Living in a virtual world
With the internet now the first source of information for most people researching any topic, it’s natural that training material and leadership tuition have also moved online.
Making corporate training available over the internet or on an internal corporate intranet has numerous benefits for both companies and their employees.
The advantages come through increased efficiency, lower costs and more convenience. Employees no longer need to travel to a training centre, but can access material when it suits them, from any location. Materials don’t need to be reprinted each time they are updated, because electronic documents can be refreshed quickly and easily.
Technology is also slashing through time and location barriers, which is particularly important for the high-level training potential leaders need. Since managers and business leaders often feel that they are struggling alone, mentoring has long been a valuable resource for them. But meeting face to face with the right person could be nigh impossible before applications like video conferencing, Skype and Facetime. Now nobody needs to get on a plane to consult an experienced mentor in another country or another time zone.
Technology is certainly helping to overcome some of the challenges associated with developing leadership qualities, says Linda Fine, HR executive at Dimension Data Middle East & Africa. Technology doesn’t resolve all the issues, but it certainly overcomes geographical boundaries and accelerates and optimises the results, she says.
“Coaching and mentoring is key to most of our development programmes, and since people are often not in the same place as the mentors and coaches, the use of technology like Microsoft Lync, Skype or Webex are all means of keeping people connected,” she says.
Online training is extremely important, and materials can be accessed by each individual in their own time. But collaboration and sharing ideas are also key elements, Fine says, so those conferencing and collaboration tools are essential. Dimension Data has 30 offices across 16 countries in the Middle East and Africa, and virtual learning allows people from those locations to learn together.
“We have a corporate university called DDU (Dimension Data University) which is the umbrella body of all learning and development at our company,” Fine says.
A physical training centre is used for classroom training, while the virtual DDU presents online content from various sources that can be accessed by employees in their own time to learn at their own pace, rather than having to attend scheduled classroom training.
It’s self-motivated too, without needing any approval from the managers.
Employees on the move can also access content on their mobile devices. For mobiles, online content is formatted into small, bite-size chunks of information suitable for viewing on a small screen.
Technology is making training more collaborative, social, interactive and experiential, which are all key to adult learning, Fine believes. ‘Social learning’ by working with others via online collaborative tools is more stimulating and more memorable than just listening to a tutorial by yourself.
Since video conferencing allows people from remote locations to attend training sessions broadcast from a main location, Dimension Data has mobile video conferencing units that can be wheeled into classrooms where there are no permanent facilities. Meanwhile, some offices are being fitted with video conferencing equipment and smartboards for collaborating with other leaders in a training setting, rather than round a boardroom video conferencing table.
In terms of software, Dimension Data recently moved to a cloud-based platform to manage its learning and leadership development programmes. This houses its content and also tracks individual employees to see what training they have done and what is in progress.
“This learning platform is in essence a social media learning platform that allows users to create their own content or ‘like’ content and recommend it to others, which accelerates learning,” Fine says. It also allows employees to be recognised as active learners.
As a hi-tech company itself, Dimension Data is well-equipped to create its own online content. “We have a global team of instructional designers who work with the business to develop bespoke learning modules for leadership and for various target audiences in the company,” Fine says. “For example, a very comprehensive bespoke learning module has been built on change management, which helps leaders to lead and manage the change in the business. The learning content is interactive with an ability to give comments and launch internal videos.”
Interestingly, the online content includes the use of gaming technology and online simulations to make learning more interactive and fun.
For employee assessments, Dimension Data uses SHL software, which assesses leaders by evaluating their personality, values and emotional intelligence. These online assessments can be used to judge existing leaders or assess potential employees during the interview process.
“We also use a 360-degree assessment tool online to get feedback about our leaders in terms of demonstrating desired behaviours as aligned to our corporate values,” Fine says. “This is important in getting our leaders to walk the talk and to get their teams, colleagues and manager to give constructive feedback to help with their development from a behavioural competency point of view.”
The company’s top 5% of leaders from around the world are involved in a Global Leadership Development Programme. This group engages in ongoing learning via Webex conference technology with participants dialling in from a laptop or phone to join the conversation and view slides.
The group is often addressed by top speakers and professors from around the world. In one recent session, the American leadership coach Marshall Goldsmith used video conferencing to speak to participants.
“It is essential to such programmes to expose our leaders to leaders in their field,” Fine says. Sometimes up to 500 people will dial in for the tuition, and the sessions can be recorded and made available for leaders to review in their own time.
Vanessa Raath, GM of recruitment company Its About People, says workplaces have become a lot more scientific and technology-oriented with business intelligence software that allows everything - including people - to be tracked and measured very easily. That has made it crucial for leaders to be technically savvy and know how IT can assist their business.
So it makes sense to use technology-based learning tools to learn how to be a better leader by tapping into specialised leadership development material, Raath says.
“Because people are so busy with so many different things, getting them to go for training is difficult, so a lot of it is self-taught and that’s done through IT.”
When Raath is headhunting candidates for a client, she often uses technology to interview them. “We do a lot of interviews via Skype, especially with candidates in the UK or Australia who are looking to come home.”
She also uses online skills assessment software, while several of her clients use online psychological testing software to determine a candidate’s aptitude, culture fit for the company and leadership potential.
This article is part of a larger supplement which can be found here.
The supplement has been made possible by the Mail & Guardian’s advertisers and the content has been vetted by the Top Employers Institute.