POSTED: July 29 2016
New research shows changing trends in Leadership Development in UK’s Top Employers

New research shows changing trends in Leadership Development in UK’s Top Employers

New data shows that increasing the quality of leadership and management is being prioritised in the evolving commercial landscape. Ninety-three percent of UK Top Employers have clear objectives for a leadership development strategy (85% in 2015) and 96% have a defined framework for their strategy (up from 89% in 2015). The data comes from the Top Employers Institute and shows a number of changes in the way high-performing businesses approach leadership development.

Entering the top three most important leadership development objectives is transforming leaders into change agents so they and their teams work with inevitable market transformation. Last year’s third most important objective was to increase leaders’ engagement and retention; this has now slipped to fourth place. The highest two priorities are to improve both the quality of leadership and the strength of the leadership pipeline, so businesses have a higher than average number of internal candidates for managerial roles.

Interestingly, most businesses researched evaluate their leadership development programme with subjective methods. Although 94% use employee evaluation (only marginally changed from 95% in 2015), analysis of results in relation to business performance has dropped from 63% in 2015 to 49% in 2016. Reporting on KPIs remains fairly static at 70% this year, as opposed to 68% last. Financial or quantitative ROI of specific programmes has dropped from 33% to 27% over the year.

Responsibility for nominating a candidate into a leadership development programme is changing. In 2015, companies researched said 11% of employees were responsible for enrolling themselves; this dropped to 4% in 2016. HR and top management also saw less responsibility for enrolling candidates – HR dropped from 8% to 3%, while top management dropped from 21% to 13%. Line and function managers, saw an increase, up 36% to 39% and 5% to 10% over the year, respectively.

Action and behaviour are showing signs of being increasingly important too. Executive Management in the UK’s Top Employers play an active role in leadership development. One hundred percent of them promote programmes and encourage participation (up from 97% last year). Ninety-seven percent nominate and approve candidates into programmes (same figure as 2015). There has been an increase in both holding business leaders accountable for developing the leadership pipeline (up 84% to 93% in the year) and holding them accountable for developing the right behaviour (up 88% to 94%).

Eleanor Nickerson, Director of UK Operations for Top Employers Institute, said, “In recent years we have seen Top Employers placing more emphasis on leadership development to develop a robust leadership pipeline. Executives are involved in this and act as high-level sponsors, however we have seen a shift towards involving and placing responsibility for the nomination and development of candidates for leadership programmes, to a manager level. This year we saw a drop in the percentage of companies measuring their leadership development results in relation to their business results, and that seems to be aligned with what we are seeing overall in HR in the UK at the moment. The trend of recording every possible HR statistic has passed, and instead companies are collecting less data, but making sure its data that gives them real insight.

“More excitingly we see a real shift to companies wanting to engender leadership behaviours in their people at all levels, and the trend of including leadership competencies for all has continued to grow.”

UK data comes from research into 70 companies certified as Top Employers UK for 2016, and 72 companies certified as Top Employers UK in 2015. The insights are supported by the findings of the Top Employers HR Best Practices Survey. This assesses global organisations’ HR environment in the areas of strategy, policy implementation,

Leadership development is defined as ‘the action of leading a group of people or an organisation, or the ability to do this: the state or position of being a leader: or, the leaders of an organisation, country, etc’.

Full press release on