Training & Development

How Interactive Tools Can Help Organizations Develop Great Leaders

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If you ask HR leaders at major U.S. employers whether they have leadership development programs in place to identify and develop future C-level leaders, most will reply “yes,” which doesn’t mean a lot.

While companies are increasingly opening their wallets to support leadership development, existing programs are doing little to quell HR and executive managements’ anxieties about developing current and future corporate leaders.

According to late 2012 data from the Society of Human Resource Management, developing corporate leaders ranks as a chief concern among U.S. HR departments over the next decade — only slightly outranked by worries about retention. Meanwhile, companies spent an estimated $13.6 billion on leadership development programs in 2012 — a 14 percent increase over the previous year, according to Bersin by Deloitte.

It’s not a spending issue — it’s an execution problem

It’s quite possible part of the big disconnect is that large investments in programs aren’t necessarily yielding strong leaders; it’s more related to the way leadership development programs are executed within leading organizations.

Many existing leadership development programs lack the continuity and structure to effectively engage future leaders with the organization and provide them with the ongoing learning opportunities needed to prepare them for the C-suite. The formal classroom training of old and assigning promising employees to a leadership development group that meets quarterly to discuss goals but otherwise communicates sporadically just doesn’t work in today’s dynamic business in-the-moment landscape.

In my view, organizations can completely rethink their leadership development programs, transforming them from traditional learning environments into valuable assets and effective business initiatives by building collaboration and interactive technologies into the mix.

Here are a three (3) key ways interactive learning development tools can effectively build better leaders, while bonding talented employees both to the organization and to each other.

1. More robust and convenient training programs

Pop quiz: Would you rather spend an hour per week staring at an HTML page filled with text or pick a convenient time to watch a video training that enables you to post questions to both a group of peers and company experts? My guess would be the latter.

In contrast to hosting a one-time web-ex or circulating a slide deck via email, conducting training programs with on-demand video enables leadership development group members to interact with the training session, logging questions and answers for others who may watch the video at a later date. Video platforms also offer more flexibility for rising leaders in terms of when they can fit a training session into an already packed schedule. That’s a big win for adoption and learning.

2. Content sharing builds work structure, team relationships

The word “social” tends to throw professionals and executive management, conjuring up visions of investing valuable company funds in helping employees swap awkward (and inappropriate) workplace stories, pictures and videos. But in the case of leadership development, social collaboration platforms can fuel continuous professional learning opportunities.

Organizing leadership development programs around team engagement portals inspires content contributions and ongoing discussion in a way an email listserv or even an old-school intranet often cannot. Access to a central portal also offers future leadership teams an organized way to both track project work and “meet” to collaborate on project assignments in the likely event that they are in different geographic locations.

3. Promotes well-suited mentor-mentee match-ups

To an employee, one of the few things more frustrating than not having access to qualified mentors is being assigned to one randomly.

Social collaboration tools offer future leaders lines of sight into and avenues to communicate with peers and managers with similar interests, some of whom may work in other parts of the business. This, in essence, lets employees choose mentors — which in itself can lead to stronger bonds within and with the organization.

Access to appropriate mentor relationships may mean the difference between engaging high-potential employees and losing them to a competitor — especially at a time when employees, particularly younger generations, tend to be loyal and emotionally committed to the work they do but not necessarily the enterprise they do it in.

According to a survey from The Future Workplace, 91 percent of workers born between 1977 and 1997 expect to stay in a job for less than three years. It can only help employers to boost longevity if talented employees can visualize their careers, and form professionally rewarding and enduring peer relationships.

Kevin W. Grossman has held multiple leadership positions in the human resource and recruiting marketplace, B2B and consumer technology marketplace and higher education for the past 25 years. He's a marketing strategist, HR industry evangelist, online community developer, entrepreneur, analyst, advisor, manager, philanthropist and writer. He is currently the Director of Content Development for Peoplefluent, the leading provider of talent management solutions designed to support the entire workforce. Contact him at kevin@reach-west.com .