“Leadership development” is a buzzword these days. From large corporations to startups, organizations of all sizes are realizing that developing the next generation of leaders is no longer a “nice-to-have.” It’s an imperative element in today’s ever-changing, hyper-competitive marketplace. Regardless of the industry, people are the lifeblood of an organization. They are our greatest asset and we should treat them as such. Spending time, energy, and resources to develop your people is critical to the future success of an organization.
But how much “time, energy, and resources” are enough, and when is it too much? That is the question that many organizations struggle with as they try to balance investing in their employees’ development while ensuring ongoing profitability. Harvard Business Review reports that just 10 percent of the $200 billion spent annually on training and development in the United States delivers tangible results in the workplace. That is an alarming statistic and one that reinforces the need for organizations to rethink how they are approaching their learning and development programs.
The platform: Creating the environment for learning
Enter: the “Personal Learning Cloud”- a new way organizations are approaching the learning and development paradigm. As described by Mihnea Moldoveanu and Das Narayandas in Harvard Business Review’s “The Future of Leadership Development,” the Personal Learning Cloud encompasses the non-traditional formats for learning, moving from classroom-based business schools and formalized on-site corporate training programs to massive open online courses (MOOCs) that are fully digital and easily accessible to users. Personal Learning Cloud platforms like Coursera, Udemy, LinkedIn, and others offer organizations significant benefits that are hard to ignore:
- Affordable: programs come at significantly lower costs compared to traditional classroom-based learning models
- Customizable: instead of a one-size-fits-all curriculum, programs are tailored to the specific needs of the employee and the organization
- Social: platforms encourage social learning through discussion boards, team projects, and feedback sharing, helping employees organically build their professional network and maximize the value of their learning
- Relevant: employees and organizations can select their learning path based on what is most important to learn given the context of the working environment and the skills required to succeed in the role
At the start of this year, the SHIFT team launched a new learning and development program centered around this concept of a Personal Learning Cloud. Each employee can select at least two learning areas of focus that they want to master by the end of this year. Employees are encouraged to select the specific courses, content, and modes of learning that work best for them. The organization supports this self-directed learning by subsidizing courses and allowing the team to allocate time to learning. It’s all in the pursuit to help us become more of an expert in our role.
In just three months, I completed courses in design thinking, digital transformation, storytelling, and change management – all areas of development that will help me better service our clients and provide expertise and impact to help their (and our) business grow.
For more examples on how you can unlock your employees’ potential and create high-functioning teams that produces results, check out this episode on the SHIFT Happens podcast featuring David Hassel, Founder and CEO of 15Five.
Application: The critical component
As Aristotle once said, “the mind is not only knowledge but also the ability to apply the knowledge in practice.” In other words, taking online courses or attending a workshop alone isn’t enough. Not until we share that knowledge with others and actively apply it in our work can we truly say we are on the path to development. This application piece is a part of the leadership development puzzle that often gets left out. This leads to one more benefit of the Personal Learning Cloud model: employees can develop new knowledge and skills in real time that coincide with their day-to-day work responsibilities, so it is easier and more intuitive to apply what they have learned to perform the function.
Let’s look at an example from one of SHIFT’s clients that recently implemented a Personal Learning Cloud model across their HR team. At the start of this quarter, each team member was encouraged to read at least one new and relevant article, listen to a podcast, attend a webinar or engage in some other learning activity on a daily basis. They were to document their learnings along the way. Additionally, each team member dedicated time in his/her schedule to take a more comprehensive online course or certification program that would directly impact their role. To expand on learnings, each member presented a topic at their latest all-hands retreat to help apply their knowledge and introduce new concepts to the entire team. Topics covered included:
- Effective project management
- Performance management
- Goal setting
- Nutrition and productivity
- Effective leadership
Through this exercise, the HR team was exposed to critical concepts and information, relevant to their function, that they otherwise wouldn’t have created time and space for. Following the presentations, the team members documented and shared their feedback with the presenter on their biggest takeaways from the presentation and how they will apply their learnings in their work. While a seemingly simple exercise, putting this sort of consistent focus and commitment towards individual learning is the first step of an effective leadership development program.
Feedback: The missing link
Another important element to consider when developing or revitalizing a leadership development program is the culture of feedback that you have in place. Road bumps can occur — ensure you have pristine visibility over any oversights by giving employees a channel to provide open and honest feedback on how they’re doing. Your commitment to their development does not just mean subsidizing any programs that they enroll in, but actively participating in their growth. Observe their day-to-day progress, taking note of what they’re doing well and where they need to improve, and sharing actionable, specific feedback in real time (or as close to real time as possible). For tips on how to share effective feedback, check out this video from SHIFT’s Managing Director, Jeff Lesher: Develop your Feedback C.R.E.D
Action: What are you going to do to further develop your employees?
Remember, professional and personal development is a marathon, not a sprint. View yourself as the coach, or even personal fitness trainer, providing your teammates the training regimen, necessary discipline, and mental and physical support they need to finish the race strong.
Need help navigating the path of effective employee development? Join me for a SHIFT exploration session. You’ll work one-on-one with me, or a fellow SHIFT expert, to identify where SHIFT can support you in growing your people to grow your business.