7 Current Leadership Training Trends: Data, Analysis & Insights

  in Research   Posted on October 6, 2020

Research shows that leadership development should be considered as an organizational priority rather than an optional expense item for corporations (Roupnel et al., 2019). After all, as we journey through the age of digital transformation, we need agile leaders at the helm of our organizations. And nothing prepares future leaders better than programs that are attuned to the latest leadership training trends.

In most organizations, conducting the training program is the easy part. Getting trainees to make time for scheduled programs that disrupt their daily schedule is the challenge. In addition, getting senior management support for training curricula and modules will also require a skillful presentation. It will be hard to sell Millennial-designed training ideas that Baby Boomer bosses didn’t get the chance to try for themselves. Once management gets on board, it remains important to incorporate leadership training methods that are in line with the demands of the modern workplace. With the changing physical and psychological boundaries of the office, management training tools should accommodate these changes and figure out how they can be applied to the modern dynamics.

That said, this article aims to discuss emerging trends in corporate training approaches in different office environments. It also covers new employee expectations of leadership training to give coaches an idea of how they can adapt to the changes in the industry.

Leadership training trends

Leadership Training Trends Table of Contents

  1. Use of Mobile Learning in Corporate Training
  2. Coaching Blended With New Communication Methods
  3. Gamification in Leadership Development
  4. Blended Training for Leadership Programs
  5. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality for Soft Skills Training
  6. AI and Predictive Analytics for Assessments
  7. Behavioral Nudging to Drive Leadership Development

What Makes Modern Leadership Training Different?

The incoming generation of Millennial leaders has made it clear that developmental training is a key benefit they expect from the company they work for. (Advanced Leadership Consulting, 2018). However, honing next-generation leaders does not come cheap. After all, corporate training can cost $1,500 to $5,000 per individual, not including travel and accommodation costs for out-of-the-way retreats. In the United States alone, company investments in leadership development hit $83 billion by the end of 2019 (Training Magazine, 2019).

Despite this large spending on training, however, it seems that most of these initiatives aren’t working as effectively as they should, with only 1 out of 5 people being satisfied with their organization’s learning and development opportunities (Harvard Business, 2019). The same study points out that this usually stems from the lack of innovative methods for leadership training, so it comes as no surprise that training budgets have shrunk in 2019 (Harvard Business, 2019).

Average training expenditures for large companies decreased from $19.7 million in 2018 to $17.7 million in 2019, while midsized businesses cut their spending by $400,000, hitting only $1.7 million in 2019 (Harvard Business, 2019). On the other hand, small companies raised their budget but only grudgingly, increasing to $367,490 from $355,731 (Harvard Business, 2019).

Source: Harvard Business

Luckily, this decreased spending on L&D efforts does not have to result in low-quality training programs. With the accessibility of modern training methods, such as online and mobile learning, companies need not spend too much to get results. In fact, studies show that contemporary cloud-based training methods that utilize modern technology can work for a few hundred dollars a year (Narayandas & Casnocha, 2019) but boosts knowledge retention by 25% to 60% (Research Institute of America, as cited in Pezold, 2017).

That said, at the end of the day, budget should not be a detriment to rolling out good leadership training. All it takes is a certain extent of effort in learning new training technologies and the strategies that make them tick and ensuring that the training translates into productivity in the long run.

The vision of the modern workplace is transforming offices into dynamic settings capable of establishing a culture of change while adapting to the demands of the times. These changes are often addressed by the application of digital transformation. One such aspect that this can affect is the implementation of learning and development (L&D) initiatives within the company. Modernity in L&D isn’t just in the content of the training modules. The methods of training should also carry the signs of digital transformation in order to provide would-be leaders with the means to utilize modern technological tools (Buckley, 2019). Below are some of the emerging trends in leadership training that can help future leaders realize their potential.

