Leadership Development: Where Technology and Human Potential Intersect

Never before have training professionals had such a full toolbox from which to build truly effective and personalized solutions.

By Charlotte Jordan, President, The Marcus Buckingham Company

For more than a decade, pundits have been promising that technology will revolutionize training and development. An article in the January/February 2000 issue of The New Corporate University Review cited an ASTD estimate that within a year, 63 percent of organizations would offer employee courses via the Internet and 77 percent would provide training via their intranets. At about the same time, International Data Corporation (IDC) predicted 1,000 percent growth for the U.S. corporate e-learning market over three years. And former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich, singing the praises of e-learning, declared that “classroom training is a 19th-century artifact.”

You may have noticed, however, that here in the 21st century, classroom learning is still alive and kicking. It turns out that the promised revolution has been more of a gradual evolution, even though most of us are still eagerly awaiting the “next big thing.” At the risk of overpromising like the prognosticators of a decade ago, I believe the time finally has arrived for technology to leave its mark on leadership training and development. The reasons? Costs, demographics, and the advent of the algorithm.

The Costs of Traditional Learning Models

I’m not talking primarily about money here. But on that front, the high-tech approach has its advantages. As technology evolves and competition increases, prices go down (the iPhone that would have cost several hundred dollars just a few years ago is given away almost free today). But one cost that doesn’t seem to go down is the cost of travel. Corporations of all sizes have to effectively create programs for the mobile, remote, and global workforce. The price tag of in-person training can be cost prohibitive, particularly when factoring in travel and accommodations for hundreds, if not more, employees over several days.

That said, the real cost that should concern everyone is the cost of lost opportunity. Specifically, the loss in key learning as people walk out the door and yet another program is out of sight, out of mind.

In other words, while the financial challenge may be driven by geography, the educational challenge is a matter of time: Over time, without reinforcement of key learning, people forget, lapse, or move on to the next thing without truly internalizing their learning.

Retail and franchise enterprises offer some prime examples of organizations using new technology to deal with these two challenges. Department store chain Kohl’s has given every store manager an iPad in order to stay connected to corporate headquarters. Hospitality giant Hampton, part of the Hilton family, created a mobile app designed to push personalized leadership tips and advice to its general managers. Both brands continue to successfully leverage advanced technology not only to bring leadership teams closer together, but to arm them with the real-time, ongoing training tools they need to be more effective in their jobs. Mobile technology, coupled with Web-based learning programs, deploys content faster, with more consistency and stronger value. Saving time and money is an added bonus.

Demographics—Age Is Still Just a Number

Today’s workplace is a generational melting pot. For the first time in history, four generations share common territory in the office. Many experts point to technology as widening the divide between old(er) and young professionals. But I’d argue that it’s bringing them closer together.

Clearly, Gen X and Gen Y (Millennials) are more tech savvy—particularly the Millennials who were raised on technology: It’s their “normal.” But don’t discount the Baby Boomers and to some extent the Greatest Generation. They may not be nearly as comfortable with technology, but they recognize the need and value. In fact, the fastest growing demographic on Facebook and other social media is women age 55-plus.

In corporate learning and training, with technology as a significant source of delivery and instruction, age isn’t the issue some believe. After all, it’s not about age, it’s about performance. Older generations are leaning in to the younger, asking for advice and collaborating to learn from each other. In other words, technology enables knowledge transfer to become a two-way street in a diverse organization, making team members more reliant on each other and more aware of what a broad range of people can contribute. Now that’s a phenomenon worthy of celebration.

The Age of the Algorithm—The Promise of Personalization

Technology has the power to connect geographically diverse populations of professionals with relevant, real-time, consistent learning content. But too much of a good thing isn’t, well, good. Think about your inbox. When blast e-mail after blast e-mail comes in from any one source, you stop paying attention. And those e-mails end up unread and unused.

In this age of Google searches and Amazon-style customization, content is either personalized or it’s ignored. Here’s where recent advances in technology really come into play. Advanced algorithms are helping turn the traditional, formulaic approach to learning and development on its head, delivering materials, tools, and data targeted to specific individuals based on their needs, interests, and strengths—anywhere, anytime. This strategy marries the growth objectives of the person and the business—honing talents while driving profit potential.

Even though it hasn’t yet fulfilled its potential, the promise of technology in learning and development is real. Never before have training professionals had such a full toolbox from which to build truly effective and personalized solutions.

Charlotte Jordan is president of The Marcus Buckingham Company, creator of StandOutM, a cloud-based, personalized leadership development program designed to address the leadership needs of any generation. Jordan is an expert in strengths-based leadership.

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