Leadership development courses and events seem like an important investment for a company, but does the return justify the high cost?

According to a Boston Consulting Group survey, companies are spending tens of billions of dollars on these programs each year, but that money often is wasted because "the training is not geared to drive business results."

BCG found that "improving leadership development" and "managing talent" are top priorities for the companies surveyed, yet the respondents--more than 4,000 senior business leaders from around the world--also ranked these two areas as their greatest weaknesses.

Debbie Lovich, the leader of BCG's Leadership and Talent Enablement Center, says the trouble is that training become separated from companies' objectives.

"Senior executives often think that they must focus on the business and delegate talent development--which they see as 'training'--to HR or someone else without continued involvement," Lovich said in a press release. "With that approach, leadership development instantly becomes disconnected from the business priorities. The training that employees receive does not develop the skills that will enable them to have a meaningful impact on colleagues, customers, and business results."

The main reasons leadership development seminars, events, or workshops do not produce results is the same reason cramming for a skills-based test doesn't result in you mastering a skill.

BCG found three main reasons leadership and talent development programs do not produce results:

1. Many companies have one-off events and workshops, but "true capability is developed over time and regularly reinforced."

2. Programs that are aimed at "broad, generic themes" like success or leadership do not help to develop specific skills. Instead, programs should focus on two or three areas that your employees can work on.

3. The success of most programs is measured by attendance and attendee satisfaction. The best way to see if a workshop was successful, however, is to assess the skills attendees developed.

"People don't develop skills from simply reading a book or going to a one-off workshop," Lovich said. "They build skills by having to do something, failing, and trying again and again."

The most effective leadership development involves daily in-the-field experience with opportunities to practice and reinforce new skills, Lovich said. Regularly practicing new skills while working helps to make training relevant to the company's business.

"A few simple things done consistently well across daily routines can drive cultural change," she said. "By teaching through practical daily routines and providing simple tools to practice and observe leadership at work, organizations can give their people a practical way to improve every day."