1. Use of Mobile Learning in Corporate Training

Millennials are now the dominant generation, comprising of a quarter of the world’s population, or 1.8 billion people. In the US, millennials are poised to take over the workforce by 2030, and are projected to comprise up to 75% of the US workforce. While they are ready to outnumber both Baby Boomers and Gen Xers in a few years, the rate of progression is tempered in other countries, such as Italy, Spain, and Japan (Tilford, 2018).

Either way, the majority of managers will most likely belong to the millennial class by 2030. Today, the average age of a first-time American manager is 30 (Taylor, 2019). Wisniewski (2010) recommended a constructivist or active learning strategy that leverages technology to integrate new information with previous experience. She contends that using such a strategy can likely help improve the efficiency of leaders.

As such, L&D training for these managers of the future has to begin early on, and it should utilize tools the millennial worker is already familiar with. Mobile learning provides a portability feature that can’t be replicated in a scheduled classroom training. Not only does it bridge distance, but its constant state of availability allows the conduct of training anytime and anywhere. This method works as managers are notoriously difficult to schedule training sessions, and even if they do, end their session prematurely to attend to an urgent matter back at the office.

Source: Financial Times

2. Coaching Blended With New Communication Methods

While coaching, in general, is effective in helping employees reduce idle time and facilitate the accomplishment of goals, there are different results that emanate from individual coaching compared to group training. Studies from the National Center for Biotechnology Information show that individual coaching helped people attain their individual goals better and provided a higher degree of satisfaction. Meanwhile, group coaching and the process of democratizing learning have helped teams to acquire knowledge that is relevant to their unit (Losch, Traut-Mattausch, Mühlberger, & Jonas, 2016). Therefore, the choice between individual and group coaching should be made based on your organization’s specific training objectives.

Coaching has been around long enough to start gaining mainstream appeal, which continues to this day. Laura DeCarlo of Career Directors International sees executive coaching becoming a necessary tool within the next five to ten years. In addition, the current lineup of modern communication methods has made it easier for coaches and subjects to establish a relationship without the need for in-person activities, which is ideal for Millennials who place value in their schedules (Forbes Coaching Council, 2018).

Executives who have undergone coaching have been positive with their feedback. According to. Monte Wyatt survey involving mostly Fortune 1000 executives, participants have reported improved working relationships among direct reports (77%), supervisors (71%), peers (63%), and clients (37%) (Monte Wyatt, 2019).

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Aspects of Work Improved by Coaching Programs According to Executives

Aspects of Work Improved by Coaching Programs According to Executives
Working relations with direct reports: 77%

Working relations with direct reports

77%
Aspects of Work Improved by Coaching Programs According to Executives
Working relationships with immediate supervisors: 71%

Working relationships with immediate supervisors

71%
Aspects of Work Improved by Coaching Programs According to Executives
Teamwork: 67%

Teamwork

67%
Aspects of Work Improved by Coaching Programs According to Executives
Working relationships with peers: 63%

Working relationships with peers

63%
Aspects of Work Improved by Coaching Programs According to Executives
Job satisfaction: 61%

Job satisfaction

61%
Aspects of Work Improved by Coaching Programs According to Executives
Conflict reduction: 52%

Conflict reduction

52%
Aspects of Work Improved by Coaching Programs According to Executives
Organizational commitment: 44%

Organizational commitment

44%
Aspects of Work Improved by Coaching Programs According to Executives
Working relationships with clients: 37%

Working relationships with clients

37%

Source: Monte Wyatt

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3. Gamification in Leadership Development

Gamification has been around for a few years, but until now creates imagery and impressions of battles, high scores, and leaderboards. However, gamification is more than the application of game elements in leadership training that can be applied to business along the way. The wide acceptance of gamification techniques in learning applications has opened up the market for elearning companies. With a market value of $4.91 billion in 2016, gamification is projected to grow more than double at $11.94 billion by 2021 (Gough, 2020).

