To Make New Hires Into New Leaders, Develop Tech-Enabled Social Learning Programs

The recruiting process doesn't stop when a new hire shows up on their first day of work. No matter how well educated, experienced, or in tune the new hire may be, the idea that any brand new employee will be at full capacity and ready to lead on day one is a myth.

In a recent interview in Harvard Business Review, actor Kevin Spacey said, "With every job, you should have something to lose, something to gain, something to learn." While Spacey was talking about show business, his wisdom also applies to new hires coming into virtually any type of corporate business.

For innovative and growth-oriented companies, finding and bringing in new talent is only the beginning. Regardless of previous experience or education, new hires can only shine when learning is personalized, when the new hire is truly engaged in the learning process, and when the learning environment becomes a two-way conversation rather than a one-way information dump.

Corporations often integrate training into their onboarding processes in order to familiarize new hires with corporate policies and procedures and bring them up to speed on corporate initiatives. However, companies interested in growth must go further. If they want to transform new hires into true leaders, they must implement bi-directional, highly personalized training programs.

Developing true leaders requires going beyond the routine. It requires giving new hires "something to gain." It can be a challenge to implement such personalized training while still attending to cost and time pressures, but it is one that employers can meet by adopting a fresh approach that blends traditional customized learning with automated tools.

Why Information-Based Training Misses the Mark

The biggest problem that exists in most corporate learning environments is that training programs take an information-centric approach. The need for rapid development of educational modules – whether they be online, in person, or in print – often leads to a simple "let's put that information on the screen" approach. At best, employers might end up with basic talking-head videos that just relay information to the audience. While this approach solves the problem of transmitting information, it does not solve the problem of encouraging innovation and experimentation or transforming new hires into leaders.

Providing information does very little to actually change employee behavior. Transforming new hires into great leaders requires creating an experience that builds on the information and takes into account where each learner is at and what they have to gain from the experience.

If your organization wants to go beyond information-based learning to truly engage employees and deliver the greatest benefit to the organization, it needs two things: a hyper-personalized approach to leadership training and a two-way social learning experience.

A Hyper-Personalized Approach to Leadership Training

Traditional, information-centric learning is often delivered through text-based or video-based tools that work in only one direction. They fail to take into account the new recruit on the other end of the computer screen. Three components are necessary for an effective, personalized training experience: inspiration, guidance, and follow-through.

When a new hire is presented with a corporate training guide and instructed to "read this to familiarize yourself with our procedures," the experience is impersonal and the recruit is less likely to retain information. More importantly, this sort of unidirectional approach leaves little room for the individual to ask questions or share new ideas. The greatest challenge to the training manager is to figure out how to create a personalized approach to learning while accommodating the need for rapid development of learning modules and automation.

Personalization is especially problematic when attempting to provide a learning experience to a large number of people. The lack of personalization is where so many training programs fail. Inservice days or off-site training at exotic locations may be entertaining ways to temporarily boost morale, but afterward, everybody returns to their drab offices and backslides into their comfort zones.

Similarly, bringing in a high-profile speaker to address a large audience only offers temporary inspiration. When speaking to a room of hundreds, a speaker cannot engage the audience with personalized guidance. No matter how inspirational the talk, retention is often minimal at the end of the day. The large workshop or dynamic speaker cannot offer much in the way of follow-through.

Social Learning: Bringing the Small Group Model to Online Training

Isolation can cut people off from information. For example, those who live in isolated mountain communities may not have the same level of exposure to new ideas as those who dwell in the cities of the world. The same applies to learning: If people are learning via unidirectional information-driven tutorials, they don't have the opportunity to encounter or share new ideas beyond the information delivered by the tutorial.

It's comforting to be part of a group embarking on a shared journey. Adding a social element to learning – whether it's breaking out into small groups for freewheeling discussions or allowing participants in an online learning program to communicate with one another – adds a new dimension to learning. Being part of a team enhances the learning experience and allows a group dynamic to replace the unidirectional flow of information. It is through shared group experiences that true innovation emerges. Furthermore, groups are where people learn to become leaders.

If social learning is about the exchange of powerful ideas, how do you get people to share those powerful ideas? You cannot do so through an information-centric approach in which the information is more important than the learners in the group. Getting people to share and develop their powerful ideas requires providing them with the opportunity to engage in meaningful personal conversations that result in "a-ha moments."

Artful Intelligence in Learning

Is it possible for a corporation to gain the advantages of social learning while keeping costs down and accommodating large groups? It absolutely is, thanks to advances in speech recognition.

Systems like Apple's Siri and Amazon's Alexa provide simple examples of how computers can interact with humans in meaningful ways. While Siri does not meet the true definition of artificial intelligence (A.I.) – it merely delivers scripted responses in a human-like voice – people are generally more comfortable interacting with Siri than they would be interacting with a text-based interface with a similar Q A script.

The only way to create an engaging corporate learning environment for larger groups is by enabling some level of online learning and automation. However, that online learning must be inspirational, it must be personalized as much as possible, and it must include follow-through.

Systems like Siri are only able to respond to convergent, or closed-ended, questions. A basic corporate training environment with a Siri-like interface could give a learner a straightforward answer to a question about how to carry out a specific function, but it would not be able to deliver a truly social learning experience.

However, a full A.I. system is not necessary for social learning. If the voice interface is configured to ask probing, divergent questions, the learner will be more engaged to think about and solve problems. Instead of giving a direct factual answer as one would expect in a unidirectional information-oriented training experience, the voice interface could ask the learner to consider certain methodologies that might help them think through a situation on their own.

A simple example of this in action would be if an individual asks the system about a workplace conflict. While the system can't solve the problem for the learner, it can ask probing questions like, "How do you think the other party would describe the conflict?"

That response doesn't answer the question, but it offers a new perspective and creates a more social learning experience. At Cognician, we call this "artful intelligence" instead of "artificial intelligence." It's what forms the basis of our own learning environment – and it may be able to help you create personalized and highly social training programs that can develop new hires into new leaders.

Barry Kayton is the CEO and cofounder of Cognician.