Leadership development is ubiquitous; U.S. companies alone spend billions every year on it. And it’s critical in the current business environment, where everyone is grappling with constant change. Learning and development (L&D) departments routinely deliver high-intensity, in-person workshops that are exhilarating, empowering and motivating experiences for senior leaders and high-potential employees.
But even with such substantial investment, a recent survey found that 62 percent of business leaders say they have leadership gaps, and only 17 percent feel confident that they have the leadership talent to deliver on strategic priorities.
The problem is: Then what? Most workshop participants return to their overcrowded workdays and lose the motivation, focus, resources and even knowledge to change their behavior on the job. What’s missing is a way to surround, sustain and scale that rich, in-person experience to enable a continuous learning journey for leaders.
DEVELOPING A CONTINUOUS LEARNING JOURNEY
A continuous learning journey isn’t a new goal for L&D. But the evolution of learning technology is providing new ways to surround, sustain and scale. New approaches can take a great leadership workshop and amplify it, for real and immediate business results.
As Noah Rabinowitz, Korn Ferry’s global solution lead for leadership development, puts it, “Leadership training is really about building a better organization, if you want to roll it up. It’s about driving the strategy, changing the culture, filling the pipeline.” And you can’t really change an organization’s culture if only some leaders are getting the message, and fewer still are empowered to enact it.
Giuseppe Auricchio, executive director of learning innovation at IESE Business School in Barcelona, thinks learning needs a paradigm shift like the ones already experienced in areas that are now highly digitized, like shopping or health and fitness.
“Take for example something like a FitBit,” Auricchio explains. “We have an entirely different way to think about and to experience health and fitness as an individual. You are now continuously engaged in meeting your fitness goals across breakfast, the gym and so forth, all day. Learning is going to become the same as fitness today, and in the new paradigm, barriers will be removed, and it’s going to become continuous, learner-led and data driven.”
So how can technology amplify existing leadership training to meet these kinds of critical business goals? Here are some tips.
SURROUND AND SUSTAIN
Before the workshop, flip the classroom by using online learning to build participants’ fluency in core leadership concepts. Building on this foundation, your leaders can go deeper during their in-person sessions. You can then devote precious live classroom time to deeper levels of application and synthesis, including activities like role-playing that are best done face to face. After the workshop, you can make information available online for reinforcement and just-in-time access.
What does this “surround and sustain” process look like in practice?
When a consulting firm wanted to broaden partner capability and amplify its existing in-person networking events, it launched a series of “corporate MOOCs” (collaborative, cohort-driven online learning experiences) leading up to the in-person sessions. These senior-level leaders – a group generally seen as skeptical and dismissive of online learning – loved the approach, with an overwhelming majority rating it as very effective preparation for the in-person events.
Networking is one of the biggest benefits of in-person leadership training, but keeping that community alive afterward can be a challenge. Utilizing online options, you can start introducing cohorts to each other before workshops, and then provide a forum for ongoing networking and deepening relationships after them.
Online learning activities between events can also drive community building and reinforcement.
For example, one professional services firm supplemented its leadership development program for new senior leaders with a robust technology platform featuring an array of short-form content. The mobile-friendly technology included self-directed learning paths, multiple discussion forums and integrated social features, and the ability to upload learner-generated content for “wisdom of the crowd” sharing. They also added webinars and conference calls between workshops to address topics chosen by the community of learners.
This year-long, workshop-based program is highly valued, and the face-to-face experiences are still the heart of the program. However, now participants can build community, share best practices, and receive continual guidance from coaches and senior mentors between the in-person events. Eighty-nine percent of surveyed learners indicated the online platform added high value to the program.
PRACTICING NEW SKILLS
Learning requires real-world practice. Using online technologies for reminders, guided practice in a safe environment and just-in-time access to practical information are great ways to build on the work done at live leadership development events. Takiyah Gross, vice president of learning at Newell Rubbermaid, notes:
“People don’t often think that bite-sized learning is an effective way to develop leadership skills…For many leaders, there’s not enough time in the day to focus on learning. However, there are responsibilities that leaders are faced with daily such as performance review discussions or tough coaching conversations. It is in these moments that on-the-spot advice can make all the difference between a leader’s ability to motivate an employee or totally disengage them.”
When we talk about scale in learning, we usually mean either training more people or training them in more locations. Learning technology can help leadership training scale in both these ways.
“The geographic reach enabled by technology,” says Rabinowitz, “empowers a crucial piece of truly impactful strategic leadership development: diversity. Different perspectives from numerous voices, which you can bring together online, drive the type of disruptive thinking that’s crucial to shake up approaches to organizational culture, and that leads to business impact.”
But scale can also mean reaching different audience levels, extending the reach of leadership programs right down to the front line. In organizations trying to drive and manage change, this kind of scale is increasingly important. A recent survey showed that leading change is not only a top priority for both senior and mid-level managers but also a surprisingly high number three on the list for first-level leaders too.
Online learning can also scale the reach of coaching or mentoring moments. A voice memo or webcam video from a company leader answering one learner’s question can live online and be consumed by many learners now and in the future. Additionally, an online platform can be used to connect mentors with mentees and enable them to share best practices on an ongoing basis.
“So much of an organization’s success hinges on culture,” says Gross. “If only a small percentage of leaders get access to content, then you’re not really shifting the culture, driving performance or the behaviors. That’s why it’s essential that learning content is connected from the top of the house and cascades throughout the organization for clear continuity.”
It’s inspiring to see some of the most progressive companies in the world tackle leadership development as a journey instead of a dip-and-dunk. It’s also exciting to see the innovative learning technologies available today make it easier for a lot more companies to amplify their leadership development programs. Best of all is seeing these programs significantly impact strategy, culture and change.