According to TrainingIndustry.com, leadership training via gamification requires a specific and targeted behavior, otherwise, the training will be relegated to merely an expensive game.  When used in conjunction with a leadership competency model, however, gamification can help “integrate knowledge with performance” during leadership training (Dantzler, Carl, & Ghabour, 2019). Feedback to gamification-based training remains upbeat, especially when compared to non-gamefied versions. Gamified trainees are more motivated (83% vs 28%), less bored (10% vs 49%), and less likely to feel unproductive (3% vs 12%) (Apostolopoulos, 2020).

Source: Talent LMS

4. Blended Training for Leadership Programs

With new leadership come new directions, and implementing changes is not as easy as it seems in an enterprise setting. Earlier studies show that 33% of management is resistant to change, compared to 39% of rank and file employees (Sabharwal, 2018). With the plethora of training modules available and the acceptance levels of individuals of each module, it makes sense to provide blended training. At present, TrainingIndustry.com estimates that 52% of companies utilize between three to six modules in a single training program (Oesch & Tomlinson, 2018). In the May to July 2019 issue of Training Magazine, it was reported that blended delivery methods were implemented in 34% of large companies, 25% in midsized ones, and in 27% of small businesses (Mazareanu, 2019).

A Desire2Learn (D2L) survey confirmed that blended learning is the best approach for all types of workers, but care should be taken to consider individual and departmental tendencies.  Some modalities turned out to be more popular than others, such as hands-on training, social learning, video, and elearning,  but different areas in the organizations may prefer a module that’s more suited and relatable to their day-to-day functions.  The survey identified the top three modules as instructor-led training, short-clip video, and coaching/mentoring (Desire2Learn.com, 2018).

Blended Training in Companies

Percentage of companies that utilize blended training methods

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Source: elearninglearning.com

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5. Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality for Soft Skills Training

Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality are tools that let people perform simulations during training in a virtual environment, reducing risk and failure to almost zero. At the same time, soft skills are very much a quality desired in an increasingly automated work environment, as empathy, communications, and listening are some of the capabilities that have yet to feel the impact of automation. Both VR and AR have already established themselves as excellent facilitators for hard skills, but recently they have shown potential in conducting training for soft skills as well. In a Perkinscoe 2019 AR/VR survey conducted, work development came in as the sixth industry that is most likely to apply Extended Reality (XR, or the combination of AR and VR), coming in after gaming, healthcare, education, manufacturing and automotive and movies and television (Perkinscoie, 2019).

Contextual aspects—which AR and VR can seamlessly create—are very important since they are essential to learning. This is because instead of learning skills or information outside of their contexts, learners can experience handling realistic situations using these immersive technologies. In fact, a highly effective learning situation happens when a learner is immersed within a context (Salvetti & Bertagni, 2019).

With VR, leadership training can consist of simulations of common workplace scenarios where participants can be monitored and assessed on how they react to particular situations. Trainees can also receive immediate feedback as part of the VR functionality. AR, meanwhile, enhances real-world environments and can be helpful in training soft skills, such as persuasion and selling.  Through VR and AR, companies can benefit from lower training costs, reduced training times, realistic practice, higher engagement, and better accessibility. In a 2019 article, Forbes reported that VR training can reduce training time by 40% while improving employee performance by 70%. The report also mentioned that Walmart’s early VR training program participants rated training satisfaction 30% higher than other training materials and methods, and outperformed 70% of employees who trained with non-VR techniques. (BasuMallick, 2019; Rogers, 2020).

Source: Perkinscoie

6. AI and Predictive Analytics for Assessments

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and predictive analysis have been helping organizations establish recurring patterns in their businesses based on historical data. Empowering leaders with these tools help them make better business decisions that reduce falling on guesswork or gut feel. Most office functions have deemed these tools vital, with Marketing and Sales (40%) leading the way as the top department who finds data science and machine learning critical to their needs.  Business Intelligence Competency Centers (27%), Research & Development (31%), and executive management audiences (25%) following suit (Columbus, 2019).

