10 Ways to Select Participants for a Leadership Development Program

A colleague and I recently talked about the challenge of selecting participants for leadership development programs. With limited resources and budget dollars, companies often have to be selective when it comes to who can attend and who ends up on the old “waiting list”.

Then there’s always the inevitable political landmines that need to be navigated, i.e., “So why was Sparky selected and not Snooky?!”

It really comes down to the purpose of the program, or what you’re trying to achieve. Use these guidelines (1-7) for participant selection for leadership development programs, and you’ll ensure that the right person gets the right development at the right time. Use 8-10 to waste your time and resources.

BTW, if you are someone who is interested in getting picked for your company’s leadership development program, this will give you some insight as to how selection decisions are commonly made.

10 Ways to Select Participants for a Leadership Development Program:

1. Clueless new managers:
This one’s the easiest. If the purpose of the program is to train brand new managers, then ALL brand new managers must attend, preferably within three months of promotion or hire.

2. Next level preparation:
If the purpose is to prepare high potential managers for larger roles (succession planning and development), then individuals that have been identified as potential successors (or your high potential pool) should be selected. If you have to prioritize, then start with the most “ready” candidates.

3. Organizational need based:
If you are trying to develop a new competency in an entire management level or unit, then send them all, one group at a time. Prioritize based on those that have the most urgent need for the new competency.

4. Individual need based:
Send those managers who need the training the most, based on the results of a competency assessment.

5. Building cross-functional capability:
If you are trying to give participants exposure to many different functions, units, or locations, then allocate slots accordingly to ensure a good cross-section.

6. Inclusion and diversity
If you are trying to build a more inclusive, diverse population of leaders, then in addition to any of the other methods, give priority to non-majority participants. Rather than a “check off the box” exercise, this usually helps to stimulate more creativity and disruptive thinking in a program.

7. Applications:
Given that aspiration is an important component of leadership potential, some companies open up the opportunity to everyone in a given population and require participants to submit an application. Often the participant’s manager has to approve the application and add their own comments, and final decisions are made by a selection committee.

The application method is also commonly used in open-enrollment, public programs as a way to ensure the right person go to the right program.

Also, here are some methods I’ve seen organizations use to select participants in a leadership development program that I’d recommend you NOT use:

8. Reward and recognition:
Training should not be used as a way to recognize good performance. There needs to a developmental reason for the training, otherwise you may as well just give the employee a free trip or dinner gift certificate.

9. A warm body:
Please don’t send us your stiffs, the employees with nothing better to do in order to get them out of your hair for a few days. It ruins the program for the rest of the participants that deserve and need to be there.

10. Special interest lobbying:
Although it’s sometimes difficult to avoid, try to ensure those “squeaky wheels” that wouldn’t otherwise meet the criteria don’t force themselves in.

Are there other approaches that I may have missed that your company uses?