Learning & Development Asia 2024
How HR professionals can drive leadership development: Culture, business, technology, and process

How HR professionals can drive leadership development: Culture, business, technology, and process


This is based on four leadership development (LD) trends, i.e. a rise in LD activity, more openness to virtual learning, budget reallocation, and compromised impact of programmes.

There are four trends organisations can take note of to realign their leadership development initiatives to suit the new normal, fuelled by the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to Center for Creative Leadership's (CCL) research report, Navigating the New Normal: Accelerating Leadership Success in Asia, which is based on interviews with 37 CHROs/HR Heads in Asia, these are the top four trends in leadership development:

  • More leadership development activity;
  • More openness to virtual learning;
  • Active budget reallocation, and
  • Compromised impact.

The four of these are detailed below.

Leadership development activity

Based on the sentiments of 37 CHROs surveyed, many shared that they have continued, even increased, their leadership development activity during the crisis in order to gain competitive advantage, deliver on business strategy, and improve their chances of attaining organisational goals; and that organisations have overall stepped up learning initiatives to keep the workforce engaged as they work from home.

"As business generally ebbed during the early phase of the COVID crisis setting in, learning and development (L&D) activities provided the much-needed fillip to keep workforces gainfully employed," the report shared.

The CHROs further highlighted that the number of requests for leadership development has increased on account of businesses wanting to reskill and repurpose their teams and build newer capabilities around emerging themes such as wellness, empathy, diversity, digital, and anticipation.

In addition, organisations have also significantly increased their coaching interventions.

Virtual learning

A few CHROs, across different industries, touched on how "people have been so embracing of online leadership development" as the pandemic brought face-to-face interactions to a halt. They noted that pre-COVID, such virtual development "was not very popular". Today, however, "organisations had no other choice" as some industries (like insurance) had to turn to the virtual realm to keep the business going.

“Leaders don’t feel cheated anymore if they are nominated for online programmes,” shared an ex-chief learning officer (CLO) of a large telecom company. "Within the same budgets, organisations can get a lot more leaders through the programes offered by reputed partners and business schools,” she added.

Budget reallocation

On that note, since virtual programmes have no associated costs such as travel, stay, and venue booking, the report shared how only a few organisations fully utilised their leadership development budgets in 2020. "Organisations that were severely hit withheld development budgets, while most routed those to other related initiatives," the report added.

CHROs surveyed said that they "no longer have to worry about logistics-related costs around physical programmes" which offered them the opportunity to "scale up our leadership development" in a virtual format.

In addition, CHROs were able to allocate "some dollars for employee engagement initiatives". Others, on the other hand, used financial resources on buying better collaboration, learning technology, and content for leadership development.

Compromised impact

A CHRO shared: "95% of our development is delivered online, the number of people benefiting has increased, but training hours have dropped, and while people are attending programmes, I can’t say convincingly they are engaged."

While there have been scaling benefits using online or blended learning modes, leadership development impact in most organisations has been somewhat compromised, cited in the report.

CHROs said this could be, one, attributed to the lack of interpersonal interactions around face-to-face trainings, "which are a very critical aspect of peer learning". And, two, the inability to relocate people in a different working environment (due to travel restrictions or government regulations), which "gives them "a breadth of perspective, and exposes them to different cultures, human behaviours, businesses, and markets—a must-have to develop leaders for senior roles.

What's next?

With these trends in mind, how then can HR professionals better drive leadership development? According to CCL, they must ensure that leadership development aligns along four planes: culture, business, technology, and process.

For culture, it is about having a continuous learning culture that encourages employees to develop and learn. "This is especially critical where the majority of people are working from home, dealing with multiple distractions and being pulled in different directions; there is the risk that L&D may get lost in the quest to survive or grow exponentially," the report shared.

HR professionals can therefore look at 'hiring for learning agility', for instance. That is, to use a 'curiosity score' in hiring process, and assign candidates with a score through questions around previous experiences where candidates picked up new skills. Other parameters include 'build learning in the talent evaluation process', 'incentivise learning', 'make learning more collaborative', and 'invest in learning infrastructure'.

For business, it is to tackle the question of how leadership development strategies are linked with business strategies to ensure the future readiness of the organisation. Thus, HR professionals can 'shift the focus to team development', where it is an environment that prioritises team development over individual development, and that promotes a common language of leadership (i.e transition coaching, mentoring circles, learning journeys, and public learning).

Others include 'show business metrics' and 'talk about outcomes, not competencies', both of which value the traits of openness and transparency to collaborate closely to ensure that development initiatives lead to successful and desired outcomes.

Looking at technology, it is about using tech as the backbone of leadership development initiatives. For instance, virtual classrooms, collaborative learning, flexible learning plans, and in-the-moment feedback and assessments. While it is critical to leverage such a tool in today's pandemic climate, the report warned against overusing it as "technology fatigue" may develop.

For that reason, HR professionals mustn't draw a direct relationship between virtual learning and Netflix, which is an idea that stems from how if an individual can spend 40 minutes on Netflix, he can spend 40 minutes on learning as well. Because more content does not equate to more learning. Specific programmes should be mapped against a leader's level and role, and content should be aligned with leader needs, and assessment based on diagnostics and other measures.

"This should be alongside leaders being given the option to upskill/reskill based on their interests," the report added.

As for process, it is looking beyond the leadership development infrastructure and content available and set, and to deliberately align them with the learning processes within a company, "right from aligning with business objectives, all the way to measuring the impact of development initiatives."

With that, HR professionals should help 'define what success will look like', which sets what needs to happen on both the business front and the talent front in order to achieve an organisation's business objectives, or even 'shortlist roles and competencies to be evaluated' since some roles may disappear, and some new ones may be introduced, and some new-to-L&D-function skills may become necessary.

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Image / 123RF

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