In 2012, author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek declared, “If you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business.” To date, he has generated 1.4 million views on YouTube with this idea.

What exactly must we understand about people? If we’re leaders, what must we understand about those above us, those who report to us and those in our network? If we’re individual contributors, what must we understand about our bosses and peers?

New realities have compounded the search for answers to these questions. Today, for the first time, up to five generations can share a workspace. Meaningful conversations – not just work-related, transactional discussions – do not come easily when the perception is that the generational divide is as deep as the divide between iPhone and Android users.


Next-generation training and development departments that choose to address problems like these will be uniquely positioned to help their organizations achieve new levels of employee engagement, cultural unity and performance. Here are three steps to achieve that goal.

Connect the dots among people data, content and insights.

There’s a phenomenon that happens in fragmented organizations, and it goes like this:

  • A culture survey commissioned by the organizational development group of one division reveals that company engagement, trust and morale are low.
  • A 360-degree assessment commissioned by the human resources group of another division reveals that directors as a whole don’t coach, give feedback or in any meaningful way develop people – a revelation that could (in part) explain low engagement and trust.
  • A coach commissioned by the talent development group recommends that directors attend a series of external leadership development workshops.
  • Psychometric data commissioned by the talent acquisition group reveal that on aggregate, directors tend to be conflict-averse and motivated by relationships – qualities that could explain why they tend to avoid giving feedback in the first place.

Too often data points, like these go unconnected and unconsidered, leaving insights about widespread cultural patterns and revelations about gaps in the talent acquisition process unnoticed. Even helpful recommendations for development become isolated point solutions unlikely to inspire meaningful behavior change.

Next-generation training and development teams must have the wherewithal and capacity to:

  • Understand that organizations, especially large and complex systems, are resistant to reducing fragmentation. Influential people often believe that consolidation and collaboration strip away autonomy and require tedious, time-consuming restructuring.
  • Recognize that in a fragmented environment where systems don’t talk to each other, data doesn’t flow, learners are left to generate insights for themselves (an outcome that seldom occurs without guidance) and investments in talent development fall short of expectations.
  • Find creative and innovative ways to correlate people data, insights and development strategies so that learners themselves can achieve meaningful growth.

Look for the convergence of self-awareness, personality and skill (competence).

It’s long been asserted that emotional intelligence (EQ) is important in business. Studies over the years have consistently shown that EQ plays a significant role in performance and success.

Research carried out by the Carnegie Institute of Technology showed that 85 percent of financial success is due to skills in “human engineering” – or your personality and ability to communicate, negotiate and lead – and only 15 percent is due to technical knowledge.

While critically important, EQ alone is not a silver bullet. Neither are competencies. In fact, many organizations today are experiencing competency fatigue brought about by overly complicated and overused competency models.

Next-generation training teams must have the vision, creativity and tools to bring together self-awareness, personality and skill development by:

  • Shifting from stand-alone psychometric instruments like MBTI, Hogan, DiSC, FiRO-B and others to technologies that go beyond awareness-building
  • Democratizing great content across the system so that everyone is exposed to transformational data, points of view and people
  • Using technology, automation and data to introduce personalized, self-directed learning

Create harmony between learner-driven and organization-driven solutions.

It goes without saying that understanding people doesn’t happen in any single workshop, e-learning module or assessment. And while for some, it might come easily, for others, it’s much harder.

What this means for training and development teams is that they must offer a variety of solutions designed to meet learners wherever they are in their growth. The solutions must be incisive yet flexible, strategic yet instantly practicable.

Next-generation training teams must have the will, capacity and political capital to insist on learning approaches that re-imagine traditional talent development. Those approaches include:

  • Programs that leverage social media and internal networks
  • Organization-driven blended programs that guide learners on sequenced and structured learning paths
  • Talent development technologies that use people data to help learners bridge the skill gap, help teams understand what the aggregate needs are and help organizations find hidden talent