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Learn how to build your leadership development program to enhance employee engagement, build a culture of continuous learning, and drive success.

an employee takes a survey on their phone while an HR professional reviews results on their laptop

As businesses face new challenges and strive for innovation in competitive markets, the role of Human Resources (HR) has evolved, placing a premium on learning and development (L&D). This shift reflects a broader understanding that L&D is vital for organizational success, directly impacting employee engagement, satisfaction, and retention.

In a recent SurveyMonkey study of HR trends, we found that employee training surpasses compensation in importance for HR professionals at all companies. In fact, over half (55%) of HR professionals believe employee training is the most important area of investment when it comes to the employee experience, ahead of compensation (54%) and work-life balance (51%).

As part of this growing emphasis on learning and development, HR professionals increasingly leverage leadership development programs to build a more resilient and competitive workforce. These programs are proving invaluable for nurturing a culture that attracts and retains top talent. 

This guide dives into what leadership development is and how to create your own robust leadership development program—with a little help from surveys.

Leadership development is the process of expanding leadership skills within a company’s workforce. Leadership development aims to identify and nurture potential leaders by helping them develop their skills, competencies, and confidence to assume leadership roles. This process involves continuous learning and growth, preparing individuals to meet current and future challenges effectively. 

Leadership development programs are structured plans that help businesses identify potential leaders and prepare them to excel in future leadership roles. Leadership development programs typically involve various activities, including training sessions, workshops, mentorships, and practical experiences that foster leadership qualities among employees.

Leadership development programs are invaluable for HR teams looking to improve employee experience and drive better business outcomes. Here are just a few ways a leadership development program can benefit your business: 

A robust leadership development program signals to potential employees that your company invests in its workforce's growth and development, which is highly effective in attracting ambitious candidates. Leadership development programs can also help you retain high-performing team members by offering them a clear path to professional advancement and personal growth. 

Leadership development programs ensure a steady stream of capable leaders ready to step up when senior positions become available, reducing the risks and costs associated with outside hires. With an effective leadership development program, you can more confidently build succession plans that set the business up for success for years to come. 

Engaged employees are more productive and invested in the company's success. Leadership development programs can play a pivotal role in enhancing employee engagement. To learn more strategies to improve the employee experience and engagement, see employee experience management

Leadership development is not just beneficial for the leaders themselves but is a critical investment in the overall success and competitiveness of the organization. Organizations can equip their leaders with the necessary skills and knowledge to inspire and motivate their teams effectively, resulting in a more engaged workforce where employees feel valued and empowered to take initiative. 

Ineffective leaders pose risks to your business. They can drive great employees away, contribute to low employee morale, and even open the company to legal issues. Leadership development training can help mitigate those risks by empowering leaders to manage their teams effectively, make tough decisions, handle crises, and more.

Creating an effective leadership development program involves several crucial steps. Here’s how to start:

Who are your organization’s rising stars? The first step to any effective leadership development program is identifying which employees have the highest leadership potential. 

Review recent performance evaluations, 360 feedback evaluations, and other assessments. Tools like employee evaluation surveys can help HR professionals and managers gauge an employee’s skills, competencies, and readiness for leadership roles. 

However, it’s essential to remember that the characteristics that make someone a great individual contributor (IC) aren’t always the same traits that indicate leadership potential. Some key attributes to look for when assessing leadership potential include:

  • Proactive problem-solving
  • Effective communication 
  • Emotional intelligence 
  • Adaptability 
  • Decision-making ability 
  • Visionary or strategic thinking 
  • Integrity and ethical behavior 
  • Continuous learning 
  • Collaboration and teamwork 
  • Ability to influence and motivate others 

Note any individuals within the organization who possess these leadership qualities and could benefit from further development. These are your candidates for your leadership development program. 

Next, it’s time to set clear goals for each candidate. You’ll want to note which skills, behaviors, and competencies you’d like each person to achieve. From there, you can create individualized plans based on each person's strengths, areas for improvement, and professional development goals. You’ll also want to ensure your program reflects your company's values and objectives.

A leadership development program can take on a variety of different forms. The best approach might differ depending on the individual candidate's goals and needs, so consider incorporating several leadership training opportunities into your program.

Mentorship involves pairing emerging leaders with experienced mentors who can guide them through personal and professional development. A mentorship is a one-on-one relationship that allows candidates to receive personalized advice, feedback, and support to help them reach their leadership potential. 

A mentorship can be a powerful learning opportunity for mentees as they navigate the complexities of new leadership roles. Mentors can share valuable insights from their experiences, providing a safe space for mentees to discuss challenges and growth opportunities. 

Training sessions are structured learning experiences led by an instructor and are typically focused on specific leadership skills or knowledge areas. These sessions can be highly tailored to the organization's needs, offering an in-depth exploration of conflict resolution, effective communication, and strategic planning. Training sessions provide a forum for participants to learn from an expert and apply new skills in a controlled environment.

Online courses are a great option to include in your leadership development program. Online courses are usually asynchronous and allow learners to progress at their own pace. This makes them highly flexible, making it easy for emerging leaders to fit learning into their busy schedules. 

Online courses are available on a wide range of topics, including everything from foundational leadership principles to advanced management strategies. The digital format also gives learners access to global thought leaders and cutting-edge content that might be available elsewhere.

Workshops are interactive group sessions that encourage practical learning and networking. They often involve group activities, case studies, and role-playing exercises designed to apply leadership concepts in a controlled environment. Workshops offer participants a dynamic learning experience where they can practice new skills, get immediate feedback, and build relationships with peers facing similar challenges.

Conferences and seminars give emerging leaders opportunities to learn from industry experts. These events can be invaluable for expanding your leaders’ professional networks and gaining new insights into effective leadership. Participants often leave with a renewed sense of inspiration and a wealth of ideas to implement in their own organizations.

On-the-job training or shadowing provides real-life experience under the guidance of a mentor. This hands-on approach allows emerging leaders to observe effective leadership in action, understand the day-to-day responsibilities of their role, and apply learned skills in a live setting. Shadowing can be particularly beneficial for understanding the nuances of leadership within the specific context of an organization's culture and operational dynamics.

Once you’ve implemented your leadership training program, it’s time to evaluate, iterate, and optimize. Leadership training offers so many benefits to an organization that you can’t simply “set it and forget it.” Instead, once you’ve gotten your initial program off the ground, you’ll want to start capturing feedback and results immediately. For example, you’ll want to understand: 

  • Are participants getting what they need from the program? 
  • Are participants achieving their personal and professional goals? 
  • Is the business seeing improvement in employee experience, engagement, morale, etc.?

You’ll need to conduct regular assessments to ensure your program meets objectives. Use performance reviews, feedback sessions, self-assessments, and pulse surveys to collect comprehensive insights and look for key themes and trends. 

Be prepared to adjust the program based on the feedback you receive and as the organization’s needs change. Remember to prioritize continuous improvement and share outcomes with stakeholders and participants!

Carefully planning and implementing a leadership development program can help HR professionals cultivate a pipeline of strong leaders while building an effective culture of continuous learning and growth. 

Surveys and other feedback tools play an invaluable role in identifying potential leaders, tailoring development plans, and measuring success, making them indispensable in your leadership development toolkit.

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