How Technology Is Disrupting the Way We Develop Leaders

In the world of work today, change is constant. This change is largely driven by technology and Industry 4.0–the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies–and people are trying to keep up.

Most C-suite leaders, including CHROs, acknowledge their workforces aren’t ready for Industry 4.0. While technology has evolved at an exponential rate over the past 20 years, people productivity has remained relatively flat over this same time, and 67 percent of CEOs believe technology will drive a higher value than people will, according to this recent study.

What does this mean for all of us? While I paint a bleak picture reminiscent of the Terminator and Matrix films, the reality is that human capital is indispensable. Companies know this given their continuous growing investment in leadership development over the past two decades. Yet over this same period, confidence in leaders has steadily declined. Clearly, traditional methods of development from the past no longer work for today’s HR leaders and the challenges they face in this new world of work. It is time for leadership development to evolve.

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While this has caused mixed emotions from organizations and people alike, CXOs acknowledge that Industry 4.0 has already arrived.  Technology will continue to have a significant impact on the way organizations and people work.  In fact, according to this study, 84 percent of CXOs say they are doing everything they can to create a workforce for the new world of work.  However, of this same group, only 14 percent are “highly confident” their organizations are ready to fully harness the changes coming. Also, only 25 percent say they have the right workforce composition and skill sets they need for the future.  This shows that we clearly need to develop our people, but are we doing it in the right way?

Leadership Development Innovation is Needed

Studies show that spending on leadership development has grown each year over the past 20 years and is at an all-time high of more than $16 billion in the United States alone.  Yet, over this same time, confidence in leaders has steadily declined. Furthermore, according to InfoPro Learning, only 18 percent of leaders are effectively meeting business goals and only 19 percent are effectively developing leaders. Leadership development is clearly important, but companies are not doing it in the right way to equip leaders for the new challenges they face. Programs that may have worked in the past won’t work moving forward. To effectively deal with volatility and uncertainty in the marketplace, HR leaders must evaluate current development programs for the change and innovation needed in terms of format, audiences and content.

Given that technology continues to evolve at an exponential rate, many think it is the way of the future for learning and development. However, if this were the case, productivity would not have declined to its lowest rate in almost two decades. What is happening here?

Will Technology Innovate Learning?

In recent years, many companies have adopted new automated learning platforms such as, Coach in a Box and Degreed. In some cases, Google and YouTube serve as stand-ins for a training department, since their vast amount of content is free and on-demand. The proliferation of technology has expanded beyond learning in organizations to address social networking, performance, workforce planning, and other talent management needs. Companies have invested millions of dollars in these technologies, but results so far have been mixed at best. Why?

Let’s start with a personal example. Consider the fact that up to 5.6 million apps are available for download in the Apple and Google Play app stores. Of those, the average person’s phone has only 60 to 90 apps, but the average person uses only nine on a given day. People only use what adds value to them and fits well with their daily schedules.

The same is true within organizations. Remember the growing delta between technology proliferation and flat business productivity? The technology is there but is it truly adding value to people and organizations? In most cases, it is not. While HR and the organization may see a significant theoretical benefit in these technologies to connect their people, many of them have fallen flat in reality. Workers simply do not see the benefit to them and/or do not want to invest the time to learn, integrate, and use these tools to complete their actual work. Technology has outpaced us and is not providing us the value as intended in both our business and personal lives.

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Thus, it is critical for HR leaders and their organizations to invest in technology that will:

  • Benefit both the organization and the individual;
  • Seamlessly integrate – not compete – with that person’s professional and personal priorities; and
  • Complement the important in-person connections that come with leadership development.

Getting It Right

Fortunately, many progressive companies are getting the tech-talent mix right. Consider this example:

A global beverage company was going through significant growth. Their talent pillars were all at different stages of maturity €“ including succession planning, competency modeling, development, recruiting, and D&I. As such, the pillars were operating as silos, functioning manually and lacking integration with each other. To address the fragmentation, the company launched an integrated talent and leadership strategy for all levels, implementing a technology platform that integrated assessment, DIY development, competencies, and performance. All the programs connected with each other on one platform, were extremely user friendly, and had value to both leadership (in terms of managing teams and performance) and individuals (in terms of self-development). It also allowed in-person leadership development sessions to focus more on experience and connections.

In this example, the company implemented integrated talent and learning strategies by level, focused on the specific needs and learning styles of their people. The technology solution was successful because it ensured everything could be on one platform, it was visually appealing, and was easily accessible via mobile or desktop computer. Most importantly, it provided value and ROI to management through custom-built, curated content that complemented in-person experiential sessions.

On this note, the impact of experiential learning cannot be overstated, even in a technology-saturated world. Action learning brings teams together to solve real organizational business or talent problems, while developing high-potentials at an accelerated pace. Technological elements such as online learning portals and gamification enhance the process rather than drive it. Coaches, mentors and teams are a vital part of the program.

Smarter Together

What can HR leaders do to help best merge this integration of technology and people?

  • Challenge yourselves and your organization’s status quo when it comes to your learning/leadership strategy and programs.
  • When considering technology adoption, make sure to ask whether it will benefit the end user in addition to your organization.
  • Ask yourself, “Are your learning programs grounded in experiential learning?”

As automation continues to take hold in today’s workplace, it is important for HR executives to take a step back and assess how people and technology can best complement and provide value to one another to achieve business goals. To continue learning and leading effectively, companies must work smarter with new technologies to fuel productivity and success.

Michael McGowan
Michael McGowan is managing director of leadership and talent for BPI group. Send questions or comments about this story to [email protected].