The past two years of the COVID-19 pandemic has cast us into volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA), with challenges from The Great Resignation, inflation, talent shortages, virtual workforces and economic shifts competing for attention. Yet, the impact on learning and development (L&D) has an opportunity to be ironically, positive.

Learning leaders are looking at their organization’s objectives and deliverables through a whole new lens. No longer can leadership and a selected few be the primary beneficiaries of the company’s success. With top talent becoming harder to recruit and retain, organizations need to treat internal talent as critical assets to the company. Platitudes will no longer suffice: Action is required.

Studies suggest that The Great Resignation is more of a “Great Awakening” for employers. No longer will toxic leadership behaviors, lack of development opportunities, poor work environments or exclusive cultures be tolerated. People, and often your top talent, will leave.

The positive and exciting thing about talent development is that your scope and impact on the business increases as your talents’ development grows. This is where artificial intelligence (AI) coaching for professional development comes in to play.

A Personalized Approach to Coaching

Organizations can show that they are invested in their employees by turning to personalized development initiatives. The 2021 Workplace LinkedIn Learning Report found that 94% of employees would stay at their current employer if they invested in their long term development. In the past, without new technologies in coaching, this was not as easy to achieve.

Today, strategies for talent development should be comprehensive. The first step is to objectively identify your top talent’s strengths, skills gaps and motivational needs. Effective action plans and succession steps are then formulated to match each employees’ developmental needs and interests.

Companies should align their employees’ individual interests with their targeted development plan, so that the learning they receive sticks.

To scale development and AI coaching, companies need to adopt a strategy to:

Democratize: Provide opportunities for everyone so that all talent is identified accurately and developed most effectively.

Personalize: Provide development that is individualized to each employee, brings deep self-awareness and unveils the employee’s true talent. Canned, generic or generalized courses are not sufficient.

Digitalize: Digitalize talent development with a technology solution that is scalable, user-friendly and provides needed talent analytics for the organization.

AI coaching can be an effective solution for a modern workforce, but mindsets and assumptions may need to shift for it to work best. For example, some learning leaders may be fearful that their learners’ psychological safety will be at risk if coaching is moved to a digital landscape. Contrary to this common fear, research has proven the opposite: In a study by Oracle, 64% of people reported that they would trust a robot more than another person or another person’s advice.

With AI coaching, learners can gain “just in time” feedback to help them absorb learning in the moment This also allows them to take their time to reply or replay the content in private to understand and think without worrying about having an emotional reaction in front of real-life person.

Features In AI Coaching

There are many forms of AI coaching and apps in this rapidly growing marketplace. The majority provide “just in time” coaching or microlearning tips, helpful performance questions or a discussion of in-the-moment scenarios — all of which are great for agile learning on the go. Some AI coaching apps can monitor learners’ communications on their mobile device and tag resources and opportunities for development or offer nudges.

AI coaching can use avatars to provide in-depth comprehensive assessments and personalized coaching feedback with a development action plan. The feedback is not a brief tip but instead provides over an hour of one-to-one personalized coaching using their assessment results and developmental action planning.

Learning leaders should explore emerging technologies for development. Participate in demos, have your L&D team try new modalities firsthand, or better yet, seek pilots for internal test groups to ascertain the value.

Consider these six questions when reviewing or testing various approaches:

  1. Is the coaching accurate and relevant to each person based on objective data?
  2. Can it be used for the 80% of employees who typically do not receive “live” coaching?
  3. How will this help the employee perform better?
  4. Does it include action planning and is the learning sustainable?
  5. Is the system user friendly?
  6. Does this AI approach help reach professional development goals?

Some may assume that AI coaching platforms are like gaming technologies. These are not generally designed to be entertaining or to have simulations that are as visually stimulating as playing a video game. They do, however, deploy a variety of multimedia techniques to keep the users engaged.

When exploring AI coaching technologies, it is important to ascertain how the platform benefits not only your employees but the enterprise as well. Both interests should be considered when deploying an effective AI coaching program. A well-designed approach should also provide analytics to track effectiveness and feed other systemic processes such as: succession, team formation, custom training, training needs analysis and more.

Maintain a Personal Connection

Of course, adopting AI coaching should not replace personal connections in the workplace. Having personal connections can boost engagement, thus productivity. AI coaching also should not replace the role of the manager. According to research by Gallup, the manager-employee relationship is the most important relationship at every stage of the employee journey. Also, managers account for 70% of the variance in team engagement.

This is why managers should be trained to engage in developmental discussions and succession planning with their team following AI coaching sessions. Managers’ influence plays a huge role in cultivating growth and development from their employees.

Employees should also be able to consult with live coaches or mentors with questions and to brainstorm when helpful. Webinars and custom training events can also be designed to align with AI coaching and learning. This allows AI coaching to work in tandem with other learning initiatives rather than replace them.

Investing in an effective AI type coaching platform is essential for designing a talent development strategy that is systemic, accurate, values driven and inclusive.