Leadership Development: Finding Your Place in the Digital Future

October 5, 2020 David Witt

“COVID-19 has had an immediate and massive impact on the leadership, learning, and talent development community,” says Ann Rollins, a solutions architect with The Ken Blanchard Companies.  

“As one client shared with me, ‘I had to recreate everything that was face to face and make it virtual. We did that, but our learners did not respond favorably to what we created for them.’”

That client’s experience was not unique, says Rollins.

“Many clients stopped production on all types of work so their instructional designers could ‘digitize everything’ or ‘virtualize everything.’ It put a lot of pressure on people who were new to creating virtual learning experiences.  As a result, a lot of ‘click next to continue’ or a ‘click through this series of videos’ digital experiences were created. And on the virtual side, a lot of face-to-face classroom designs were moved to online platforms without an opportunity to test for engagement, retention, and impact.”

As a member of Blanchard’s Solutions Architecture Center of Excellence, Rollins knows how much time it takes to develop digital and virtual designs that work. A key starting point, says Rollins, is maintaining human connections combined with the opportunity to practice, apply, refine, and learn from others.

“With digital tools becoming more widely available and accessible, the challenge is not to lose the human element,” says Rollins.

Britney Cole, Blanchard’s associate vice president of solutions architecture and innovation strategy, agrees. “Today, learning and development departments have the ability to reach employees at many different points in their workday. With new learning technologies and other collaboration tools, L&D literally can meet people where they are—inside and outside the classroom.

“Instead of going right into solutioning, it’s best to first understand the person you are designing for. We’ve been used to designing for stakeholders and sponsors and their vision on the learning journey. Rarely have we had the end user in the room.

“When we do a little more work empathizing with our learners in the beginning—whether it’s creating personas, interviewing them, or shadowing them on the job, we can better understand what they need and when they need it.

“The bonus for L&D professionals is that we get to design with someone in mind as opposed to a nameless segment. We start to care more and think about ways to not only teach people new knowledge and skills, but also target and engage them. This extends our reach.”

That means really thinking about the learner experience, says Rollins.

“What is the experience we need to be able to create for them? How can we pulse out curated content in a way that can scale to serve a leader population of hundreds or thousands?”

“It’s about effectively operationalizing the delivery of a learning experience,” says Cole. “Over the last seven months we’ve become especially respectful of the amount of time our learners have to learn something new. Jobs have become more stressful and people are working more hours, even though they're commuting less. Pushing digital content and platforms isn't necessarily going to generate results. Instead, we need to create experiences and learning journeys that allow individuals to do something on their own and then come together as a group to practice.”

Rollins says it’s important to step back and consider all of your design options.

“If we've got some face-to-face training that needs to be done in a different way, virtual classroom might not always be the right way to deliver it. Instead, maybe it's a series of live sessions that has activities woven through it, small group work, assignments that happen in the space between, with opportunities to reflect on how it’s working or what others are doing that is working, and perhaps some curated content that gets posted out.

“We need to make it easier for our learners by getting creative with the infrastructure of the LMS platform, other content providers, and thinking about the holistic and organic experience that you can create. Perhaps the best design includes content from your own organization, from several vendors blended together, with a sustainment strategy that wraps around it.”

Looking Ahead

“COVID-19 has given us all an opportunity to click on the reset button and show up differently,” says Cole. “We’re able to redefine how we do our job, how we work with others, and how we work with our leaders. It’s about them being able to not only lead virtually or manage performance, but also think What's my next step? How can I continue to grow and develop?”

“Digital is here to stay and it is going to be disruptive,” adds Rollins. “As L&D professionals, we need to be comfortable with disruption. Yes, we’re going to be doing different things, but the knowledge and capability that make us great at what we do today are still as important as ever.”


Would you like to learn more about the latest design trends and strategies in leadership development? Join us for a free webinar!

The Future of Leadership Development

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

7:00 a.m. Pacific Time

Leadership, learning, and talent development professionals are feeling the pressure this year, and it’s not likely to let up for some time. Join us for a frank conversation about what’s happening in L&D and how to develop an effective strategic plan to meet learning’s changing landscape. In this webinar, Ann Rollins and Britney Cole, two members of The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Solutions Architecture Center of Excellence, identify key focus areas for L&D leaders to explore as we head into 2021 including:

  • The digital future of leadership development
  • Strategies for identifying the needs of future leaders
  • Tools and templates to align learning to future needs
  • How peers in the L&D space are approaching leadership development in a post-COVID world—including the challenges and the triumphs

If you’re in L&D and/or building leadership development experiences, this webinar is a don’t-miss. It’s the first of a two-part series designed specifically for our L&D colleagues around the world.

Register today!

About the Author

David  Witt

David Witt is a Program Director for Blanchard®. He is an award-winning researcher and host of the companies’ monthly webinar series. David has also authored or coauthored articles in Fast Company, Human Resource Development Review, Chief Learning Officer and US Business Review.

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