Even in small and medium size businesses executive development is all the rage these days. Case in point: According to the 2016 ICF Global Coaching Study, total annual revenue from executive coaching in North America was up 35.2 percent from 2011 to 2015.

Likewise, the 2015 Training Magazine Industry Report showed that for three years running, 29 percent of organizations surveyed said management/supervisory training will receive more funding than the year before.

That same training industry report highlighted that the highest priorities were increasing the effectiveness of training programs followed by reducing costs, improving efficiency, and measuring the impact of these training programs.

To keep your executive development program on track, keep the following four things in mind:

1. Don't mistake a survey for a strategy.

Too many businesses conduct 360 interviews on their executives and call it a day. While a survey about leadership strengths (and areas for improvement) is a good starting point, it's not the road map needed for an executive development program. A holistic program includes:

  • An assessment.
  • A 6-12 month plan for improvement with specific goals and defined projects.
  • Measurable outcomes, both subjective and objective.
  • A coach, mentor or other individual who can help guide the process.

2. Do define development.

Too often companies put executives through an executive development program aimed at creating a hodgepodge of positive virtues, such as being a good listener, empowering others, and being a fair and concerned mentor and coach. While these may form the foundation of executive development, the devil is in the details.

Specifically defining the attitudes, capabilities, and skills you are looking for from your leaders helps ensure success for both the individual and your company. For example, instead of improving listening skills, make the goal an increased ability to effectively lead a brainstorming session where there are vast differences of opinion present in the group.

3. Don't force people to participate.

In an ideal world, every manager in your business would be knocking down your door begging for personal development. While this does occasionally happen, it's not the norm.

However, given the opportunity, many managers will find the idea of an executive development program exciting. For those who don't, forcing them to participate will likely backfire and create even more resistance.

The best path is to show how the prospective program could personally benefit the individual; explain why you are offering it and what's involved. Then let them choose to participate or not -- with no negative consequence if they decide to decline.

Even for the holdouts, seeing their peers pass them by in terms of growth and development often serves as a powerful motivator to eventually change their minds and jump in.

4. Consider calling in outside experts.

While you, or your HR staff, may have the capability to create and deliver an executive development program, there is a case to be made for bringing in some help from the outside.

The opportunity for objective feedback, a safe place to share feelings, and an unbiased perspective can greatly enhance the benefit individuals receive from an executive development program. In addition to bringing in an executive coach or trainer who specializes in this, there are a whole slew of off-site personal growth and mastery programs available.

I've personally participated in several of these in my career, and I've been so impressed that I've served as a consultant or board member for a few more. There are a wide range of programs out there, and which one you choose depends greatly on time, cost, location, and desired outcomes. If you're looking for a place to dramatically improve your or your staff's leadership skills, as a starting point, consider The Hoffman Process, Learning as Leadership, and The Strozzi Institute.

Executive coach, company mentor, off-site program, or in-house training -- regardless of the path, the key to a productive executive development program is a genuine commitment.

Executive development taken on to make a check in the box of good leadership behavior wastes your money and your managers' time. But when embraced as a true path to company excellence and personal development, the benefits reaped by both the individual and the business usually go well beyond the price paid.