Leadership Development: Choosing the Best Delivery System

There’s an old saying that “When the only tool in your toolbox is a hammer, you treat everything as a nail.”

A similar phenomenon is happening in corporate training. Heavy investment in HR technology for employee development including eLearning, Learning Management Systems (LMS) and the accessibility of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) has changed the way we think about educating employees. Those changes, however, may not be in the best interest of the employee or the long-term health of the company.

After spending tens (if not hundreds) of thousands of dollars on implementing a LMS and customizing courses, naturally, there is an expectation that managers should use that technology wherever possible. To be fair, eLearning can be a wonderful way to distribute basic just-in-time education to a large volume of employees who are geographically dispersed. It’s perceived as inexpensive (only because the significant cost of a LMS has already been paid upfront), doesn’t require travel or the cost of a trainer, and can be squeezed in between other work activities. But learning technology has its place, and it shouldn’t be the answer to every employee development need.

When true behavioral change is needed, as is the case with leadership development, communication skills, team collaboration, innovation, etc, there is no substitute for an experienced coach or facilitator. There’s no substitute for people sharing their challenges and experiences in order to learn from one another. There’s no substitute for a real person who can sense when to deviate from the standard curriculum and make more dramatic impact in a particular learning need.

  • eLearning can’t do that.
  • eLearning can’t read an audience.
  • eLearning doesn’t understand the intricate dance between a coach and learners that identifies nonverbal cues and excitement.
  • eLearning doesn’t break for reflection or answer tough scenarios.

So how does one identify when eLearning is appropriate and when in-person training is superior?
It all comes down to a cost vs. investment perspective.

As we think about what a particular course will cost the company, we also have to consider the cost of not training the skill adequately. A study by ATD showed companies that invested $1,500 per employee on training experienced 24% higher gross profit margins versus those who only spent $125 per person. Instead of framing employee development simply as a cost, it’s important to think of employee development as both a cost and an investment.

Next time you think about the employee skill you want to develop, do a simple assessment and ask yourself if the investment will result in measurable returns for the long term health of the company. This will guide you to finding the appropriate delivery method.