We all know when we see it or are moved by it. We know when it’s poor, and we have often left a manager and hence an organisation because of the lack of it.  Leadership, once thought of as a soft skill is becoming a core skill for managers – particularly younger managers used to a more mobile and digitally enabled workforce.

The challenge remains, though: how do we quantify and measure leadership, and develop it and nurture it in younger people when the traditional methods of achieving development look too expensive and impractical at scale – especially when the fear is that those middle- and line-managers might take those skills to a new employer?

Cognisco and The Experience Accelerator are developing a partnership to support leadership skills development at scale.   This opportunity is enabled by a range of new technologies that support learning and development, cutting the complexity of delivery.  For example, research conducted by Microsoft and Stanford University points to the successful use of avatars to support individual learning and development.

Training that would have been seen as costly face to face learning will soon be delivered to many younger managers through the use of the latest technologies – like Artificial Intelligence (AI) and virtual reality.

But these are not just a case of using digital techniques to cut costs by creating scale; rather these new experiences will increase relevance. The research at Stanford University describes a phenomenon that suggest that the behaviour of an individual can be changed by the behaviour of an avatar.   It’s called the Proteus Effect.  Individuals can see the effect their avatar has on others and, as a result, better understand their own behaviours.

“Cyberspace grants us great control over our self-representations. At the click of a button, we can alter our avatars’ gender, age, attractiveness, and skin tone. But as we choose our avatars online, do our avatars change us in turn? We’ve explored how putting people in avatars of different age, race, gender, attractiveness or height change how they behave in a virtual environment and also in subsequent face to face interactions.”

Some of our managerial preconceptions are also going to have to change, because things that were hard to do may become easier in the near future.   The skills that employers increasingly prize: leadership, negotiation, rapport-building, handling dilemmas and critical thinking – can now be measured, improved and reinforced with new techniques and technologies.  We can increasingly apply and interpret KPIs to these soft skills. As we become able to carry out these assessments at scale and at a lower cost, and deliver improvements as effectively with digital courses as with face-to-face training, then we are at the dawn of a new age of learning.

Among the trends Learning and Development professionals can expect to see and do in the next three to five years are:

• Digital Virtualization Processes – we can expect to see learning and development providers deliver virtual reality avatars that mimic the kind of executive coaching we see today to a wider group of employees.

• A longer period of learning – learning will need to continue throughout our working life (and quite possibly funded directly by the learner), so that may represent a commitment to learning from 16-80 and for many types of different role across a lifetime.

• Changing social contract – the changing nature of the contract means that learning and development will have to consider the needs of the individual beyond the work setting: it may not be good enough to just train Millennial and later generations for a single role, they may look to companies to provide whole-life learning and development; whether they choose to stay with you or not.

• Change our attitude to machine learning – we will all have to become comfortable with learning from machines, creating a process in our minds that enables us to judge the quality of learning.  We know how to do this with people; we can judge experience, qualifications and testimonials, it may be harder for us to instinctively judge machines.

We all know things are changing fast in business, and during periods of change leadership skills are a sort after commodity.   A longer working life may enable some of those skills to be passed on by excellent, well qualified and motivated managers.  But we know such individuals are hard to find and sometimes harder to retain.

For the rest of us, particularly young leaders, the answer will be in the new learning environments that give us executive-style coaching at a fraction of the time and cost of more traditional methods.  The world of learning and development is about to become multi-dimensional, virtual and personal.   You can expect to see a virtual you providing insights into your behaviour pretty soon.

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