Leadership Development: Creating a Scalable Solution
No matter how good your content or your instructional design, if you are not able to deliver a training program to people where they are and when they need it you can put yourself out of the game, says Michael Ownbey, an online learning consultant with The Ken Blanchard Companies.
“Today, even companies in conventional industries have decentralized audiences with more people working remotely, whether it’s while traveling, in home offices, or through other arrangements. There is an overwhelming need to reach these workers on their terms.
“Until recently, asynchronous training was used primarily for compliance training—you needed to complete a course to get a certification, hold a license, or satisfy regulation. Organizations typically set up cafeteria plans in this type of environment and a learning and development professional would pull together any number of asynchronous online classes and plug people in when there was a need.
“Now we’re beyond that. Online learning has moved into leadership development and other soft skill sets. What’s more common now is a solution where the user has the autonomy to learn content on his or her own schedule, albeit with a deadline.
This provides a double benefit: learners can engage in content at their own pace and L&D professionals can focus their time on how learners take what they’ve learned and translate it into practice.” This allows a more purposeful approach to learning, explains Ownbey. The model is for learners to experience content and then follow it with discussion on how it’s relevant to their work. It’s a cycle that L&D professionals can achieve when they have the ability to deliver smaller doses of content and follow it with heavier doses of dialogue around why it’s important.
A New Generation of Learners and Leaders
According to Ownbey, today’s generation of learners (and leaders) is increasingly asking “Why can’t I just experience this on my own, with more flexibility around time and location?” They expect an environment where they have more input and control, and they assume technology will be part of it. Earlier generations, even younger GenXers, tend to think of technology as a tool. Millennials entering the workforce, however, see technology as a working environment in itself: if they’re not connected or technology isn’t available, it’s odd. And it’s a big deal.
“New leaders want information in bursts,” says Ownbey. “They want it in chunks, faster, and they want complete accessibility to it.”
Ownbey notes, however, that learning isn’t effective in a vacuum. Content must still be brought back for dialogue within the working environment. After learners have accessed the content, they must participate in discussion with others, whether a virtual session or face to face.
“It’s very beneficial when individuals can digest the content a bit, then have a forum to share insights and perspectives with colleagues before jumping to the next thing. It allows the learning to become very real, very fast.”
Reaching Out to a Larger Audience
Smart companies are making sure they have not only the right content, but also the most effective delivery method for their varied audiences.
As Ownbey explains, “In the past, companies would train only a small number of people so they could justify the travel, time, and resource costs. But now, organizations are looking at the situation and asking ‘How can we reach out to more people—those who are coming into a new role or needing skill building around leadership? How can we affordably get them into high level learning and then into continuing education as they grow in their position?’ In the past, you couldn’t scale a face-to-face solution as broadly as you might have wanted to. With a flexible delivery mode, this is no longer a barrier.
“Leadership development training is evolving—and very quickly. I’ve seen rapid changes in the last few years where companies are approaching us and saying ‘We need to reach people and we just can’t do in the traditional way.’ Companies will still invest in face-to-face training, but there must be a healthy dose of online solutions as part of the overall strategy or they’re going to miss the boat. Organizations that embrace virtual learning have a competitive advantage.”
Ownbey explains that when other companies are moving ahead and yours isn’t, it creates a gap that impacts your employees’ perceived value of your company.
“The number of job transitions is only increasing, so high potential people are looking for opportunities to grow and develop. Organizations that don’t address this need are in for a rude awakening. People will go where they have an opportunity to advance themselves and where they feel valued. Companies that are unable to offer advanced training to a large percentage of their population are going to find themselves at a disadvantage in attracting and retaining top talent.”
For organizations looking to make the shift, Ownbey suggests two approaches depending on the size of the company.
“If you have the infrastructure and instructional design talent, you can tap into that horsepower and have your internal HR team commit to developing asynchronous delivery for both new and existing content. For companies with less extensive resources, the key is to look for the right partner. Find a company that can help provide and tailor a virtual training solution that meets your needs as well as the needs of your learners.”
In either case, take action now. High potential leaders are not waiting patiently for you to provide growth opportunities. Today’s companies need to find a way to create scalable leadership training for a larger portion of their employee population.