As seen in their critical roles in major office functions, utilizing AI and predictive analysis concepts in training future leaders becomes a necessary skillset. As Chiradeep BasuMallick of HRTechnologist.com observed, embracing the role of AI and predictive analysis requires new leaders to learn to unlearn previous knowledge gathered from collective experience; envision and implement a long-range plan, but retaining the flexibility to adapt to changing environments and develop soft skills required to utilize and apply AI technology at the decision making-levels (BasuMallick, 2019).

Some examples of the application of AI and predictive analytics include Jenny Craig, who in 2018 adopted a machine augmented conversational platform from RapportboostAI. Upon application of the AI tool, the company reported a 40% increase in conversion rates (Schweyer, 2018). In a separate study for an unnamed large restaurant chain, AIHR Academy consultants challenged managers to get a 4.0 or higher score on six key store drivers: Senior Leaders, Teamwork, Management, Communication, Ethics, and Job Fit. Those who managed to do so reported a 16% increase in customer satisfaction, 18,000 more customers annually, and 10% reduction in turnover (Mondore, 2019).

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Departments that Regard AI, Data Science, and Machine Learning as Critical

Departments that Regard AI, Data Science, and Machine Learning as Critical
Marketing & Sales: 40%

Marketing & Sales

40%
Departments that Regard AI, Data Science, and Machine Learning as Critical
Research & Development: 31%

Research & Development

31%
Departments that Regard AI, Data Science, and Machine Learning as Critical
Business Intelligence & Competency Centers : 27%

Business Intelligence & Competency Centers

27%
Departments that Regard AI, Data Science, and Machine Learning as Critical
Executive Management: 25%

Executive Management

25%
Departments that Regard AI, Data Science, and Machine Learning as Critical
Information Technology: 18%

Information Technology

18%
Departments that Regard AI, Data Science, and Machine Learning as Critical
Finance: 14%

Finance

14%

Source: Dresner Advisory Services

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7. Behavioral Nudging To Drive Leadership Development

Nudge theory is the use of subtle policy or messaging that entices people to shift to a desired outcome that aligns with their self-interest. Instead of implementing policy with the threat of penalty to non-compliance, it develops mechanics that make it easier — or even automatic — to comply with (Chu, 2018). Developed by Nobel Economics Prize winner Dr. Richard Thaler and used by the British to great effect that they subsequently created a department for it, nudge theory aims to steer individuals into making the right decisions by ensuring messages are EAST (Easy, Attractive, Social, Timely).  It supports the notion that sometimes, the simplest and most clear-cut method of information and instruction often delivers the best results.

Rather than piling on learning modules, leadership training might benefit from taking a step back and applying nudge techniques to create a more open environment that makes further learning conducive to busy managers. A leadership training that reinforces what leaders already know so they can apply them better to their everyday work, may ultimately be more beneficial to the organization (Kruse, 2019; PeopleFluent, 2019).

At present, the Nudge strategy has reported some corporate victories in changing employee and customer behavior. In a 2019 article, McKinsey Quarterly shared some success stories, which included a 14% increase in customer retention from Google by changing its support center language to focus on long term benefits for customers. They also reported a 15% reduction in turnaround time for Swiss doctors to send back approvals as soon as patients started sending personal notes requesting approvals, which also included the turnaround time from the fastest doctors, as well as a 35% increase in safety protocol compliance in a manufacturing plant upon installation of posters featuring watching eyes (Güntner, Lucks, & Sperling-Magro, 2019).

Benefits of Using the Nudge Strategy for Training

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Source: McKinsey & Company

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Modern Leaders Need Modern Training

With the incoming generation of Millennials poised to take over the workforce and its requisite management positions, there is a need to provide future leaders with training that better suits the requirements of the modern office. Today’s workers are more tech-savvy and prefer information both instantaneously and in sizable chunks, so the training methods should be similarly adapted for mobility and accessibility. However, it would be counterproductive for companies and trainers to focus on the modules. Equally pressing is the need to ensure that training future leaders include the need to develop the attitude and disposition of employees to be more open to not just improving skills, but developing relationships and empathy as well.

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