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Re-envisioning Learning Approaches for Leadership Development Programs

By Leadership Development Consultant and Co-author of Rethinking Asia 7: The Future of Work – Nupur Todi (Harvard M.Ed.)

Workplace learning has evolved at a slow pace up to now, but it will look very different in the years to come. There must be a fundamental transformation in how we think about lifelong learning and skill development, for individuals, organizations, and whole economies to avoid being left behind. In this section of “Rethinking Asia 7: The Future of Work”, I will explore how changing demographics, AI, and automation are transforming the way we learn. I will also highlight some of the best practices and tools that I have come across in my search for excellence.

With the advent of digital natives in the workforce, there is no longer a pressing need for the traditional “parent-child” approach to training employees, in which companies prescribe what their employees must learn to progress. Now more companies are using an “adult-to-adult” approach, allowing their employees to choose what, when, and how they learn. Even, the employees anticipate taking full responsibility for their learning and development in the future and wanted their business leaders and organizations to play a supporting and enabling role.

One useful way to think about strategies for learning leadership is to use what I call the “5Es,” which I adapted from Josh Bersin’s 4E Model of Leadership Development (I added the additional E to make the system more relevant to lifelong and tech-enabled learning). The 5E Model includes the following elements: Evaluation, Education, Experience, Exposure, and Enrichment. These elements can be applied to a continuous approach to learning that enables individuals, managers, and organizations to identify the most appropriate learning tools for their needs.

Evaluation. As we move toward a skill-based workforce, it is imperative to assess skills that reach beyond personality, motivation, and cognitive ability. The pandemic has made us realize our lack of skills in working virtually and adapting to new methods of work in disruption. This makes it even more essential to understand the skills and knowledge gaps vis-à-vis the critical roles or the new operating model required in the organization. 

Education. This element of the model consists of formal learning experiences: in-person or virtual workshops, executive education, and massive open online courses (MOOCs). Face-to-face sessions should typically focus on building human connections and having the students learn from each other, while virtual sessions are more suitable for presenting particular facts and concepts. Unfortunately, I see a lack of understanding of this difference among many learning designers and organizations. Given the paucity of time, as well as humans’ ever-decreasing attention spans, it is critical to utilize all in-person time for the most effective purposes. 

Experience. Humans learn best from experiences. The goal of leadership development is action, not knowledge., Thus organizations need to create structured, hands-on situations that individuals can learn from by applying their newly acquired skills and ideas. Such situations might include on-the-job experiences, global immersions, stretch roles, rotation assignments, secondments, action-learning projects, and volunteering. To create a future-ready workforce, organizations must teach their employees how to apply their competencies to new and different work situations—the “adaptive application” of skills. 

Exposure. Humans are social animals; we construct knowledge through interactions, seeking out others who know more than we do or have different perspectives in order to learn. It’s important to tap into such wisdom through formal or informal interactions, including those with coaches, mentors, peers, and networking forums. Expo- sure is no longer an optional element when designing a leadership development program—organizations are dependent on individuals cross-pollinating with people working in different functions and businesses. 

Enrichment. Offering curated learning content in the form of readings, podcasts, and videos can help your employees augment their understanding of multiple topics according to their own paces and preferences. The curation is important: without guidance, the internet is like a buffet with unlimited choices—there are a few great dishes, but the rest vary in quality. Learners seeking information and training on their own can easily become overwhelmed, a phenomenon that has led companies like Edcast and Degreed to use AI and machine- learning to provide guidance for individuals and organizations. They ensure that only the highest-quality, most relevant and contextual content is presented to you, based on your individual preferences and needs. Professors Mihnea Moldoveanu and Das Narayandas call this form of 21st-century guidance the “Personal Learning Cloud” (PLC). The systems have offered L&D departments a way to provide personalized and continuous learning experiences for all of their companies’ employees, often at short notice.

One can see from these elements that we now view effective learning as a lifelong, personalized, adaptable, socialized, connected experience—a far cry from the old one-size-fits-all approach. To create a future-ready workforce, “The next decade will challenge us to reinvent learning for this new kind of distributed, dynamic, and ultimately more creative workforce. It will also inspire us to re-envision the tools, practices, and standards of assessment for infinite pathways that tomorrow’s learners and workers will pioneer to create their uniquely meaningful lives.”

What is your response to the rapid pace of change around us? The best response is to learn and adapt. Here is how we can help your organization adapt to ongoing disruptions and thrive amid challenging times through our Adaptive Leadership Signature Program that addresses the past culture, while building the teams’ capacity to create a new future.