Considering the Effects of Time on Leadership Development: A Local Government Training Evaluation

By Getha-Taylor, Heather; Fowles, Jacob et al. | Public Personnel Management, September 2015 | Go to article overview

Considering the Effects of Time on Leadership Development: A Local Government Training Evaluation


Getha-Taylor, Heather, Fowles, Jacob, Silvia, Chris, Merritt, Cullen C., Public Personnel Management


Introduction

The local level is where street-level bureaucrats translate public priorities into practice (Lipsky, 2010). The discretion exercised by these local-level workers can have powerful implications for citizens (Maynard-Moody & Musheno, 2003), particularly given that these individuals are "embedded in interacting policy, organizational, professional, community, and socio-economic systems" (Meyers & Vorsanger, 2007, p. 154). While the need for leadership development is essential for municipal public servants, training budgets have not kept pace with demand (Ammons & Fleck, 2010; Police Executive Research Forum, 2010). And in this environment, understanding the value and impact of training for public service leaders is more important than ever (Moore, 2013).

As the public service workplace continues to confront a range of challenges, organizations must commit to strategic development of employees' knowledge, skills, and abilities (Pynes, 2013). Particularly in an environment where reductions-in-force and hiring freezes have been commonplace, leadership development programs can be valuable tools to grow leaders from within an organization and address some of the negative impacts of these trends (Blunt, 2009). These development programs have the potential to enhance the technical, conceptual, and interpersonal competencies of employees (Pemick, 2001).

Perhaps of equal importance, the benefits of leadership development extend beyond the individual level. The development of public service leaders is integral to the effectiveness of government organizations (Ingraham & Getha-Taylor, 2004). Specifically, leadership development aids succession planning by sustaining intellectual capacity and knowledge capital for the future (Ftelton & Jackson, 2007) and enhances organizational performance (Ingraham, Sowa, & Moynihan, 2004). Leadership development is particularly meaningful amid governance structures in which local government leaders must navigate the complexities associated with organizing and managing public-sector regimes, private agencies (e.g., contractors), programs, and activities to achieve municipal objectives (Ingraham et al., 2004). By investing in programs that strengthen employee leadership, an organization enriches its future.

Despite the need for leadership development, organizations often enact budgetary cuts at the margins, yielding dramatic decreases--or elimination--of support for employee training (Blunt, 2009). As a result, evaluating the effectiveness of leadership development programs is essential because public managers must justify program funding by demonstrating the utility and return on investment of formal training (Klingner, Nalbandian, & Llorens, 2010). A careful evaluation plan designed before the start of a program can help identify the ways in which training produces learning and results (Kirkpatrick & Kirkpatrick, 2006). Yet, return on investment can be difficult to quantify (Phillips & Phillips, 2001).

Despite the noted importance of training evaluation, literature on this topic is sparse compared with other areas of leadership scholarship (Conant, 1996; Fiedler, 1996; Solansky, 2012). The few studies of training effectiveness and return on investment in the public sector tend to focus on the federal or state levels--investigations at the local level, the context of this study, are less frequent, though no less important (Phillips & Phillips, 2002). This study seeks to fill that gap by assessing the outcomes of a local government leadership training program, with a particular emphasis on how these outcomes potentially change with the passage of time. In doing so, it contributes to the literature by underscoring the impact of leadership development training evaluation at the individual level.

Furthermore, it highlights the broader effects of training evaluation at the organizational level. For instance, assessment of training programs better enables organizations to systematically identify (or re-identify) training needs and, perhaps more importantly, identify how the features of training position personnel to fulfill organizational objectives (Vukovic, Zavrsnik, Rodic, & Miglic, 2008)--the latter of which is particularly meaningful at the local level, given its proximity to the citizenry. …

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