simply don’t know if the activity is making difference because we aren’t using the right metrics.

Correcting this would provide scope and opportunity to redesign how we go about leadership development. If your company is investing in such programmes then I would suggest that you look to measure the programme effectiveness further now the road – and this metric is made clear to whoever has the responsibility to design your programme. After all wouldn’t that make your programme more of a process? Developing futurefit leaders is always a process rather than a programme and yet our metrics simply don’t reflect that nor do they support such thinking.

If we are serious about leadership development then best we listen to B.F. Skinner.

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